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Posts Tagged ‘Jehovah’

One of the tasks of a fiction writer is to decide what to name his or her characters. I’ve had to think carefully about how to handle that in the Edhai historical-fiction series I’m working on.

The series begins in the time before the Biblical Deluge and thus in a period when all the world spoke a single language. In more recent times — meaning the past few thousand years — people have been shorter-lived, so languages have been more apt to change. But in the pre-flood period, people lived much longer — Adam for 930 years, Seth for 912 years, Enosh for 905 years, and so on (see Gen 5:3-11). Given such longer lifetimes and the overlap among generations, I surmise that there would have been more stability in language. It would have changed less.

Even after the Flood, humans lived for a relatively long period of time, Noah living to 950 years and his son Shem to 600 years (see Gen 9:29 and 11:10, 11). This would likely also contribute to linguistic stability until the confusion of human languages at Babel sometime between 2269 and 2030 BCE during the lifetime of Peleg (Gen 10:25, 11:1-9).

What I’m getting at here is that for the first couple of thousand years of human existence all humans would likely have spoken the same language — Hebrew or something like it — and might never even have conceived of the idea of a foreign tongue. This would affect all names of humans and places, which would have been based on words and their meanings, rather than just on family traditions or the sound of the name — ‘my grandfather’s name was Robert, let’s name the baby after him’ or ‘I like the way “Chelsea” sounds.’

Tetragrammaton

The Tetragrammaton as it appears on a church window in Decorah, Iowa. via Wikimedia.

So in The Cursed Ground, the initial novel in the series, I’m choosing names with real English meanings. For example, the two main characters are named Boon and Temper. The story doesn’t deal much with historical characters like Noah and Lamech, but even when they are mentioned, I try to employ English equivalents, such as Soothe and Plainspeaker.

This is an interesting problem, but not as easily solved as you might think. Not all English words really sound that great if you try to use them as proper names — calling someone “Smart” or “Friendly” or “Robust” just doesn’t have quite the right ring to it.

What to call the true God presented an especial challenge when I was trying to decide how the characters would refer to him in the story. Ancient people who knew the name of God would have pronounced it in their own language, using something like “Yehewah” or “Jehovah” or “Yahweh.” But in the story, I wanted to have the characters speaking of God with consciousness of the meaning of his name.

The name JHVH or YHWH (a.k.a., the Tetragrammaton) in Hebrew expresses the causative form and imperfect state of the verb ha-wah’, or “become.” The divine name, then, basically means “He Causes to Become,” in that Jehovah causes himself to become whatever he wishes in order to fulfill his purposes. Thus I decided that in The Cursed Ground and in the sequels to follow, the characters who know this God would refer to him as “He Who Causes to Become,” or, more often “the Becomer.”

Anyhow, I thought I would share my thought process leading to the way names are devised in the Edhai series, in case this might be of interest to readers.

ARK — 22 October 2014

 

 

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Ad in Biblical Archaeology Review for HCSBI was impressed recently to see the ad shown to the right from Biblical Archaeology Review for May/June of 2010. In an age where most churchgoers effectively don’t even know the name of the God they profess to worship, it is impressive that translators would have the courage to include the name of the Bible’s divine Author in its text.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) is published by B&H Publishing Group, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources. The organization has an earlier version of the HCSB available for free at MyStudyBible.com. This online version has some great study features. If you hover over key words in the text, you get a rollover displaying things like the word and pronunciation in the original language, definition, and information about how the HCSB renders that word in English throughout the text.

On playing around with the online version, one thing I noticed immediately was that in Gen. 2:4, the first place where the Tetragrammaton (YHWH or JHVH) appears in the Hebrew text, the HCSB disappointingly renders it “LORD,” as you would find in the King James version and its many derivatives. Hovering over “LORD” in that verse reveals that the online HCSB translates the name of God as a real name only 484 times, whereas it use the title “LORD” 5,925 times and “God” twice.

Online version of HCSB showing study features

So the HCSB translators know how the original text reads, but they made a conscious decision to stick to the practice of post-Biblical Judaism and Christendom of using a euphemism most of the time and including God’s name fewer than 8 percent of the 6,413 times it appears in the Hebrew scriptures.

This was surprisingly to me, especially in light of the strong message conveyed in the Biblical Archaeology Review ad. So I sent a feedback message on the MyStudyBible Web site asking for their reasoning. I was happy to receive a very nice message from E. Ray Clendenen, associate editor and one of the HCSB translators.

Ray tells me that the online version of the translation is an older one and that the newer version of the translation uses Yahweh over 600 times and that the translation team intends to increase the divine Name’s usage more over time.

Ray says the team used the following guidelines for rendering the Tetragrammaton as Yahweh:

We use it as the rendering of YHWH (which the Hebrew Bible editors first rendered as Adonai, “Lord”) whenever God’s “name” is being given (either explicitly, using the word “name,” or implicitly), when He is being identified (“I am Yahweh”), when He is being contrasted to other gods such as Baal, in certain repeated phrases such as “Yahweh the God of your fathers,” or when YHWH has been rendered by Yahweh in the immediate context.

He admits that the translators have probably been inconsistent in some cases, but provides an interesting insight into why they thought it wiser to continue the practice of substituting “LORD” most of the time:

… our objective is to introduce to the contemporary church what is the most likely pronunciation of the divine name YHWH in the Hebrew Bible. We did not render the majority of occurrences of YHWH as Yahweh because our goal is not only to be accurate but to use an English style that is most familiar to people. Since most Christians today probably do not commonly speak of “Yahweh,” but rather of “the Lord,” we felt it would be insensitive to use Yahweh for YHWH in every case and would make the Bible seem too uncomfortable for most people.

I thought this was a frank and humble admission from someone with extensive credentials as a Biblical scholar, acknowledging the limitations of his fellow believers. He tells me that “We hope that the name will grow on people and that we can expand the uses of Yahweh in future editions.”

At the same time, there is something sad about this confession — that eminent Bible translators feel that they have to hold back the truth because their readers would feel uncomfortable with the name of the true God.

[Update from 16 August 2014:] This engaging video was just released, presenting some good reasoning why the name of God should be included in the Bible: http://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/good-news-from-god/who-is-god/video-gods-name/

ARK — 23 Nov. 2010

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