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The Tetragrammaton

The Tetragrammaton (Greek: τετραγράμματον word with four letters) is the Hebrew name for God, which is spelled (in Hebrew); י (yod) ה (heh) ו (waw) ה (heh) or יהוה (YHWH), it is the distinctive personal name of the God of Israel.

Of all the names of God in the Old Testament, that which occurs most frequently is the Tetragrammaton, appearing 6,823 times according to the Jewish Encyclopedia. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=52&letter=N)According to Biblica Hebraica and Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia, the original texts of the Hebrew Scriptures, written in both Hebrew and Aramaic, contain the Tetragrammaton 6,828 times. It is evident that the Tetragrammaton was used very extensively in ancient Hebrew, and Aramaic texts. This indicates a much more personal reference to the special identity of the Almighty (as opposed to impersonal titles such as "God" or "Lord") on the part of the Bible writers. Many Bible scholars view this as evidence that the Bible writers (and indeed, likely the ancient Hebrew and Israelite people) viewed the Name represented by the Tetragrammaton as very important and commonly used it in their everyday speech and prayers. And, for those who believe the Bible was inspired by God, it shows how He felt about His own personal name.

In Judaism, the Tetragrammaton is the ineffable name of God, and is not pronounced. In the reading aloud of the scripture or in prayer, it is replaced with Adonai ("my Lord"). Other written forms such as ד׳ or ה׳ are read as Hashem (The Name), for the same reason.

One theory regarding the disuse of the Tetragrammaton is that the Jewish taboo on its pronunciation was so strong that the original pronunciation may have been lost somewhere in the first millennium. Since then, many scholars (particularly Christians) have sought to reconstruct its original pronunciation. For example, circa 1518 Christian theologians1 introduced the pronunciation Yehovah, which is generally held to be implausible, based on the written form יְהֹוָה (read normally, "Yehovah") that was used to indicate to the reader of the Bible in Hebrew to pronounce it "Adonai" (אֲדֹנָי). (Note that due to a rule of Hebrew grammar beyond the scope of this article, the beginning E of the first transliteration is analogous to the beginning A of the second, although they're pronounced differently.)

This theory regarding the disuse of the Tetragrammaton is the result of an interpretation of the Third of the Ten Commandments. The Jewish people stopped saying the Name by the third century C.E. out of fear of violating the commandment "You shall not take the name of YHWH your God in vain" (Exodus 20:7). It is possible that the practice was in effect prior to early Christian times as Jesus prayed to the Father "I have made your name known". (John 17:26)

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