The Four-Letter Word

For many people, there seems to be no hesitation in spelling out and regularly using the Tetragrammaton. I’m not one of those. Perhaps it’s because the people that taught me Hebrew (Biblical, post-Biblical, and Modern Israeli) were Jewish that I’m entirely uncomfortable with pronouncing the currently favored scholarly reconstruction of this name. When reading the Hebrew Bible we always vocalized what the Masoretic Text was pointed to indicate, אדני or אלהים as the case may be. Anyhow, I just thought I’d explain, if anyone in fact had even noticed that I avoid this, or may, in a pinch resort to Y” in place of simply LORD or Lord or God, though I think I’ve only rarely used even that.

There are other reasons, too. Socially, I’m not on first name terms with God. Nor am I so with my father or my mother or any number of others whom I love and/or respect. That does it for me. The rest is icing on the cake.

Religiously, I find using that pronunciation suspect. It’s not part of any religious tradition carried down through the millennia. The Judaic tradition abandoned its pronunciation long ago. The Christian tradition never used it, though it was a curiosity, apparently. Had the syncretistic Hermetic magical tradition survived late antiquity, there might be a living connection there to a garbled version of it, but it was garbled and that tradition died out anyway. It’s a new thing in that sense, and its usage is no more necessary or required or necessarily correct than the use of the simplistically concocted “Jehovah.” The “Sacred Names” people can be all over it, with their syrupy CDs and ghastly Tshirts and coffee mugs and whatnot, in fonts with appropriatly Hebrewish-looking English letters (Lord. Have. Mercy!) but that doesn’t make it authentic. To me it just seems really, really wrong to be bandying about this name as though it’s some kind of proof or trophy badge of your authenticity when it’s not an authentic part of any tradition at all. It’s a scholarly reconstruction, utterly devoid of any traditional religious value, as they all are.

I have some basic scholarly reservations, too, though they’re not so viscreally felt as my reaction to a tacky Tshirt sporting the supposed name of God. It would be one matter if the pronunciation were preserved there in the Masoretic Text, but it’s not. Therefore, it’s another matter: that of taking the word of patristic Christian writers (who didn’t know Hebrew!) on Hebrew pronunciation. Aside from Origen and Jerome, apparently none of them, including Clement of Alexandria, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and Epiphanius of Salamis, our star witnesses to the ancient pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, knew Hebrew. Certainly the scribes doing the transmitting of the Greek texts of these fathers didn’t know Hebrew, and we can’t be certain that, textually speaking, these readings which we think are accurate indicators of ancient Hebrew are really such. So that’s the “traditional” pronunciation in a nutshell, based on writings from 100-200 years after the name had ceased to be pronounced by anyone, anywhere (with the date for its last pronunciation being the last celebrated Day of Atonement in the Jerusalem Temple in 69? AD). Yet with that in hand, it’s possible to back this up with data from the Masoretic Text, particularly other words ending with וה-, and some other hints, as described in HALOT. But that could also be a wild goose chase. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, but it’s certainly possible. It’s a personal name, after all, not an actual verb or noun. How certain were scholars with “Jehovah”? It was also the unquestioned darling of the ink-stained for centuries. One must avoid the apparently dogmatic representation of the currently favored pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton among scholars as being truly authentic. It’s certainly the best guess we can make based on the evidence we have, and thus should be treated in that manner, but not as though it’s an established fact.

The Uncertain Path

Journeying upon the uncertain path of life, I have fallen among thieves, and am despoiled by my own thoughts; my wounds stink and are corrupt. O Physician of the sick, at the prayers of all Thy saints give me Thine hand.

The waves of grievous sin confuse my understanding; save me, O Jesus, as once Thou hast saved Peter, for I sing to Thee: O all ye works, bless ye and praise ye the Lord.

Let us kill the passions by abstinence, and through fasting let us make our spirit mount on wings to heaven; and let us cry with contrite hearts: We have sinned against Thee, O God; in Thy compassion forgive us.

Canticle Eight, Monday in the Second Week of the Great Fast. Text from Mother Mary and Archimandrite [now Bishop] Kallistos Ware, The Lenten Triodion: Supplementary Texts. Bussey-en-Othe: Monastery of the Veil of the Mother of God, 1979.

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Yesterday was the Sunday of Orthodoxy, commemorating the Triumph of Orthodoxy over the Iconoclasts in 843 AD. There is a lengthy work called the Synodicon of Orthodoxy, from which only selections are usually read in parish churches, but which is somewhat of a history of heresies. Here is one paragraph:

To those who do not accept with a pure and simple faith and with all their soul and heart the extraordinary miracles of our Saviour and God, those of His immaculate Mother, our Lady, the Theotokos, and of the other Saints, but who attempt with sophistic demonstration and words to traduce those miracles as being impossible, or to misinterpret them according to their own lights and to dispose of them in conformance with their own opinion,

Anathema.   Anathema.   Anathema.

Text excerpted, pp 48-9, from “Synodicon of Orthodoxy,” The True Vine 27/28 (Spring 2000), 35-82.
This paragraph is from a section which dates to just after 1082, and was directed against John Italus and his followers, who preferred pagan Greek philosophy to the doctrines of the Church. It goes to show that “modern” man is not always original, and certainly is not so in his denial of the miraculous.

There is, as Solomon may once have said, nothing new under the sun.