The tetragrammaton (meaning “[consisting of] four letters”), יהוה in Hebrew and YHWH in Latin script, is the four-letter biblical name of the God of Israel. The books of the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible (with the exception of Esther and Song of Songs) contain this Hebrew name. Religiously observant Jews and those who follow Talmudic Jewish traditions do not pronounce יהוה, nor do they read aloud transliterated forms such as Yahweh; instead the word is substituted with a different term, whether used to address or to refer to the God of Israel. Common substitutions for Hebrew forms are hakadosh baruch hu (“The Holy One, Blessed Be He”), Adonai (“My Lord”) or HaShem (“The Name”).

Four letters

The letters, properly read from right to left (in Biblical Hebrew), are:

Hebrew Letter name Pronunciation
י Yod [j]
ה He [h]
ו Waw [w], or placeholder for “O”/”U” vowel (see mater lectionis)
ה He [h] (or often a silent letter at the end of a word)
A window featuring the Hebrew tetragrammaton יְהֹוָה‎ in Karlskirche, Vienna

A window featuring the Hebrew tetragrammaton יְהֹוָה‎ in Karlskirche, Vienna


Different pronunciations have been conjectured. According to Albright-Reisel Hypothesis, vocalization of the Tetragrammaton must originally have been YeHuàH or YaHuàH. In Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft it reads that the Name itself was probably JAHÔH. It has also been proposed “some kind of gradual evolution from “Yahô” toward “Yahweh”” The Hebrew scholar Wilhelm Gesenius affirms that YaHWeH could be the original pronunciation, and recognized that theophoric names were giving a powerful argument in favour of Yehowah:

Several consider that Yahwoh is the true pronunciation… others as Reland… following the Samaritans, suppose that Yahweh was anciently the true pronunciation… Also those who consider Yehowah was the actual pronunciation are not altogether without ground on which to defend their opinion. In this way can be abbreviated syllables Yeho and Yo, with which many proper names begin, be more satisfactorily explained

YHWH and Hebrew script

Transcription of the divine name as ΙΑΩ in the 1st-century BCE Septuagint manuscript 4Q120

Transcription of the divine name as ΙΑΩ in the 1st-century BCE Septuagint manuscript 4Q120

The letters YHWH are consonants. In unpointed Biblical Hebrew, most vowels are not written and the rest are written only ambiguously, as certain consonants can double as vowel markers (similar to the Latin use of V to indicate both U and V). These are referred to as matres lectionis (“mothers of reading”). Therefore, in general, it is difficult to deduce how a word is pronounced only from its spelling, and the tetragrammaton is a particular example: two of its letters can serve as vowels, and two are vocalic place-holders, which are not pronounced.

The original consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible was, several centuries later, provided with vowel marks by the Masoretes to assist reading. In places that the consonants of the text to be read (the qere) differed from the consonants of the written text (the ketiv), they wrote the qere in the margin as a note showing what was to be read. In such a case the vowels of the qere were written on the ketiv. For a few frequent words, the marginal note was omitted: these are called qere perpetuum.

Wilhelm Gesenius's Hebrew punctuation (i.e., Yahweh)

Wilhelm Gesenius’s Hebrew punctuation (i.e., Yahweh)

One of the frequent cases was the tetragrammaton, which according to later Jewish practices should not be pronounced but read as “Adonai” (“My Lord”), or, if the previous or next word already was Adonai, as “Elohim” (“God”). The combination produces יְהֹוָה‎ and יֱהֹוה‎ respectively, non-words that would spell “Yehovah” and “Yehovih” respectively.

The oldest complete or nearly complete manuscripts of the Masoretic Text with Tiberian vocalisation, such as the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, both of the 10th or 11th century, mostly write יְהוָה (yhwah), with no pointing on the first h. It could be because the o diacritic point plays no useful role in distinguishing between Adonai and Elohim and so is redundant, or it could point to the qere being Shema, which is Aramaic for “the Name”.


Main article: Yahweh

Tetragrammaton (with the vowel points for Adonai) on a Wittenberg University debate lectern

Tetragrammaton (with the vowel points for Adonai) on a Wittenberg University debate lectern

The Hebrew scholar Wilhelm Gesenius [1786–1842] suggested that the Hebrew punctuation יַהְוֶה‎, which is transliterated into English as Yahweh, might more accurately represent the pronunciation of the tetragrammaton than the Masoretic punctuation “יְהֹוָה‎”, from which the English name Jehovah has been derived. His proposal to read YHWH as “יַהְוֶה” (see image to the left) was based in large part on various Greek transcriptions, such as ιαβε, dating from the first centuries CE but also on the forms of theophoric names. In his Hebrew Dictionary, Gesenius supports Yahweh (which would have been pronounced [jahwe], with the final letter being silent) because of the Samaritan pronunciation Ιαβεreported by Theodoret, and because the theophoric name prefixes YHW [jeho] and YW [jo], the theophoric name suffixes YHW [jahu] and YH [jah], and the abbreviated form YH[jah] can be derived from the form Yahweh. Gesenius’s proposal to read YHWH as יַהְוֶה is accepted as the best scholarly reconstructed vocalised Hebrew spelling of the tetragrammaton.

Textual evidence

Non-biblical sources

YHWH on Lachish letters

YHWH on Lachish letters

An image on the piece of pottery found at Kuntillet Ajrud is adjacent to a Hebrew inscription “Berakhti etkhem l’YHVH Shomron ul’Asherato” (“I have blessed you by Yahweh of Samaria and [his] Asherah”) dated around 800 BCE, on the walls of the second tomb on the southern slope of the Khirbet el-Qom hill (VIII century BCE), on the seal from the collections of the Harvard Semitic Museum(VIII century BCE), on ostracons from the collections of Shlomo Moussaieff (VII BCE), on silver rolls from Ketef Hinnom (VII century BCE), on inscriptions in the tombs of Khirbet Beit Lei (VIII – VII century BCE), on ostracons from Tel Arad (2nd half of the seventh and the beginning of the 6th century BCE), on the Lachish letters (587 BCE) and on a stone from Mount Gerizim (III or at the beginning of the second century BCE).

The Elephantine papyri, on which the jhw form appears, with the form of jhh are found on Elephantine. One time jh also appears, but originally it was a form of jhw in which the final letter in (Hebrew waw) disappeared. In eight cases, the tetragram occurs in the formula of the oath: “God’s jhh”.

God’s name appears in the Greek magical texts, the formation of which was established between the second century BCE to CE. It takes the following forms: Ieoa, Iaoa, Iaoai, Iaoouee, Ioa, Iao, Iaeo, Iaee, Ieou, Iaba, Iabas, Iabo, Iabe, Iaon.

God’s name in the form of Ἰαῶ (Iao) appears in: Diodorus Siculus, Marcus Terentius Varro according to the message of John the Lydian (De Mensibus, 4.53), Pedanius Dioscorides, Aelius Herodian, Hesychius of Alexandria.

A form of the name appears on the following Egyptian inscriptions: on the list of Amenhotep III discovered in the Temple of Amon in Soleb and in its copy from the time of Ramesses II in West Amara(recorded: yhw3, read: ja-h-wi or ja-h-wa), and on the list of places in the temple of Ramesses III in Medinet Habu (as ji-ha or ja-h-wi).

Mesha Stele

The oldest known inscription of the tetragrammaton dates to 840 BCE, on the Mesha Stele. It bears the earliest certain extra-biblical reference to the Israelite God Yahweh. The most recent discovery of a tetragrammaton inscription, dating to the 6th century BCE, was found written in Hebrew on two silver scrolls recovered from Jerusalem.

Magical papyri

The spellings of the tetragrammaton occur among the many combinations and permutations of names of powerful agents that occur in Jewish magical papyri found in Egypt. One of these forms is the heptagram ιαωουηε. In the Jewish magical papyri, Iave and Iαβα Yaba occurs frequently. Among the Jews in the Second Temple Period magical amulets became very popular. The tetragram appeared on them, in the form of J, JJ, JJJ, JJJJ or JH, JHW, as the word ‘HJH’, and in a long series of permutations: ‘, H, W and J.

Yawe is found in an Ethiopian Christian list of magical names of Jesus, purporting to have been taught by him to his disciples.

Hebrew Bible

Scholarly texts of the Hebrew Bible

In the Hebrew Bible, the tetragrammaton occurs 6828 times,:142 as can be seen in the Biblia Hebraica and Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. In addition, on the margins there are notes (masorah) indicating that in 134 places the soferim (Jewish scribes) altered the original Hebrew text from YHWH to Adonai and 8 places to Elohim, which would add 142 occurrences to the initial number above. According to Brown–Driver–Briggsיְהֹוָה‎ (Qr אֲדֹנָי‎) occurs 6,518 times, and יֱהֹוִה‎ (Qr אֱלֹהִים‎) occurs 305 times in the Masoretic Text. It first appears in Hebrew in the Book of Genesis 2:4. The only books it does not appear in are Ecclesiastes, the Book of Esther, and Song of Songs.

In the Book of Esther the Tetragrammaton does not appear, but it is present in four complex acrostics in Hebrew: the initial or last letters of four consecutive words, either forwards or backwards comprise YHWH. These letters were distinguished in at least three ancient Hebrew manuscripts in red. Another acrostic containing the Tetragrammaton also composed the first four words of Psalm 96:11.

Short form Jah (digrammaton) “occurs 50 times if the phrase hallellu-Yah is included”: 43 times in the Psalms, one in Exodus 15:2; 17:16; Isaiah 12:2; 26:4, and twice in Isaiah 38:11. It also appears in the Greek phrase Ἁλληλουϊά(hallelujah) in Revelation 19:1–6.

God’s name is also found in the Bible as a component in theophoric Hebrew names. Some may have had at the beginning of the form: jô- or jehô- (29 names), and the other at the end: jāhû- or jāh- (127 names). One name is a form of jehô as the second syllable (Elioenaj, hebr. ʼelj(eh)oʻenaj). Onomastic Studies indicate that theophoric names containing the Tetragrammaton were very popular during the monarchy (8th–7th centuries BCE). The popular names with the prefix jô-/jehô- diminished, while the suffix jāhû-/jāh- increased. The Septuagint typically translates YHWH as kyrios “Lord”.

Below are the number of occurrences of the Tetragrammaton in various books in the Masoretic Text (6828 in all).

the Tetragrammaton in various books in the Masoretic Text

The Tetragrammaton in various books in the Masoretic Text

Leningrad Codex

Six Hebrew spellings of the tetragrammaton are found in the Leningrad Codex of 1008–1010, as shown below. The entries in the Close Transcription column are not intended to indicate how the name was intended to be pronounced by the Masoretes, but only how the word would be pronounced if read without qere perpetuum.

Chapter and verse Hebrew spelling Close transcription Explanation
Genesis 2:4 יְהוָה Yǝhwāh This is the first occurrence of the tetragrammaton in the Hebrew Bible and shows the most common set of vowels used in the Masoretic text. It is the same as the form used in Genesis 3:14 below, but with the dot (holam) on the first he left out, because it is a little redundant.
Genesis 3:14 יְהֹוָה Yǝhōwāh This is a set of vowels used rarely in the Masoretic text, and are essentially the vowels from Adonai (with the hataf patakh reverting to its natural state as a shewa).
Judges 16:28 יֱהֹוִה Yĕhōwih When the tetragrammaton is preceded by Adonai, it receives the vowels from the name Elohim instead. The hataf segol does not revert to a shewa because doing so could lead to confusion with the vowels in Adonai.
Genesis 15:2 יֱהוִה Yĕhwih Just as above, this uses the vowels from Elohim, but like the second version, the dot (holam) on the first he is omitted as redundant.
1 Kings 2:26 יְהֹוִה Yǝhōwih Here, the dot (holam) on the first he is present, but the hataf segol does get reverted to a shewa.
Ezekiel 24:24 יְהוִה Yǝhwih Here, the dot (holam) on the first he is omitted, and the hataf segol gets reverted to a shewa.

ĕ is hataf segolǝ is the pronounced form of plain shva.

The o diacritic dot (holam) on the first he is often omitted because it plays no useful role in distinguishing between the two intended pronunciations Adonai and Elohim (which both happen to have an o vowel in the same position).

Dead Sea Scrolls

In the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Hebrew and Aramaic texts the tetragrammaton and some other names of God in Judaism (such as El or Elohim) were sometimes written in paleo-Hebrew script, showing that they were treated specially. Most of God’s names were pronounced until about the 2nd century BCE. Then, as a tradition of non-pronunciation of the names developed, alternatives for the tetragrammaton appeared, such as Adonai, Kurios and Theos. The 4Q120, a Greek fragment of Leviticus (26:2–16) discovered in the Dead Sea scrolls (Qumran) has ιαω (“Iao”), the Greek form of the Hebrew trigrammaton YHW. The historian John the Lydian (6th century) wrote: “The Roman Varo [116–27 BCE] defining him [that is the Jewish God] says that he is called Iao in the Chaldean mysteries” (De Mensibus IV 53). Van Cooten mentions that Iao is one of the “specifically Jewish designations for God” and “the Aramaic papyri from the Jews at Elephantine show that ‘Iao’ is an original Jewish term”.

The preserved manuscripts from Qumran show the inconsistent practice of writing the tetragrammaton, mainly in biblical quotations: in some manuscripts is written in paleo-Hebrew script, square scripts or replaced with four dots or dashes (tetrapuncta).

The members of the Qumran community were aware of the existence of the tetragrammaton, but this was not tantamount to granting consent for its existing use and speaking. This is evidenced not only by special treatment of the tetragrammaton in the text, but by the recommendation recorded in the ‘Rule of Association’ (VI, 27): “Who will remember the most glorious name, which is above all […]”.

The table below presents all the manuscripts in which the tetragrammaton is written in paleo-Hebrew script, in square scripts, and all the manuscripts in which the copyists have used tetrapuncta.

Septuagint and other Old Greek translations

Main article: Septuagint

Tetragrammaton written in paleo-Hebrew script on 8HevXII

Tetragrammaton written in paleo-Hebrew script on 8HevXII

The most complete copies of the Septuagint (B, א, A), versions from fourth century onwards consistently use Κύριος (“Lord”), or Θεός (“God”), where the Hebrew has YHWH, corresponding to substituting Adonai for YHWH in reading the original, but the oldest fragments have the tetragrammaton in Hebrew or Paleo-Hebrew characters, with the exception of P. Ryl. 458 (perhaps the oldest extant Septuagint manuscript) where there are blank spaces, leading some scholars such as Colin Henderson Roberts to believe that it contained letters, and 4Q120that has ΙΑΩ. According to Paul E. Kahle, in P. Ryl. 458 the tetragrammaton must have been written where these breaks or blank spaces appear.Albert Pietersma claims that P. Ryl. 458 is irrelevant in this discussion: Kahle insisted that a lacuna in it too large for the usual abbreviation κς, which C.H. Roberts suggested was intended for the complete word κύριος, was instead meant for the Hebrew tetragrammaton; Pietersma holds that “the full κύριος would seem to be perfectly acceptable from every perspective”.

The oldest known LXX manuscript that has the Hebrew tetragrammaton is of the first century BCE, with the letters written in square script. A slightly later one (between 50 BCE and 50 CE) has the tetragrammon in archaic Paleo-Hebrew letters.

Of the same period as the oldest LXX manuscript with the Hebrew tetragrammaton is the manuscript 4Q120 with the Greek trigrammaton ΙΑΩ. P.W. Skehan and Martin Hengel propose that the Septuagint originally had ΙΑΩ (pronounced Yaho = Aramaic יהו) and that this was altered to Aramaic/Hebrew characters and later to Paleo-Hebrew and finally was replaced by Κύριος.

Before the third century CE no Greek manuscript has Κύριος in place of the tetragram or ΙΑΩ. “An original tetragram, either in Semitic guise or in Greek transliteration”, “had been maintained as far back as Origen”, who wrote that the best copies used the paleo-Hebrew letters, not the square:

In the more accurate exemplars [of the LXX] the (divine) name is written in Hebrew characters; not, however, in the current script, but in the most ancient.

Other old fragments cannot be used in this discussion because, in addition to their brevity and fragmentary condition, they include no Hebrew Bible verse containing the Tetragrammaton (i.e. 4Q119, 4Q121, 4Q122, 7Q5). 4Q126, which contains the word κύριος cannot be cited as using it for the tetragrammaton, since its unidentified text is not necessarily biblical. In Septuagint manuscripts dating from about the third century CE onwards (e.g., P.Oxy656, P.Oxy1075 and P.Oxy1166) the Greek word Κύριος (Lord) is used rather frequently to represent the divine name יהוה (YHWH) and can be what was used when reading out representations in non-Greek characters.

In 2014, Pavlos Vasileiadis, Doctor of Theology (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), a researcher into the representation of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton in the Greek of various periods down to its modern form, summed up as follows the various views on the original treatment of the tetragrammaton in the Septuagint and concluded that hard evidence supports the view that the Septuagint originally translated the Hebrew tetragrammaton by some form of Ιαω, not by Κύριος nor by transcribing the tetragrammaton itself:

The original Greek translation of the divine name has proved to be a heavily debated subject. A constantly great amount of scholarly effort has been put in this question, especially as a result of more recent discoveries that challenged previously long-held assumptions. More specifically, W. G. von Baudissin (1929) maintained that right from its origins the LXX had rendered the Tetragrammaton by κύριος, and that in no case was this latter a mere substitute for an earlier αδωναι. Based on more recent evidence that had became available, P. Kahle (1960) supported that the Tetragrammaton written with Hebrew or Greek letters was retained in the OG and it was the Christians who later replaced it with κύριος. S. Jellicoe (1968) concurred with Kahle. H. Stegemann (1969/1978) argued that Ιαω /i.a.o/ was used in the original LXX. G. Howard (1977/1992) suggested that κύριος was not used in the pre-Christian OG. P. W. Skehan (1980) proposed that there had been a textual development concerning the divine name in this order: Ιαω, the Tetragrammaton in square Hebrew characters, the Tetragrammaton in paleo-Hebrew characters and, finally, κύριος. M. Hengel (1989) offered a similar scheme for the use of κύριος for the divine name in the LXX tradition. Evolving R. Hanhart’s position (1978/1986/1999), A. Pietersma (1984) regarded κύριος as the original Greek rendering of the Tetragrammaton in the OG text. This view was supported later by J. W. Wevers (2005) and M. Rösel (2007). Moreover, Rösel argued against the Ιαω being the original LXX rendering of the Tetragrammaton. E. Tov (1998/2004/2008), J. Joosten (2011), and A. Meyer (2014) concluded that Pietersma’s arguments are unconvincing. More particularly, Tov has supported that the original translators used a pronounceable form of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton (like Ιαω), which was later replaced by κύριος, while Greek recensions replaced it with transliterations in paleo-Hebrew or square Hebrew characters. R. Furuli (2011), after comparing the various proposals, argued that κύριος did not replace the Tetragrammaton before the Common Era and the LXX autographs included the Tetragrammaton in some form of Ιαω. Truly, the hard evidence available supports this latter thesis.

Throughout the Septuagint, as now known, the word Κύριος (Kyrios) without the definite article is used to represent the divine name, but it is uncertain whether this was the Septuagint’s original rendering. Origen (Commentary on Psalms2.2) and Jerome (Prologus Galeatus) said that in their time the best manuscripts gave not the word Κύριος but the tetragrammaton itself written in an older form of the Hebrew characters. No Jewish manuscript of the Septuagint has been found with Κύριος representing the tetragrammaton, and it has been argued, but not widely accepted, that the use of Κύριος shows that later copies of the Septuagint were of Christian character, and even that the composition of the New Testament preceded the change to Κύριος in the Septuagint. Its consistent use of Κύριος to represent the tetragrammaton has been called “a distinguishing mark for any Christian LXX manuscript”, However, a passage in the Hebrew Tosefta, Shabbat 13:5 (written c. 300 CE), quoting Tarfon (who lived between 70 and 135 CE), says that it was permitted on the Sabbath to burn Christian works − gilyonim (gospels?) and other writings − even if they contained the names of God written in them (without specifying the form or forms in which the names of God were written − as the Aramaic or Paleo-Hebrew Tetragrammaton, as ΙΑΩ or otherwise).

In the same year as the summary by Vasileiadis of older interpretations (2014), Frank Shaw published his The Earliest Non-Mystical Jewish Use of Ιαω, in which he argues that the divine name was still articulated until the second or third century and that the use of Ιαω was by no means limited to magical or mystical formulas, but was still normal in more elevated contexts such as that exemplified by Papyrus 4Q120. Shaw describes as “inconsistent and contradictory” the arguments by Pietersma, Rösel and Perkins for the originality of κύριος and considers all theories that posit in the Septuagint a single original form of the divine name as merely based on a priori assumptions. Accordingly, he declares: “The matter of any (especially single) ‘original’ form of the divine name in the LXX is too complex, the evidence is too scattered and indefinite, and the various approaches offered for the issue are too simplistic” to account for the actual scribal practices (p. 158). He holds that the earliest stages of the LXX’s translation were marked by diversity (p. 262), with the choice of certain divine names depending on the context in which they appear (cf. Gen 4:26; Exod 3:15; 8:22; 28:32; 32:5; and 33:19). He treats of the related blank spaces in Septuagint manuscripts and the setting of spaces around the divine name in 4Q120 and another manuscript (p. 265), and repeats that “there was no one ‘original’ form but different translators had different feelings, theological beliefs, motivations, and practices when it came to their handling of the name” (p. 271).

His view on these points has won the support of Didier Fontaine, Anthony R. Meyer, Bob Becking, and earlier (commenting on Shaw’s 2011 dissertation on the subject) D.T. Runia.

In the list of 120 or so manuscripts and fragments of Old Greek translations (LXX, Aquila etc.) down to and including the complete texts, Robert A. Kraft indicates that one has spaces in place of the Tetragrammaton (P. Ryl. 458) and one has ΙΑΩ (4Q120) in the period before the turn of the era. Extant manuscripts containing κύριος, including the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus codices, are from the third century CE onwards.

The tetragrammaton or something associated with it (ΙΑΩ or a space) occurs in the following texts of the Septuagint:

2nd-century BCE

  • Papyrus Rylands 458 – contains fragments of Deuteronomy. Has blank spaces where the copyist probably had to write either the tetragrammaton or the word κύριος. It has been dated to 2nd century BCE.

1st-century BCE

  • 4QpapLXXLevb – contains fragments of the Book of Leviticus, chapters 1 to 5. In two verses: 3:12; 4:27 the tetragrammaton of the Hebrew Bible is represented by the Greek trigrammaton ΙΑΩ. This manuscript is dated to the 1st century BCE.
  • Papyrus Fouad 266b (848) – contains fragments of Deuteronomy, chapters 10 to 33, dated to 1st century BCE. The tetragrammaton appears in square Hebrew/Aramaic script. According to a disputed view, the first copyist left a blank space marked with a dot, and another inscribed the letters.
  • Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3522 – contains parts of two verses of chapter 42 of the Book of Job and has the tetragrammaton written in paleo-Hebrew letters. It has been dated to the 1st century BCE.

1st-century CE

  • 8HevXII gr – dated to the 1st century CE, includes three fragments published separately.
    • Se2grXII (LXXIEJ 12) has the tetragrammaton in 1 place
    • 8HevXII a (LXXVTS 10a) in 24 places, whole or in part.
    • 8HevXII b (LXXVTS 10b) in 4 places.

2nd-century CE

  • Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 5101 – contains fragments of the Book of Psalms. It has been dated between year 50 and 150 CE

3rd-century CE

  • Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1007 – this manuscript in vitela form contains Genesis 2 and 3. The divine name is written with a double yodh. It has been assigned paleographically to the 3rd century.
  • Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 656 – containing fragments of the Book of Genesis, chapters 14 to 27. The first copyist left blank spaces in which a second wrote Kyrios. It is dated to the late 2nd or early 3rd century CE.
  • Papyrus Berlin 17213 – containing fragments of the Book of Genesis, chapter 19. Contains one blank space that may have been for the name of God, but Emanuel Tov thinks that it was to mark the end of a paragraph. It has been dated to 3rd century CE.

6th-century CE

  • Taylor-Schechter 16.320 – tetragrammaton in Hebrew, 550 – 649 CE.
  • Codex Marchalianus – uses ΙΑΩ as the divine name, but in the margin represents the tetragrammaton by the Greek letters ΠΙΠΙ. It is a 6th-century Greek manuscript.

Other translations

In copies of the Bible translated into Greek in the 2nd century CE by Symmachus and Aquila of Sinope, the tetragrammaton occurs. The following manuscripts contain the tetragrammaton:

3rd-century CE

  • Papyrus Vindobonensis Greek 39777, the P.Vindob.G.39777 – dated to late 3rd century or beginning 4th century.

5th-century CE

  • AqTaylor, this manuscript of the Aquila version is dated after the middle of the 5th century, but not later than the beginning of the 6th century.
  • AqBurkitt – a palimpsest manuscript of the Aquila version dated late 5th century or early 6th century.

Hexaplaric manuscripts

In the Hexapla, the tetragrammaton is included in works by Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion, but additionally in three other anonymous Greek translations (Quinta, Sextus and Septima).

7th-century CE

  • Taylor-Schechter 12.182 – a Hexapla manuscript with tetragrammaton in Greek letters ΠΙΠΙ. It is from 7th-century.

9th-century CE

  • Ambrosiano O 39 sup. – the latest Greek manuscript containing the name of God is Origen’sHexapla, transmitting among other translations the text of the Septuagint. This codex comes from the late 9th century, and is stored in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.

Sidney Jellicoe concluded that “Kahle is right in holding that LXX [Septuagint] texts, written by Jews for Jews, retained the divine name in Hebrew Letters (paleo-Hebrew or Aramaic) or in the Greek-letters imitative form ΠΙΠΙ, and that its replacement by Κύριος was a Christian innovation”. Jellicoe draws together evidence from a great many scholars (B. J. Roberts, Baudissin, Kahle and C. H. Roberts) and various segments of the Septuagint to draw the conclusions that the absence of “Adonai” from the text suggests that the insertion of the term Kyrios was a later practice; in the Septuagint Kyrios is used to substitute YHWH; and the tetragrammaton appeared in the original text, but Christian copyists removed it.

Eusebius and Jerome (translator of the Vulgate) used the Hexapla. Both attest to the importance of the sacred Name and that some manuscripts of Septuagint contained the tetragrammaton in Hebrew letters. This is further affirmed by The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, which states “Recently discovered texts doubt the idea that the translators of the LXX (Septuagint) have rendered the tetragrammaton JHWH with KYRIOS. The most ancient available manuscripts of the LXX have the tetragrammaton written in Hebrew letters in the Greek text. This was a custom preserved by the later Hebrew translator of the Old Testament in the first centuries (after Christ)”

David Trobisch has noted that, while Christian manuscripts of the Jewish Bible use Kύριος or the nomina sacra Θς and κς (with a horizontal line above the contracted words) to represent the Tetragrammaton, manuscripts of Greek translations of the Old Testament written by Jewish scribes, such as those found in Qumran, reproduce it within the Greek text in several different ways. Some give it in either Hebrew, Aramaic or paleo-Hebrew letters. Others transliterate it in Greek characters as ΠΙΠΙ or ΙΑΩ. The fragment Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1007 is in fact difficult to identify as either Christian or Jewish, as on the barely legible recto side (in Gen 2:18) it contains the nomen sacrum ΘΣ (characteristic of Christian manuscripts) and the Tetragrammaton represented as a double yodh יי (characteristic of Jewish manuscripts).

According to Edmon Gallagher, a faculty member of Heritage Christian University, “extant Greek manuscripts from Qumran and elsewhere that are unambiguously Jewish (because of the date) also include several ways of representing the Divine Name, none of which was with κύριος, the term used everywhere in our Christian manuscripts”. He concludes that there is no certainty about whether it was a Jew or a Christian who transcribed the Cairo Genizah manuscripts of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible by Aquila (not the LXX), in which the Tetragrammaton is generally given in paleo-Hebrew letters but in one instance, where there was insufficient space at the end of a line, by κυ, the nomen sacrumrendering of the genitive case of Κύριος. E. Gallagher also “has argued convincingly that Christian scribes might have produced paleo-Hebrew Tetragrammata within their biblical manuscripts, in addition to the attested use of the forms יהוה and πιπι.”

Petrus Alphonsi's early 12th-century Tetragrammaton-Trinity diagram, rendering the name as IEVE

Petrus Alphonsi’s early 12th-century Tetragrammaton-Trinity diagram, rendering the name as “IEVE”


In books written in Greek (e.g., Wisdom, 2 and 3 Maccabees), Κύριος takes the place of the name of God.

Patristic writings

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) and B.D. Eerdmans:

  • Diodorus Siculus (1st century BCE) writes Ἰαῶ (Iao);
  • Irenaeus (d. c. 202) reports that the Gnostics formed a compound Ἰαωθ (Iaoth) with the last syllable of Sabaoth. He also reports that the Valentinian heretics use Ἰαῶ (Iao);
  • Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 215) writes Ἰαοὺ (Iaou)—see also below;
  • Origen (d. c. 254), Ἰαώ (Iao);
  • Porphyry (d. c. 305) according to Eusebius (died 339), Ἰευώ (Ieuo);
  • Epiphanius (died 404), who was born in Palestine and spent a considerable part of his life there, gives Ἰά (Ia) and Ἰάβε (pronounced at that time /ja’vε/) and explains Ἰάβε as meaning He who was and is and always exists.
  • (Pseudo-)Jerome (4th/5th century), (tetragrammaton) can be read Iaho;
  • Theodoret (d. c. 457) writes Ἰαώ (Iao); he also reports that the Samaritans say Ἰαβέ or Ἰαβαί (both pronounced at that time /ja’vε/), while the Jews say Ἀϊά (Aia). (The latter is probably not יהוה‎ but אהיה‎ Ehyeh = “I am ” or “I will be”, Exod. 3:14 which the Jews counted among the names of God.)
  • Jacob of Edessa (died 708), Jehjeh;
  • Jerome (died 420) speaks of certain Greek writers who misunderstood the Hebrew letters יהוה‎ (read right-to-left) as the Greek letters ΠΙΠΙ (read left-to-right), thus changing YHWH to pipi.


The Peshitta (Syriac translation), probably in the second century, uses the word “Lord” (moryo) for the Tetragrammaton.


Main article: Vulgate

The Vulgate (Latin translation) made from the Hebrew in the 4th century CE, uses the word Dominus (“Lord”), a translation of the Hebrew word Adonai, for the tetragrammaton.

The Vulgate translation, though made not from the Septuagint but from the Hebrew text, did not depart from the practice used in the Septuagint. Thus, for most of its history, Christianity’s translations of the Scriptures have used equivalents of Adonai to represent the tetragrammaton. Only at about the beginning of the 16th century did Christian translations of the Bible appear with transliterations of the tetragrammaton.

Usage in religious traditions


Especially due to the existence of the Mesha Stele, the Jahwist tradition found in Exod. 3:15, and ancient Hebrew and Greek texts, biblical scholars widely hold that the tetragrammaton and other names of God were spoken by the ancient Israelites and their neighbours.

Some time after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, the spoken use of God’s name as it was written ceased among the people, even though knowledge of the pronunciation was perpetuated in rabbinic schools. The Talmud relays this occurred after the death of Simeon the Just (either Simon I or his great-great-grandson Simon II). Philo calls it ineffable, and says that it is lawful for those only whose ears and tongues are purified by wisdom to hear and utter it in a holy place (that is, for priests in the Temple). In another passage, commenting on Lev. xxiv. 15 seq.: “If any one, I do not say should blasphemeagainst the Lord of men and gods, but should even dare to utter his name unseasonably, let him expect the penalty of death.”

Rabbinic sources suggest that the name of God was pronounced only once a year, by the high priest, on the Day of Atonement. Others, including Maimonides, claim that the name was pronounced daily in the liturgy of the Temple in the priestly benediction of worshippers (Num. vi. 27), after the daily sacrifice; in the synagogues, though, a substitute (probably “Adonai”) was used. According to the Talmud, in the last generations before the fall of Jerusalem, the name was pronounced in a low tone so that the sounds were lost in the chant of the priests. Since the destruction of Second Temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the tetragrammaton has no longer been pronounced in the liturgy. However the pronunciation was still known in Babylonia in the latter part of the 4th century.

Spoken prohibitions

The vehemence with which the utterance of the name is denounced in the Mishnah suggests that use of Yahweh was unacceptable in rabbinical Judaism. “He who pronounces the Name with its own letters has no part in the world to come!” Such is the prohibition of pronouncing the Name as written that it is sometimes called the “Ineffable”, “Unutterable”, or “Distinctive Name”.

Halakha prescribes that whereas the Name written “yodh he waw he”, it is only to be pronounced “Adonai”; and the latter name too is regarded as a holy name, and is only to be pronounced in prayer. Thus when someone wants to refer in third person to either the written or spoken Name, the term HaShem “the Name” is used; and this handle itself can also be used in prayer. The Masoretes added vowel points (niqqud) and cantillation marks to the manuscripts to indicate vowel usage and for use in ritual chanting of readings from the Bible in Jewish prayer in synagogues. To יהוה‎ they added the vowels for “Adonai” (“My Lord”), the word to use when the text was read. While “HaShem” is the most common way to reference “the Name”, the terms “HaMaqom” (lit. “The Place”, i.e. “The Omnipresent”) and “Raḥmana” (Aramaic, “Merciful”) are used in the mishna and gemara, still used in the phrases “HaMaqom y’naḥem ethḥem” (“may The Omnipresent console you”), the traditional phrase used in sitting Shiva and “Raḥmana l’tzlan” (“may the Merciful save us” i.e. “God forbid”).

Written prohibitions

The written tetragrammaton, as well as six other names of God, must be treated with special sanctity. They cannot be disposed of regularly, lest they be desecrated, but are usually put in long term storage or buried in Jewish cemeteries in order to retire them from use. Similarly, writing the tetragrammaton (or these other names) unnecessarily is prohibited, so as to avoid having them treated disrespectfully, an action that is forbidden. To guard the sanctity of the Name, sometimes a letter is substituted by a different letter in writing (e.g. יקוק), or the letters are separated by one or more hyphens, a practice applied also to the English name “God”, which Jews commonly write as “G-d”. Most Jewish authorities say that this practice is not obligatory for the English name.


See also: Kabbalah and Hasidic philosophy

Kabbalistic tradition holds that the correct pronunciation is known to a select few people in each generation, it is not generally known what this pronunciation is. In late kabbalistic works the tetragrammaton is sometimes referred to as the name of Havayahהוי’ה, meaning “the Name of Being/Existence”. This name also helps when one needs to refer specifically to the written Name; similarly, “Shem Adonoot”, meaning “the Name of Lordship” can be used to refer to the spoken name “Adonai” specifically.

Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, says that the tree of the tetragrammaton “unfolds” in accordance with the intrinsic nature of its letters, “in the same order in which they appear in the Name, in the mystery of ten and the mystery of four.” Namely, the upper cusp of the Yod is Arich Anpin and the main body of Yod is and Abba; the first Hei is Imma; the Vav is Zeir Anpin and the second <i>Hei</i> is Nukvah. It unfolds in this aforementioned order and "in the mystery of the four expansions" that are constituted by the following various spellings of the letters:
<p style="padding-left: 40px;"><b>ע"ב/<i>
AV : יו”ד ה”י וי”ו ה”י, so called “`AV” according to its gematria value ע”ב=70+2=72.

ס”ג/SaG: יו”ד ה”י וא”ו ה”י, gematria 63.

מ”ה/MaH: יו”ד ה”א וא”ו ה”א, gematria 45.

ב”ן/BaN: יו”ד ה”ה ו”ו ה”ה, gematria 52.

A tetractys of the letters of the Tetragrammaton adds up to 72 by gematria.

A tetractys of the letters of the Tetragrammaton adds up to 72 by gematria.

Luzzatto summarises, “In sum, all that exists is founded on the mystery of this Name and upon the mystery of these letters of which it consists. This means that all the different orders and laws are all drawn after and come under the order of these four letters. This is not one particular pathway but rather the general path, which includes everything that exists in the Sefirot in all their details and which brings everything under its order.”

Another parallel is drawn between the four letters of the tetragrammaton and the Four Worlds: the י is associated with Atziluth, the first ה with Beri’ah, the ו with Yetzirah, and final ה with Assiah.

There are some who believe that the tetractys and its mysteries influenced the early kabbalists. A Hebrew tetractys in a similar way has the letters of the tetragrammaton (the four lettered name of God in Hebrew scripture) inscribed on the ten positions of the tetractys, from right to left. It has been argued that the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, with its ten spheres of emanation, is in some way connected to the tetractys, but its form is not that of a triangle. The occult writer Dion Fortune says:

“The point is assigned to Kether;
the line to Chokmah;
the two-dimensional plane to Binah;
consequently the three-dimensional solid naturally falls to Chesed.”

(The first three-dimensional solid is the tetrahedron.)

The relationship between geometrical shapes and the first four Sephirot is analogous to the geometrical correlations in tetractys, shown above under Pythagorean Symbol, and unveils the relevance of the Tree of Life with the tetractys.


The Samaritans shared the taboo of the Jews about the utterance of the name, and there is no evidence that its pronunciation was common Samaritan practice. However Sanhedrin 10:1includes the comment of Rabbi Mana II, “for example those Kutim who take an oath” would also have no share in the world to come, which suggests that Mana thought some Samaritans used the name in making oaths. (Their priests have preserved a liturgical pronunciation “Yahwe” or “Yahwa” to the present day.) As with Jews, the use of Shema (שמא “the Name”) remains the everyday usage of the name among Samaritans, akin to Hebrew “the Name” (Hebrew השם “HaShem”).


Tetragrammaton by Francisco Goya

Tetragrammaton by Francisco Goya: “The Name of God”, YHWH in triangle, detail from fresco Adoration of the Name of God, 1772

It is assumed that early Jewish Christians inherited from Jews the practice of reading “Lord” where the tetragrammaton appeared in the Hebrew text, or where a tetragrammaton may have been marked in a Greek text. Gentile Christians, primarily non-Hebrew speaking and using Greek texts, may have read “Lord” as it occurred in the Greek text of the New Testament and their copies of the Greek Old Testament. This practice continued into the Latin Vulgate where “Lord” represented the tetragrammaton in the Latin text. In Petrus Alphonsi’s Tetragrammaton-Trinity diagram, the name is written as “Ieve”. At the Reformation, the Luther Bible used “Jehova” in the German text of Luther’s Old Testament.

Christian translations

As mentioned above, the Septuagint (Greek translation), the Vulgate (Latin translation), and the Peshitta (Syriac translation) use the word “Lord” (κύριοςkyriosdominus, and ܡܳܪܝܳܐmoryorespectively).

Use of the Septuagint by Christians in polemics with Jews led to its abandonment by the latter, making it a specifically Christian text. From it Christians made translations into Coptic, Arabic, Slavonicand other languages used in Oriental Orthodoxy and the Eastern Orthodox Church, whose liturgies and doctrinal declarations are largely a cento of texts from the Septuagint, which they consider to be inspired at least as much as the Masoretic Text. Within the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Greek text remains the norm for texts in all languages, with particular reference to the wording used in prayers.

The Septuagint, with its use of Κύριος to represent the tetragrammaton, was the basis also for Christian translations associated with the West, in particular the Vetus Itala, which survives in some parts of the liturgy of the Latin Church, and the Gothic Bible.

Christian translations of the Bible into English commonly use “LORD” in place of the tetragrammaton in most passages, often in small capitals (or in all caps), so as to distinguish it from other words translated as “Lord”.

