I AM and I AM THAT I AM: the Meaning of the Name of God ?

I AM and I AM THAT I AM: the Meaning of the Name of God ?

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There is a lot of confusion and many speculative theories floating around and being perpetuated among unserious scholars, especially on the internet, regarding the name(s) of the Hebrew God and its meaning.

It is often said that the name of God equates to “I am” or “I am that I am,” but does it really ?
And if so, how does one arrive at that conclusion ?

Let’s look at:

YHWH

The name יהוה first appearing in Gen. 2:4 [1] and throughout the Tanak (Old Testament), usually rendered in English as YHWH. In English Bibles it is substituted for LORD following the practice of the Jews in substituting it for Hashem or Adonai (being a variant vocalization of Adoni, “My Lord”.) [2]
YHWH is the name typically interpreted as “I am,” a phrase which would actually be more accurately rendered in Hebrew as אני חי, Ani Khay, rather than YHWH.

EHYEH-ASHER-EHYEH

The Hebrew phrase אהיה אשר אהיה appearing only in Ex. 3:14, usually transliterated Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, and translated variously as “I am that I am”:

“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM (אהיה אשר אהיה): and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM (אהיה) hath sent me unto you.” (KJV)

We see in this verse אהיה is interpreted as “I am,” thus given the same definition as יהוה, adding to the confusion.

More modern translations render אהיה אשר אהיה more inaccurately as “I am who (I) am,” thus interpreting Asher as “who.”

Grammatically speaking, this name is composed of the elements אהיה, Ehyeh [3] (perhaps more accurately Ahayah) and אשר, Asher. Ehyeh is derived from the Hebrew word meaning “to be” and being in the 1st person singular imperfect tense.
Asher is a pronoun usually translated as non-interrogative “that” or “which,” being functionally similar to  כי, Ki.

There are two primary forms of the word “to be,” viz. היה, Hayah and יהי, Yahay. The common root of both may be (the hypothetical) הי, Hay from which חי, Khay likely is derived. Hayah is often translated “was,” and Yahay “it came to pass.”

MEANING

The definition of Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh boils down to the interpretation of the two words it is composed of.
The definition, or rather, interpretation of YHWH is not as easy to ascertain, since it is not an actual word, being used only as a name.

Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh is perhaps most accurately translated “(I will) be that (I will) be,” although the exact meaning cannot be captured in English, as Hebrew uses two tenses, perfect and imperfect, rather than past, present and future. Perfect more or less equates to past and imperfect to future, but both are used to describe the present in various grammatical contexts.

YHWH (יהוה) along with Ehyeh (אהיה) is tentatively traced back to the word “to be,” but doesn’t mean the same thing.
In Hebrew, a verb can be made into a noun or name by adding the letter Waw. It is possible and likely that YHWH is a form of יהיה, Yihyeh [4] (perhaps more accurately Yahiah or Yahayah) another variant of “to be,” the second Yod being substituted for a Waw.
The name might then be approximated to “He is” or “He will be” or even “The being/existing (one,)” which is to say one who is defined by or performs the act of being.

Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh is thus a more understandable name than YHWH, since it’s two actual words, whereas YHWH is a word that seems to be a noun-form of the words Hayah/Yahay (“to be.”)

PRONUNICATION

Although the pronunciation of these words is unrelated to our previous study, it would be fitting to include a short exploration of the possible vocalization of these names.

In the case of a Waw-infix, the Waw is always pronounced as a vowel (in the range of O and U) thus yielding the vocalization of יהוה as “Yahuah” or similar.
This particular vocalization is testified in many Biblical Hebrew names, such as אליהו, Eliyahu, ישעיהו, Yishayahu, ירמיהו, Yirmiyahu, etc. [5]

אהיה אשר אהיה is a less controversial name, the individual words that make up the name being found all over the Bible, though again being preserved in different pronunciations by different Hebrew-speaking groups. As with our former example, the Ashkenazi pronunciation, being probably the most creative and least representative of the original ancient Hebrew, is unfortunately prioritized by many scholars and laymen.
Following the vowelization pattern of Mizrahi and Yemenite Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, Āhayah-Ašar-Āhayah seems a realistic proposition, the A’s perhaps occasionally being pronounced as O and Æ.

~~ Abel Zechariah, 29 Dec. 2012

FOOTNOTES

[1] Regarding the chapterization, it is easy to see that this verse should actually be the first verse of chapter 2, verses 1-3 of chapter 2 being the final verses of chapter 1.

[2] Contrary to popular ignorance, the term Adon is not just a replacement for YHWH, but is actually found in scripture, along with its derivates, like Adoni, for instance in Ps. 110:1 where it used in conjunction with YHWH:

“The LORD (יהוה) said unto my Lord (אדני), Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” (KJV)

[3] For various usages of אהיה, Ehyeh, (or Ahayah) see: http://biblesuite.com/hebrew/ehyeh_1961.htm

[4] For various usages of יהיה, Yihyeh, (or Yahiah or Yahayah) see: http://biblesuite.com/hebrew/yihyeh_1961.htm

[5] If the Waw were to be rendered as a sharp V as in the Ashkenazi pronunciation, which is the basis for the modern pronounciation of the tetragrammaton as Jehovah, אליהו might well be pronounced Eliyahev and so forth.
A slight correction of the Ashkenazic pronounciation of Waw renders “Yehowah,” essentially the same as our proposed transliteration of יהוה.

Note that “Originally, I and J were different shapes for the same letter,” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J#History) the same being used moreover to represent the Y, as is the case with the Hebrew Yeshua being rendered in Greek Iēsoûs and in Latin Iesu.

Regarding the history of the transliteration of the tetragrammaton into Latin script languages, including English, this should be an informative summary:

“In 1278 a spanish monk, Raymundo Martini, wrote the latin work PUGIO FIDEI (Dagger of faith). In it he used the name of God, spelling it Yohoua. Later printings of this work, dated some centuries later, used the spelling JEHOVA.

Soon after, in 1303, Porchetus de Salvaticis completed a work entitled VICTORIA PORCHETI AVERSUS IMPIOS HEBRAEOS (Porchetus’ Victory Against the Ungodly Hebrews). He spells God’s name IOHOUAH, IOHOUA and IHOUAH.

Then, in 1518, Petrus Galatinus, a Catholic priest born in the late 1400’s, published a work entitled DE ARCANIS CATHOLICAE VERITATIS (Concerning Secrets of the Universal Truth) in which he spelled God’s name IEHOUA.

…the name “Jehovah” first appeared in an English BIBLE in 1530, when William Tyndale published a translation of the Chumash (the first five books of the Bible). In this, he included the name of God, usually spelled IEHOUAH, in several verses (Genesis 15:2; Exodus 6:3; 15:3; 17:6; 23:17; 33:19; 34:23; Deuteronomy 3:24. Tyndale also included God’s name in Ezekiel 18:23 and 36:23 in his translations that were added at the end of THE NEW TESTAMENT, Antwerp, 1534), and in a note in this editon he wrote: “Iehovah is God’s name… moreover as oft as thou seist LORD in great letters (except there be any error in the printing) is is in Hebrew Iehovah.” (Please note as I told you previously, there was no “J” in English at this time; the J is a product of a stylized I; thus giving us the current Jehovah rather than the Old English Iehovah…)”
http://www.yhwh.com/jehovah.htm

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One Response to I AM and I AM THAT I AM: the Meaning of the Name of God ?

  1. theyosef says:

    I watched a video by Jeff Benner explaining this. Rather he said that the word encompasses “I am that I am,” “I will be who I will be,” along with a few others as one concrete meaning.

    Perhaps it reflects the words of the Lord Jesus Christ: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending,” saith the Lord, “which IS, and which WAS, and which IS TO COME, the Almighty.”

    No?

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