Monday, September 11, 2006

A Rose by Any Other Name...

Names of God in Judaism

In Judaism, the name of God represents the Jewish conception of the divine nature.

Generally speaking, the various names of God in Judaism represent God as known by men, that is to say some of the divine aspects, or attributes of God that may be apprehended.

(parts of this first section contain edited excerpts from wiki)

In awe at the sacredness of the names of God, and as a means of showing respect and reverence for them, the scribes of sacred texts took pause before copying them, and used terms of reverence so as to keep the true name of God concealed. Various questions are raised as to why a priestly class such as the rabbinate would want to keep the names of God concealed...

The numerous names of God have been a source of debate among biblical scholars and, later, Qur'anic scholars, though generally the muslim approach is one of inclusion and openness, rather than exclusion. In the Qur'an are referenced 99 names of the Almighty. Other esoteric muslim traditions speak of a thousand names.

Infinity itself must, by definition, contain infinite names and attributes.

Others have advanced the theory that the variety of names for the Divine provides proof that the Torah has many authors. As noted, on a deeper level of understanding, different aspects of God have different names, depending on the context in which God is being referred to and the specific aspects which are being emphasized.

The most important and most often written name of God in Judaism is the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God transliterated without vowels as YHWH or YHVH.

This name is first mentioned in the book of Genesis and is usually translated as 'the LORD'. Because Judaism forbids pronouncing the name outside the Temple, the correct pronunciation of this name has been lost, as the original Hebrew texts included only consonants.

Some scholars conjecture the name was pronounced "Yahweh". Others suggest that it never had a pronunciation, which is considerd extremely unlikely given that it is found as an element in numerous Hebrew names.

The Hebrew letters are named Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh: note that Hebrew, as Arabic, is written from right to left, rather than left to right as in English. In English, depending upon the transliteration convention used, the name is written as either YHWH, YHVH, or JHVH ~ hence the Latinized name "Jehovah".

The Tetragrammaton was written in contrasting Paleo-Hebrew characters in some of the oldest surviving square Aramaic Hebrew texts, and it is speculated that it was, even at that period, read as Adonai, "My Lord", when encountered.

In appearance, YHWH is the third person singular imperfect of the verb "to be", meaning, therefore, "He is".

Similarly in Arabic, the most concise name for God used in prayer and remembrance is hu ~ literally, "he".

These verbal bases for the name are consistent with the meaning of the name given in Exodus 3:14, where God is represented as speaking, and hence as using the first person ~ "I am."

It stems from the conception of monotheism that God exists by himself, of himself, without cause, the cause of causes, the uncreated Creator who doesn't depend on anything or anyone else.

Thus the answer to Moses: “I am that I am.”

Abraham knew God as El Shaddai, literally translated as El of the Mountain, but more commonly abstracted in modern times as God Almighty.

When Abraham, or Ibrahim, appears in the Qur'an, God is called by the Arabic allah, literally the god.

The word El appears in other northwest Semitic languages such as Phoenician and Aramaic. In Akkadian, ilu is the ordinary word for god. It is also found in Old South Arabian and in Ethiopic. As in Hebrew, it is often used as an element in proper names. In northwestern Semitic texts it often appears to be used to speak of one single god, perhaps the head of the pantheon, sometimes specifically said to be the creator.

El is used in both the singular and plural, both for other gods and for the God of Israel.

As a name of God, however, it is used chiefly in poetry and prophetic discourse, rarely in prose, and then usually with some epithet attached, as "a jealous God."

Other examples of its use with some attribute or epithet are:
El `Elyon ~ "Most High God", El Shaddai ~ "God Almighty",
lit. "El of the Mountain", El Hai ~ "Living God",
El Ro'i ~ "God of Seeing", El Gibbor ~ "God of Strength".

Compare El Hai ~ Living God, in Hebrew
with al Hayy ~ the Everliving, in Arabic
one of the ninety-nine beautiful names of God from the Qur'an.

Semitic names such as Gabriel ~ Strength of God, Michael ~
Who is Like God, [Jibri'il and Mika'il in Arabic],
Raphael ~ Medicine of God, and Daniel ~ God is My Judge
incorporate this name of God in a similar fashion.

No comments: