Tag Archives: yahu

Did Yahu in Hebrew Personal Names Come from Yahweh?

Ancient Hebrew personal names compounded with the sacred name Yahweh (called hereafter PNNCSN) have been long puzzled over because of their variations which do not “resemble” the full name itself (only one doing this—the poetic form Yāh with stress lengthening). Because of these variations, some scholars have questioned not the variations but the form yahweh—assuming it not in fact to be original. Yet, this form is unquestionably correct, as will also be seen below. In the biblical text the forms found there are: 1) yəhô– and – at the beginning; and 2) –́hû and –yāh at the end. But while we have successfully identified the source of all these variations elsewhere, we will here only indicate clearly the source of the final element yahu. While this is not the first variation from the original abbreviated form (the first variation was /yaw/ from an original /yahw/, as will be seen immediately below), it is the first to be pronounced differentlythe /w/ represented by the long vowel /ū/. The forms represent different chronological periods in Israel’s and Judah’s history.

In this short analysis we will separate the historical phases: pre-exilic, exilic, and post-exilic periods and stop prior to the Greco-Roman period, which deserves a separate treatment. Additionally, we will utilize the large corpus of archaeological data from the biblical times themselves to establish the distribution of the ancient forms.

Pre-exilic Period: Yahweh and -yahw-

In the pre-exilic period both the full name YHWH and its abbreviations are found, but to clearly identify both, Hebrew orthography, Neo-Assyrian transcriptions, and the religious contexts of Yahweh all help. Firstly, YHWH (not yāhû) appears clearly (but syncretistically) at Kuntillet Ajrud (9th-8th century B.C.E.). The instances of “YHW” are where the final /h/ seems missing and Sandra Gogle restores it.[1] The Mesha stele (9th century B.C.E), Arad ostraca, and Lachish letters (8th to 6th century) all give clear use of YHWH.[2]

In this period also inscriptions attest to mostly two abbreviated forms of the name Yahweh in PNNCSN—in northern Israel only –yw– at the beginning and end of names (Samaria ostraca); in Judah mostly –yhw– also at the beginning and end (but for a short time also –yw- in the eighth century).[3] Throughout the earlier to the later periods we always find the initial long yhw– consistently with <w> visible, not defective (and hence not vocalic), and by the sixth century in Judah only the ubiquitous long –yhw– is found, clearly indicating yahw. The short form then of yw-/-yw (with <w> also not defective) found mostly in northern Israel appears derived from it, but with the dropping of <h> (yaw). The <h> made no difference in sound, only in an indication of the source—Yahweh. Also, Neo-Assyrian transcriptions show West Semitic consonantal /w/ and vocalic /ū/ both indicated with the vowel <u> (and <ú>) (as in Iḫa-za-qi-ia-a-u ia-ú-da-a-a—Hazaqyahw Yahudaya).[4] Also, the phoneme /h/ was not indicated in the cuneiform spelling at that time (as in the later Greek transcriptions). Thus, the pre-exilic period attests to only YHWH in both secular and religious uses, with no mystery about use in Judah or “ineffability.”

Exilic Period: Elah, an Elusive /yahw/ and yahu- from Yahudah

The same cannot be said in exile. When one peruses the book of Daniel an interesting phenomenon can be discerned—the name Yahweh is never found in the Aramaic portions (Dan 2:18–20), only the terms Elah and Elah of Heaven (like in Ezra and with the Aramaic-speaking Elephantine Jews). In the Hebrew section of Daniel, however, the name Yahweh is found (Dan 9), which is not a Greco-Roman pesher practice (except the Nazarenes?[5]). Yet, in the Aramaic portions we never find Yāhū.

TEXT A (28122)TEXT B (28178)TEXT C (28186)TEXT D (28232)
(592 B.C.E.)
Judah/Judean[KU]R ia-ú-duKUR ia-a-ḫu-duia-ku-du (rev.)KUR ia-a-ḫu-du
LÚ ia-ú-da-a-aLÚ ia-a-ḫu-da-a-a
JehoiachinI ia-ʾ-ú -kīnu(du)[ I ia]-ʾu -kīnu(du)I ia-a-ú -i[…] (obv.)[ I ia-]ʾ-ú -kīnu(du)
I ia-ku-ú -ki-nu (rev.)
Other PNNCSNsa-ma-ku- ia-a-m[a]qa-na- ʾ-a-ma (rev.)qa-na- a-ma
šá-lam- ia-a-ma
TEXT A (28122)TEXT B (28178)TEXT C (28186)TEXT D (28232)
(592 B.C.E.)
Judah/JudeanYāhûdYāhûdYākûd (rev.)Yāhûd
JehoiachinyahwkînyahwkînYahwy[…] (obv.)yahwkîn
Yākûkîn (rev.)
Other PNNCSNsamakyahwQan’awQanaaw
See Ernst F. Weidner, “Jojachin, König von Juda, in babylonischen Keilschrifttexten,” in Mélanges syriens offerts à Monsieur René Dussaud, Bibliothèque archéologique et historique 30 (Paris, 1939), 2:923–35.


