The most important name of God in Judaism is the
four-letter name of God. This name is first mentioned in the book of
Genesis and is usually translated as ’the Lord’. Because Jews have
for a long
period of time considered it blasphemy to pronounce, the
correct pronunciation of this name has been forgotten—the original
Hebrew texts only included consonants. Modern scholars conjecture
that it was pronounced "Yahweh".
An early depiction
of the Tetragrammaton - circa 600 B.C.E.
Portion of writing
on silver scroll with the "Priestly Benediction" (Numbers
The Hebrew letters are named Yod-Heh-Waw-Heh:
יהוה; note that Hebrew is written from right to left, rather than
left to right as in English. In English it is written as YHWH,
or JHVH depending on the transliteration convention that is used.
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.
According to Jewish tradition, in appearance, YHWH is the third
person singular imperfect of the verb "to be", meaning, therefore, "God
is," or "God will be" or, perhaps, "God lives". This explanation
agrees 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
The meaning would, therefore, be "He who is self-existing, self-sufficient,"
or, more concretely, "He who lives," the abstract conception of pure
existence being foreign to classical Hebrew thought. It stems from
the Hebrew conception of monotheism that God exists by himself, the
uncreated Creator who doesn’t depend on anything or anyone else;
therefore I am who I am.
Portion of column 19 of the Psalms Scroll (Tehilim) from Qumran Cave
The Tetragrammaton in paleo-Hebrew can be clearly seen five
times in this portion. The idea of ’life’ has been traditionally
connected with the name YHWH from medieval times. God is presented
as a living God, as contrasted with the lifeless Gods of the heathen:
God is presented as the source and author of life (compare 1 Kings
18; Isaiah 41:26–29, 44:6–20; Jeremiah 10:10, 14; Genesis 2:7; and
The name YHWH is often reconstructed as
Yahweh or often times
Jehovah in the English language. The name Yahweh is likely to be the
origin of the Yao of Gnosticism. A few also think it might be
cognate to Yaw of Ugaritic texts. If the Hehs in the Tetragrammaton
are seen as sacred augmentation similar to those in Abraham (from
Abram) and Sarah (from Sarai), then the association becomes clearer.
Though the final Heh in Yahweh was not pronounced in classical
Hebrew, the medial Heh would have almost certainly been pronounced.
The Tetragrammaton in Phoenician (1100 BC to AD 300), Aramaic (10th
Century BC to 0) and modern Hebrew scripts.
The prohibition of blasphemy, for which capital punishment is
prescribed in Jewish law, refers only to the Tetragrammaton (Soferim
iv., end; comp. Sanh. 66a).
Pronouncing the tetragrammaton
All modern denominations
of Judaism teach that the four letter name of God, YHWH, is
forbidden to be uttered except by the High Priest, in the Temple.
Since the Temple in Jerusalem no longer exists, this name is never
said in religious rituals by Jews. Orthodox and Conservative Jews
never pronounce it for any reason. Some non-Orthodox (but religious)
Jews are willing to pronounce it, but for educational purposes only,
and never in casual conversation or in prayer. Instead of
pronouncing YHWH during prayer, Jews say Adonai.
English translations of the Bible generally render YHWH as "Jehovah"
in several locations, while replacing the name altogether as "the
LORD" (in small capitals), and Adonai as "Lord" (in normal case). In
a few cases, where "Lord YHWH" appears, the combination is written
as "Lord God".
Jewish law requires that secondary rules be placed around the
primary law, to reduce the chance that the main law will be broken.
As such, it is common Jewish practice to restrict the use of the
word Adonai to prayer only. In conversation, many Jewish people will
call God "HaShem", which is Hebrew for "the Name" (this appears in
Leviticus 24:11). Many Jews extend this prohibition to some of the
other names listed below, and will add additional sounds to alter
the pronunciation of a name when using it outside of a liturgical
context, such as kel or elokim. Many Jews also write "G-d" instead
of "God". While this last substitution is by no means required by
religious law (only the Hebrew name, not the English, is holy), it
is done to remind the reader of the holiness attached to God’s name.
(N.B.: Some Orthodox rabbis, e.g.,
Shlomo Ganzfried, have held that
none of the proper names of God should be erased, blotted out, or
discarded, even in translation.)
Hashem (Hebrew: השם) means
The Name. Another similar term is Had’var
(Hebrew: הדבר), meaning "the thing that cannot be described" or
simply "the Word." While other names of God in Judaism are generally
restricted to use in a liturgical context, Hashem is used in more
casual circumstances. It does not occur in the Bible, and was first
used by the Rishonim (Medieval Rabbinic authorities). Hashem is used
by Orthodox Jews so as to avoid saying Adonai outside of a ritual
context. This extends to, for example, an audio recording of Jewish
prayers. An Orthodox Jew wouldn’t make the recording when actually
praying; they would make it in a recording studio, so they cannot
Other names of God
Jews also call God Adonai, Hebrew for "Lord" (Hebrew:
Formally, this is plural ("my Lords"), but the plural is usually
construed as a respectful, and not a syntactic plural. (The singular
form is Adoni ("my lord"). This was used by the Phoenicians for the
pagan God Tammuz and is the origin of the Greek name Adonis. Jews
only use the singular to refer to a distinguished person.)
Adonai and other names of
God may be written in the
plural form to point out that this one God embodies all of the many
Gods that were worshipped by the ancestors of the Israelites and
concurrently by the surrounding peoples.
Since pronouncing YHWH is considered sinful, Jews use
in prayers, and colloquially would use Hashem (The Name). When the
Masoretes added vowel pointings to the text of the Hebrew Bible in
the first century CE, they gave the word YHWH the vowels of
to remind the reader to say Adonai instead.
The name Ehyeh (Hebrew: אֶהְיֶה) denotes
God’s potency in the
immediate future, and is part of YHWH. The phrase "ehyeh-asher-ehyeh"
(Exodus 3:14) is interpreted by some authorities as "I will be
because I will be," using the second part as a gloss and referring
to God’s promise, "Certainly I will be [ehyeh] with thee" (Exodus
3:12). Other authorities claim that the whole phrase forms one name.
The Targum Onkelos leaves the phrase untranslated and is so quoted
in the Talmud (B. B. 73a). The "I am that I am" of the Authorized
Version is based on this view.
I am that I am (Hebrew: אהיהאשראהיה, pronounced
ehyeh’) is the sole response used in (Exodus 3:14) when Moses asked
for God’s name. It is one of the most famous verses in the Hebrew
Bible. Hayah means "existed" or "was" in Hebrew;
ehyeh is the
first-person singular imperfect form. Ehyeh asher ehyeh is generally
interpreted to mean "I will be what I will be", I shall be what I
shall be or I am that I am (King James Bible and others). The
Tetragrammaton itself may derive from the same verbal root.
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 also in Old South Arabian and in Ethiopic,
and, as in Hebrew, it is often used as an element in proper names.
In northwest Semitic texts it often appears to be used of one single
God, perhaps the head of the pantheon, sometimes specifically said
to be the creator.
El (Hebrew: אל) 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 jealousGod."
Other examples of its use with some attribute or epithet are:
`Elyon ("Most High God")
El Shaddai ("God Almighty")
El Hai ("Living
El Ro’i ("God of
El Elohe Israel ("God, the
God of Israel")
("God of Strength")
In addition, names such as Gabriel ("Strength
of God"), Michael ("He Who is Like God"),
Raphael ("God´s medicine")
and Daniel ("God is My Judge") use God’s name in a similar fashion.
Hebrew followed suit, preaching
monotheism and recognizing - based on Sumerian
scientific knowledge - the universality of God,
ingeniously solved the problem of duality and of the
multitude of the Anunnaki deities involved in
the events on Earth by concocting a
singular-but-plural deity, not an El (the
Hebrew equivalent of Ilu) but
Elohim - a
creator who is plural (literally "Gods")
and yet One.... The Hebrew were aware that the deity
who could speak to Abraham and Moses and the
celestial Lord whom the Sumerians called Nibiru
were not one and the same scientifically, although
all were part of a universal, everlasting, and
omnipotent God - Elohim - in whose grand
design for the universe the path for each planet is
its predetermined "destiny," and what
had done on Earth was likewise a predetermined
mission. Thus was the handiwork of a universal
God manifest in Heaven and on Earth."
A common name of God in the Hebrew Bible is
Elohim (Hebrew: אלהים);
as opposed to other names mentioned in this article, this name also
describes Gods of other religions.
Despite the -im ending common to many plural nouns in Hebrew, the
word Elohim, when referring to God is grammatically singular, and
regularly takes a singular verb in the Hebrew Bible. It is argued
that the word elohim had an origin in a plural grammatical form.
When the Hebrew Bible uses elohim not in reference to God, it
usually takes plural forms of the verb (for example, Exodus 20:3).
There are a few other such uses in Hebrew, for example Behemoth.
Other scholars interpret the -im ending as an expression of majesty
(pluralis majestatis) or excellence (pluralis excellentiae),
expressing high dignity or greatness: compare with the similar use
of plurals of ba`al (master) and adon (lord). For these reasons many
Christians cite the apparent plurality of elohim as evidence for the
basic Christian doctrine of the Trinity. This was a traditional
position but modern Christian theologians now largely accept that
this is an exegetical fallacy.
Theologians who dispute this claim, cite the hypothesis that plurals
of majesty came about in more modern times. Richard Toporoski, a
classics scholar, asserts that plurals of majesty first appeared in
the reign of Diocletian (284-305 CE)1. Indeed, Gesenius states in
his book Hebrew Grammar 2 the following:
The Jewish grammarians call such plurals … plur. virium or virtutum;
later grammarians call them plur. excellentiae, magnitudinis, or
plur. maiestaticus. This last name may have been suggested by the we
used by kings when speaking of themselves (compare 1 Maccabees 10:19
and 11:31); and the plural used by God in Genesis 1:26 and 11:7;
Isaiah 6:8 has been incorrectly explained in this way). It is,
however, either communicative (including the attendant angels: so at
all events in Isaiah 6:8 and Genesis 3:22), or according to others,
an indication of the fullness of power and might implied. It is best
explained as a plural of self-deliberation. The use of the plural as
a form of respectful address is quite foreign to Hebrew.
The plural form ending in -im can also be understood as denoting
abstraction, as in the Hebrew words chayyim: "life" or betulim:
"virginity". If understood this way Elohim means "divinity" or
"deity". The word chayyim is similarly syntactically singular when
used as a name but syntactically plural otherwise.
The Hebrew form
Eloah (אלוה, which looks as though it might be a
singular form of Elohim) is comparatively rare, occurring only in
poetry and late prose (in the Book of Job, 41 times). What is
probably the same divine name is found in Arabic (Ilah as singular
"a God", as opposed to Allah meaning "The
God" or "God") and in
This unusual singular form is used in six places
for heathen deities (examples: 2 Chronicles 32:15; Daniel 11:37,
38;). The normal Elohim form is also used in the plural a few times,
either for Gods or images (Exodus 9:1, 12:12, 20:3; and so forth) or
for one God (Exodus 32:1; Genesis 31:30, 32; and elsewhere). In the
great majority of cases both are used as names of the one God of
The root-meaning of the word is unknown. One theory is that it may
be connected with the old Arabic verb alih (to be perplexed, afraid;
to seek refuge because of fear). Eloah, Elohim, would, therefore, be
"He who is the object of fear or reverence," or "He with whom one
who is afraid takes refuge".
