In other words, is Exodus 3:14 suggesting that the Tetragrammaton is a form of the verb "to be"? Can someone explain the linguistic path from the Tetragrammaton to the verb, "to be"?

  • yes of course it seems linked – kouty Jul 24 '17 at 12:15
  • The context suggests that they are linked but I'm wondering if the linkage is one that is recognized and understood or has it been lost or become uncertain? – Ruminator Jul 24 '17 at 12:17
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    @wound if that's what you're wondering why didn't you say that in your question post?? – Double AA Jul 24 '17 at 14:09
  • I edited the OP to make it clearer what I am seeking: a linguistic relationship between the Tetragrammaton and the verb "to be" (or whatever the name is derived from). – Ruminator Jul 24 '17 at 14:14

The noun היה/הוה means "to be" (see this), if you add the prefix alef אהיה it means "i will be", if you add instead a yud יהיה it means "he will be". This is the the meaning of the Tetragrammaton according to the Rashbam exodus 3:15 (written in codes א"ת ב"ש).

It seems that most interpreters took it as form of "to be", but they disagree as to what this expression is supposed to convey.

Rashi (which almost always reflects the views of the Rabbis) interprets it meaning that i will always be with you Israel; i will take you out of egypt and even of other exiles. According to this explanation the Tetragrammaton is understood in the context of the exodus only, and the name is supposed to convey something about their condition in egypt and the exodus that will follow.

However, Rashbam, Chizkuni and Sforno understood this more broadly, they interpret it meaning i will be or exist forever. The name reveals more about the nature of god himself, and the interpretation is more philosophical, and less focused on the condition in egypt, though it conveys something about their exodus as well.

So you see that this linguistic relationship has not been lost to us, on the contrary it has been understood so by our Rabbis and later Jewish commentators for the past 2000 years.

  • Thank you Bach. So how would one get from the Tetragrammaton to OLAM (which I think is "for ever")? They seem to be totally unrelated linguistically. Can you see what I'm puzzled by? – Ruminator Jul 24 '17 at 14:06
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    @WoundedEgo your right, this seems to be an interpolation from the Jewish commentators, but since the phrase is so vague they felt that the word Olam must be added for clarity. When i say "i will be" what do i mean? it could mean "i will be forever", or "i will always be with you", hence the two interpretations. – Bach Jul 24 '17 at 14:12
  • Have you provided the linguistic relationship between the Tetragrammaton and the verb "to be"? – Ruminator Jul 24 '17 at 14:18
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    well since you edited the OP the crux of the question has been shifted from "has this link been recognized through the ages", to "what is the relationship between them". @shalom also understood that your asking about the former. – Bach Jul 24 '17 at 14:25
  • By "linguistic" I'm asking about the Hebrew language rules. Perhaps it would be clearer if I say "Hebrew language semantics" or something like that. The answer should involve showing how "I will be forever" or such is expressed in those four "sorta vowels". Opinions are not in view, but rather evidence. – Ruminator Jul 24 '17 at 14:26

Yes, very well-known. During prayers, upon encountering the Tetragrammaton, most Jewish prayer books note that the proper concentration is -- "was, is, and will be." -- I.e., God is above time.

Here's Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan commenting on Exodus just after 3:14:

YHVH This is the Tetragrammaton which may not be pronounced under any circumstances (cf. Sanhedrin 90a; Philo, De Vida Moses 3:519, 529). If this section is read out loud, this name should be read as 'Lord' (cf. Septuagint). This name denotes God's utter transcendence (Kuzari 2:2; Moreh Nevukhim 1:61). This name also denotes the creative power that constantly sustains the universe. God is telling Moses that not only is the initial purpose of creation now being fulfilled, but also the process that will insure its continual existence.

  • Shalom, as I am Hebrew illiterate might you please explain linguistically how one gets from the Tetragrammaton to "was, is and will be"? I mean, is it in the conjugation? – Ruminator Jul 24 '17 at 13:44
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    @WoundedEgo The Tetragrammaton is not a standard conjugation of the verb "to be". Instead, it is a combination of elements that could be associated with each of the three tenses. – Daniel Jul 24 '17 at 13:55
  • Ah, thank you Daniel. Do you have any [primary] source that explains that association? – Ruminator Jul 24 '17 at 13:56
  • @WoundedEgo I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that. To someone who reads Hebrew, it's obvious; no source would be needed. – Daniel Jul 24 '17 at 17:13

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