At the beginning of the exile it is in the famous Neo-Babylonian cuneiform ration tablets that mention King Jehoiachin that we first certainly find the spelling yāhū in PNNCSN.[6] The key is in Text C’s strange spelling Iia-ku-ú-ki-nu for the king and the name Judah also strangely found as ia-ku-du, with /h/ represented by <k>. This is not the usual way to transcribe either as seen above. We saw in Neo-Assyrian above how Hazakyahw and Yahûdāh were transcribed (without /h/ represented). Judah was now additionally transcribed elsewhere as URUia-a-ḫu-du (/h/ actually represented by /ḫ/).[7] But now, in both names in Text C the <k> ensures our only vocalization of the /h/ is in a pronunciation /hu/, transforming our abbreviated name yhw (now <w> = /ū/—as a mater lexionis). Nevertheless, in Neo-Babylonian two differences that help us confirm the correct form of the king’s name are that the Babylonian scribes now use the letter <ḫ> (as just seen in the Chronicles) to indicate the true aspirated /h/ sound (which didn’t happen in Neo-Assyrian), and they use <ma> to indicate consonantal /w/ (again a new thing). These ensure the vocalizations in the table above, as in Yāhûd (< Yahûdāh) and šalamyahw above. But, it is only in 583 B.C.E. we do find the regular spelling ia(?)-a-ḫu- (now /h/ represented by /ḫ/) for the first time applied to a PNCSN as well, continuing the practice of yahu– started in Text C around 592 B.C.E. in ia-ku-ú-ki-nu.[8] Before this it was seen in the Babylonian Chronicle’s Yahud (URUia-a-ḫu-du) above. This is the ubiquitous form then on. But, yāhū is still only found in PNNCSN not independently.

One may ask, if Yahweh led to –yahw– (and reflected by ia-ʾ-ú-) where then did yāhū- in names originate? These cuneiform texts give the answer, where we see the strange spelling of <k> for /hu/ in ia-ku-ú-ki-nu and in ia-ku-du for Yāhûd, shortened form of Yahûdāh, seen in Ezra 5:1 (the /a/ typically being left off in the Hellenistic period). It was inspired by the spelling of the geographic name spelled in cuneiform sometimes like the abbreviated name as in Text A, [KU]Ria-ú-du, and the king’s name spelled ia-ʾ-ú-kīnu(DU). In other words –yāhûin names came from Yāhûd. The goal was to protect the form of Yahweh from being accidentally spoken in some PNNCSN in foreign tongues, such as Aramaic (as in a possible ia-a-ú-ia-ki-nu = yahwiakin). This was a new religio-linguistic convention that we have called IMASN (Intentional Misrepresentation of the Abbreviated Sacred Name).

Post-Exilic Period: Elah and Yahu, Ubiquitous -yāh = ia-a-ma (= yahw)

In the book of Ezra the same phenomenon found in Dan is attested—Yahweh is only found in Hebrew and Elah and Elah of heaven in Aramaic (Ezra 5:1). This brings us to the Elephantine Jews who did additionally use Yāhû as the name of the deity (but we never find YHWH), but this yāhû in names was assumed to be the Judean deity in Babylonia. However, regarding personal names, most Judeans, knowing the origin, opted for the other shortened abbreviation of Yahweh, not yahw, but stressed final Yāh (and only final) (Exod 15:2), which stressed would then sound exactly like yahw (/aw/ in auto not in cow). This is why on a personal name spelled in a cuneiform document as pi-il-ia-a-ma there was the same name spelled in Aramaic on the endorsement on the outside plyh, which shows ia-a-ma = yh.[9] But, ia-a-ma actually indicates yahw which latter was now avoided.

Consequently, this is the source of the abbreviated form yahu- from the shortened geographic name of Yahud. But, why does this ancient name too seems incomplete? The answer to this question is related to the other form(s) of the abbreviated name Yahweh—yo (yeho)—seen after the fourth century B.C.E. Both phenomena are traceable to the Greco-Roman period and IMASN with the last phonological transformation of personal names at possible the most important time in Israelite/Jewish history.



[1] See Sandra Gogle, A Grammar of Epigraphic Hebrew (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998), 414–415.

[2] See David Noel Freedman and Michael P. O’Connor, “יהוה YHWH,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren (Grand Rapids, 1986), 5:502–03.

[3] See Ran Zadok, The Pre-Hellenistic Israelite Anthroponymy and Prosopography (Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters, 1988), 184.

[4] See Zadok, Pre-Hellenistic, 302.

[5] See New Study on Yahweh from Pre-exilic to Greco-Roman Times. Also see T. Shabbath 13:5.

[6] The spelling ia-a-u in Neo-Assyrian cuneiform was ambiguous (as seen in Iḫa-za-qi-ia-a-u ia-ú-da-a-a) since it indicated yahw and yahu the same, but now there is a distinction made between consonantal /w/ and /ū/ in Neo-Babylonian transcriptions.

[7] See Donald J. Wiseman, Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings (626-556 B.C.) in the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1956), 72.

[8] See Ran Zadok, The Earliest Diaspora: Israelites and Judeans in Pre-Hellenistic Mesopotamia (Tel Aviv, 2002), 28.

[9] See Matthew Stolper, “A Note on Yahwistic Personal Names in the Murašû Texts,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 222 (1976): 27.