In many of the passages in which
Elohim occurs in the Bible it
refers to non-Israelite deities, or in some instances to powerful
men (Genesis 3:5), to judges (Exodus 21:6), or to Israel (Psalms
The name `Elyon occurs in
combination with El, YHWH or Elohim, and also alone. It appears
chiefly in poetic and later Biblical passages. The modern Hebrew
adjective "`Elyon" means "supreme" (as in "Supreme Court") or
"Most High". El Elyon has been traditionally translated into
English as ’God Most High’. The
Phoenicians used what appears to be a similar name for God,
It is cognate to the Arabic `Aliyy.
Shaddai - (Hebrew: שַׁדַּי)
The name Shaddai, which occurs both independently
and in combination with El, is used as a name of God chiefly in the
Book of Job. According to Exodus 6:2, 3, this is the name by which
God was known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the Septuagint and
other early translation it was translated with words meaning
The root word "shadad" (שדד) means "to overpower" or "to destroy".
This would give Shaddai the meaning of "destroyer" as one of the
aspects of God. Compare to "Shiva," the destroyer in the Hindu
trinity, "creator, preserver, destroyer".
Another theory is that
’Shaddai’ is a derivation of a Semitic stem
that appears in the Akkadian shadû, ’mountain’, and shaddā`û or
shaddû`a, ’mountain-dweller’. This theory was popularized by
Albright but was somewhat weakened when it was noticed that the
doubling of the medial d is first documented only in the
Neo-Assyrian period. However, the doubling in Hebrew might possibly
be secondary. In this theory God is seen as inhabiting a mythical
holy mountain: a concept not unknown in ancient near eastern
mythology (see El), and also evident in the Syriac Christian
writings of Ephrem the Syrian, who places Eden on an inaccessible
An alternative view proposed by Albright is that the name is
connected to shadayim which means breasts in Hebrew. It may thus be
connected to the notion of God’s fertility and blessings of the
human race. In several instances it is connected with fruitfulness:
“May God Almighty [El Shaddai] bless you and make you fruitful and
increase your numbers . . .” (Gen. 28:3).
“I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]: be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 35:11).
Almighty [El Shaddai] who will bless you with blessings of heaven
above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the
breasts [shadayim] and of the womb [racham] ” (Gen. 49:25).
It is also given a Midrashic interpretation as an acronym standing
for ’Guardian of the Doors of Israel’ (Hebrew: שׁוֹמֶרדְלָתוֹתיִשְׂרָאֶל), which is commonly found as carvings or writings upon
the Mezuzah, a vessel which houses a scroll of parchment with
Biblical text written on it, that is situated upon all the
doorframes in a home or establishment.
Shaddai was also a late Bronze age, Amorite city on the banks of the
Euphrates river, in northern Syria. The site of its ruin-mound is
called Tell eth-Thadyen: "Thadyen" being the modern Arabic rendering
of the original West Semitic "Shaddai." It has been conjectured that
El Shaddai was therefore the "God of Shaddai" and associated in
tradition with Abraham, and the inclusion of the Abraham stories
into the Hebrew Bible may have brought the northern name with them.
(See Documentary hypothesis.)
Shalom ("Peace"; Hebrew: שלום)
The Talmud says "the name of God is
’Peace’" (Pereḳ ha-Shalom, Shab.
10b), (Judges 6:23); consequently, one is not permitted to greet
another with the word shalom in unholy places such as a bathroom
(Talmud, Shabbat, 10b). The name Sh’lomo literaly His peace (from
shalom, Solomon, שלומו) refers to the
God of Peace.
Shekhinah (Hebrew: שכינה)
Shekhinah is the presence or manifestation of
which has descended to "dwell" among humanity. The term never
appears in the Hebrew Bible; later rabbis used the word when
speaking of God dwelling either in the Tabernacle or amongst the
people of Israel. The root of the word means "dwelling". Of the
principal names of God, it is the only one that is of the feminine
gender in Hebrew grammar.
The name Yah is composed of the first letters of
Rastafarian Jah is derived from this.
Jah (IPA: dʒɑ) is the name commonly
used for God in the religious Rastafari movement.
Rastafari consider Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia to have been the
religious symbol for Jah incarnate. Referring to him by the
title of Jah Rastafari, some consider him to have been the
personification of Jah, but this is only one interpretation or
metaphor for Rasta belief. Each and every Rasta is encouraged to
seek truth for themselves, and no central dogma is imposed.
Another way some Rastafarians use to express the idea of Jah is
the phrase "I and I" (such as "I and I survive" used in a song
by the Bad Brains, usually written "I&I") to represent each and
every person who recognizes themselves to be part of a
trinitarian unity "Haile Selassie I / Jah / I".
Jah is often thought to be a shortened form of the name Yahweh
or Jehovah. Thus, the term Hallelujah would mean "Praise Jah."
In the West Indies, the recent popularity of Christian Reggae
has led to the use of the name Jah in Christian circles,
especially among younger believers.
In the original text of the Hebrew Bible, "Jah" occurs 26 times
alone and 24 times in the term "Hallelujah".
It is transliterated "Jah" in a single instance (Psalm 68:4) in
the King James Version of the Bible, and An American Translation
has "Yah" at the same place. The Jehovah's Witnesses' New World
Translation of the Holy Scriptures transcribes all names of God
as Jehovah, while Rotherham's Emphasised Bible includes 49 uses
Jah is also an alternative spelling of the name of the Egyptian
deity Iah. Some believe there could be a connection between this
name and the Semitic name Jah.
The names YHWH and Elohim frequently occur with the word tzevaot or
sabaoth ("hosts" or "armies", Hebrew: צבאות) as,
YHWH Elohe Tzevaot
("YHWH God of Hosts")
Elohe Tzevaot ("God of Hosts")
Tzevaot ("Lord YHWH of Hosts")
or, most frequently, YHWH Tzevaot
("YHVH of Hosts")
This name is traditionally transliterated in
Latin as Sabaoth, a form that will be more familiar to many English
readers, as it was used in the King James Version of the Bible.
This compound divine name occurs chiefly in the prophetic literature
and does not appear at all in the Pentateuch, Joshua or Judges. The
original meaning of tzevaot may be found in 1 Samuel 17:45, where it
is interpreted as denoting "the God of the armies of Israel". The
word, apart from this special use, always means armies or hosts of
men, as, for example, in Exodus 6:26, 7:4, 12:41, while the singular
is used to designate the heavenly host.
The Latin spelling Sabaoth combined with the large, golden vine
motif over the door on the Herodian Temple (built by the Jewish
Herod the Great) led to identification by Romans with the God
The name Sabaoth is also associated with a demi-God in the gnostic
scriptures of the
Nag Hammadi Text- he is the son of Yaltabaoth
Lesser used names of
Abir — "Strong One"
Avinu Malkeinu — "Our Father,
Boreh — "the Creator"
Ehiyeh sh’Ehiyeh — "I Am That I Am": a modern Hebrew version of
"Ehyeh asher Ehyeh"
Elohei Avraham, Elohei Yitzchak ve Elohei Ya`aqov
— "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob"
El ha-Gibbor — "God the hero" or
"God the strong one"
Emet — "Truth"
E’in Sof — "endless, infinite", Kabbalistic
name of God
Ro’eh Yisrael — "Shepherd of
Ha-Kaddosh, Baruch Hu — "The
Holy One, Blessed be He"
Kaddosh Israel — "Holy One of
Melech ha-Melachim — "The King
Makom — literally "the place", meaning "The Omnipresent"; see
Magen Avraham — "Shield of
YHWH-Yireh (Yahweh-Yireh) — "The
Lord will provide" (Genesis 22:13, 14)
YHWH-Rapha" — "The Lord that healeth"
— "The Lord our Banner" (Exodus 17:8-15)
YHWH-Shalom — "The Lord our
Peace" (Judges 6:24)
YHWH-Ra-ah — "The Lord my
Shepherd" (Psalms 23:1)
YHWH-Tsidkenu — "The Lord our
Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6)
YHWH-Shammah — "The Lord is
present" (Ezekiel 48:35)