Translations where the divine name occurs in the Old Testament only:

  • The Bible In Basic English (1949/1964) uses “Yahweh” eight times, including Exodus 6:2–3.
  • The Jerusalem Bible (1966) uses “Yahweh” in 6,823 places in the Old Testament.
  • The New English Bible (NT 1961, OT 1970) generally uses the word “LORD” but uses “JEHOVAH” several times. For examples of both forms, see Exodus Chapter 3 and footnote to verse 15.
  • The New International Version (1973/1978/1983/2011) generally uses “the LORD,” though in Exodus 3:14, the tetragrammaton is thrice translated “I AM.” In the Old Testament, when immediately preceded by אֲדֹנָי (Adonai), the two words are translated “the Sovereign LORD.”
  • The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) uses “Yahweh” in 6,823 places in the Old Testament.
  • The Amplified Bible (1954/1987). At Exodus 6:3 the AB says “but by My name the Lord [Yahweh—the redemptive name of God] I did not make Myself known to them.”
  • The Living Bible (1971). “Jehovah” or “Lord”.
  • The Young’s Literal Translation (1862/1898) (Version) – “Jehovah” since Genesis 2:4
  • The Holman Christian Standard Bible (1999/2002) uses “Yahweh” over 50 times, including Exodus 6:2.
  • The World English Bible (WEB) (1997) [a Public Domain work with no copyright] uses “Yahweh” some 6837 times.
  • The New Living Translation (1996/2004) uses “Yahweh” ten times, including Exodus 6:2–3. The Preface of the New Living Translation: Second Edition says that in a few cases they have used the name Yahweh (for example 3:15; 6:2–3).
  • Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible (1902) retains “Yahweh” throughout the Old Testament.
  • The Anchor Bible (in progress) retains “Yahweh” throughout the Old Testament.
  • The King James Version (1611) – Jehovah appears seven times, i.e. four times as “JEHOVAH”, Exodus 6:3; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 12:2; 26:4, and three times as a part of Hebrew place-names Genesis 22:14; Exodus 17:15; Judges 6:24.
    • Note: Elsewhere in the KJV, “LORD” is generally used. But in verses such as Genesis 15:2; 28:13; Psalm 71:5; Amos 1:8; 9:5, where this practice would result in “Lord LORD” (Hebrew: Adonay JHVH) or “LORD Lord” (JHVH Adonay) the KJV translates the Hebrew text as ‘Lord GOD‘ or “LORD God”. In the New Testament, when quoting Psalm 110:1, the all-caps LORD for the Tetragrammaton appears four times, where the ordinary word “Lord” also appears: Matthew 22:44, Mark 12:36, Luke 20:42 and Acts 2:34.
  • The American Standard Version (1901) uses “Jehovah” in 6,823 places in the Old Testament.
  • The Lexham English Bible (2012) uses “Yahweh” throughout the Old Testament.
  • Green’s Literal Translation (1985) uses “Jehovah” in 6,866 places in the Old Testament.
  • The Recovery Version (1999) uses “Jehovah” in 6,841 places in the Old Testament.
  • The Darby Bible (1890) by John Nelson Darby renders the Tetragrammaton as Jehovah 6,810 times.
  • The Bible in Living English (1972) by Steven T. Byington, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, renders the Tetragrammaton as “Jehovah” throughout the Old Testament over 6,800 times.
  • The Names of God Bible (2011,2014) by Ann Spangler uses “Yahweh” throughout the Old Testament.

Translations where the divine name occurs in the New Testament:

  • In the Emphatic Diaglott (1864) a translation of the New Testament by Benjamin Wilson, the name Jehovah appears eighteen times.

Translations where the divine name occurs in the New Testament as well as in the Old Testament:

  • The New World Translation (1961/1984/2013), published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, uses “Jehovah” in 7,216 places in both the Old Testament and New Testament; 6,979 times in the Old Testament and 237 in the New Testament—including 70 of the 78 times where the New Testament quotes an Old Testament passage containing the Tetragrammaton, where the Tetragrammaton does not appear in any extant Greek manuscript.
  • the Sacred Scriptures Bethel Edition (1981) used by adherents of the Church of God (Seventh Day) inserts the name Yahweh in the Old and New Testament.
  • The Divine Name King James Bible (2011) uses “Jehovah” in 6,973 places and “Jah” in 50 places in the Old Testament. In addition, Jehovah appears in parentheses in 128 places in the New Testament wherever the New Testament quotes an Old Testament verse as a gloss (cross reference), totalling to 7,151 places in all.

Eastern Orthodoxy

The Eastern Orthodox Church considers the Septuagint text, which uses Κύριος (Lord), to be the authoritative text of the Old Testament, and in its liturgical books and prayers it uses Κύριος in place of the tetragrammaton in texts derived from the Bible.


In the Catholic Church, the first edition of the official Vatican Nova Vulgata Bibliorum Sacrorum Editio, editio typica, published in 1979, used the traditional Dominus when rendering the tetragrammaton in the overwhelming majority of places where it appears; however, it also used the form Iahveh for rendering the tetragrammaton in three known places:

  • Exodus 3:15
  • Exodus 15:3
  • Exodus 17:15

In the second edition of the Nova Vulgata Bibliorum Sacrorum Editio, editio typica altera, published in 1986, these few occurrences of the form Iahveh were replaced with Dominus, in keeping with the long-standing Catholic tradition of avoiding direct usage of the Ineffable Name.

On 29 June 2008, the Holy See reacted to the then still recent practice of pronouncing, within the Catholic liturgy, the name of God represented by the tetragrammaton. As examples of such vocalisation it mentioned “Yahweh” and “Yehovah”. The early Christians, it said, followed the example of the Septuagint in replacing the name of God with “the Lord”, a practice with important theological implications for their use of “the Lord” in reference to Jesus, as in Philippians 2:9-11 and other New Testament texts. It, therefore, directed that, “in liturgical celebrations, in songs and prayers the name of God in the form of the tetragrammaton YHWH is neither to be used or pronounced”; and that translations of Biblical texts for liturgical use are to follow the practice of the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, replacing the divine name with “the Lord” or, in some contexts, “God”. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed this instruction, adding that it “provides also an opportunity to offer catechesis for the faithful as an encouragement to show reverence for the Name of God in daily life, emphasizing the power of language as an act of devotion and worship”.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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