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When did the Jews in general actually stop pronouncing the personal name of God?


Sep 19, 2016
So, at least in written form, there is no sound evidence of any disappearance or disuse of the divine name in the B.C.E. period. In the first century C.E., there first appears some evidence of a superstitious attitude toward the name. Josephus, a Jewish historian from a priestly family, when recounting God’s revelation to Moses at the site of the burning bush, says: “Then God revealed to him His name, which ere then had not come to men’s ears, and of which I am forbidden to speak.” (Jewish Antiquities, II, 276 [xii, 4]) Josephus’ statement, however, besides being inaccurate as to knowledge of the divine name prior to Moses, is vague and does not clearly reveal just what the general attitude current in the first century was as to pronouncing or using the divine name.

The Jewish Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic teachings and traditions, is somewhat more explicit. Its compilation is credited to a rabbi known as Judah the Prince, who lived in the second and third centuries C.E. Some of the Mishnaic material clearly relates to circumstances prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 C.E. Of the Mishnah, however, one scholar says: “It is a matter of extreme difficulty to decide what historical value we should attach to any tradition recorded in the Mishnah. The lapse of time which may have served to obscure or distort memories of times so different; the political upheavals, changes, and confusions brought about by two rebellions and two Roman conquests; the standards esteemed by the Pharisean party (whose opinions the Mishnah records) which were not those of the Sadducean party . . .—these are factors which need to be given due weight in estimating the character of the Mishnah’s statements. Moreover there is much in the contents of the Mishnah that moves in an atmosphere of academic discussion pursued for its own sake, with (so it would appear) little pretence at recording historical usage.” (The Mishnah, translated by H. Danby, London, 1954, pp. xiv, xv) Some of the Mishnaic traditions concerning the pronouncing of the divine name are as follows:In connection with the annual Day of Atonement, Danby’s translation of the Mishnah states: “And when the priests and the people which stood in the Temple Court heard the Expressed Name come forth from the mouth of the High Priest, they used to kneel and bow themselves and fall down on their faces and say, ‘Blessed be the name of the glory of his kingdom for ever and ever!’” (Yoma 6:2) Of the daily priestly blessings, Sotah 7:6 says: “In the Temple they pronounced the Name as it was written, but in the provinces by a substituted word.” Sanhedrin 7:5 states that a blasphemer was not guilty ‘unless he pronounced the Name,’ and that in a trial involving a charge of blasphemy a substitute name was used until all the evidence had been heard; then the chief witness was asked privately to ‘say expressly what he had heard,’ presumably employing the divine name. Sanhedrin 10:1, in listing those “that have no share in the world to come,” states: “Abba Saul says: Also he that pronounces the Name with its proper letters.” Yet, despite these negative views, one also finds in the first section of the Mishnah the positive injunction that “a man should salute his fellow with [the use of] the Name [of God],” the example of Boaz (Ru 2:4) then being cited.—Berakhot 9:5.Taken for what they are worth, these traditional views may reveal a superstitious tendency to avoid using the divine name sometime before Jerusalem’s temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. Even then, it is primarily the priests who are explicitly said to have used a substitute name in place of the divine name, and that only in the provinces. Additionally the historical value of the Mishnaic traditions is questionable, as we have seen.There is, therefore, no genuine basis for assigning any time earlier than the first and second centuries C.E. for the development of the superstitious view calling for discontinuance of the use of the divine name. The time did come, however, when in reading the Hebrew Scriptures in the original language, the Jewish reader substituted either ʼAdho·naiʹ (Sovereign Lord) or ʼElo·himʹ (God) rather than pronounce the divine name represented by the Tetragrammaton. This is seen from the fact that when vowel pointing came into use in the second half of the first millennium C.E., the Jewish copyists inserted the vowel points for either ʼAdho·naiʹ or ʼElo·himʹ into the Tetragrammaton, evidently to warn the reader to say those words in place of pronouncing the divine name. If using the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures in later copies, the reader, of course, found the Tetragrammaton completely replaced by Kyʹri·os and The·osʹ.—See LORD.Translations into other languages, such as the Latin Vulgate, followed the example of these later copies of the Greek Septuagint. The Catholic Douay Version (of 1609-1610) in English, based on the Latin Vulgate, therefore does not contain the divine name, while the King James Version (1611) uses LORD or GOD (in capital and small capitals) to represent the Tetragrammaton in the Hebrew Scriptures, except in four cases.