Saturday, August 23, 2008
HaShem: the Name
The June 29 Vatican message, from the Congregation for Divine Worship
and the Sacraments, clarified that the name of God revealed in YHWH
was not pronounced by the first Christians, following the tradition
already in use.
It explained: "The venerable biblical tradition of sacred Scripture,
known as the Old Testament, displays a series of divine appellations,
among which is the sacred name of God revealed in a tetragrammaton
YHWH -- hwhw. As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty
of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced
during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an
alternate name: 'Adonai,' which means 'Lord.'
This is a problematic clarification. The tetragrammaton is not really pronounced in Church and "Yahweh" is often reduced to YHWH"; on the other hand, it historically generated "Jehovah" adopted by the Jehovah's witnesses who insist on this naming and uttering. The problem is that the "Shem HaMeforash\שם המפורש" is the tetragrammon. It was only pronounced "with sounds and vowels" once a year in the Holy of Holies (devir\דביר) by the high priest during the celebration of the Yom HaKippurim\יום הכפורים - Day of Expiations, the day of atonement (at-One-men = unity of all the creation and human beings being pardoned). This liturgical act is included in the prayer books for the celebration of Yom Kippur and the faithful recall this most sacred moment that focus(ed) both on God's pardon and reign over the whole of the universe.
The Vatican note does not refer to the Jews, but mentions that it was the practice "in use". It should be very important to explain the roots that are to be found in the Day of Atonement, because it really makes sense to naming or not naming God by uttering His "personal" Name. Indeed, we know that the Name has been pronounced with specific vowels in certain periods of the religious history of Israel.
On the other hand, "Adonai" (Adoni\אדוני = Sir in Hebrew) was the usual pronunciation. The article forgets that the pronunciation of the Name was strictly limited to the Day of Atonement. The Orthodox Church does not refer to the Hebrew text, but to the Septuagint, a Jewish translation of the Bible in Greek made in Alexandria. It means that the Orthodox Church does recognize the validity of the Jewish tradition as regards the translation of the Scripture. It is rarely stated and rather positive. Thus, the tetragrammaton is "Lord" in English, "Dominus" in Latin or "Gospod'\Господь" in Slavonic; Greek is "Kyrios = both king and Sir". The Zenith Vatican article article points out that the Jews do not pronounce "Yahweh" according to the Septuagint, without connecting with the early tradition of the Orthodox Church (["The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the so called Septuagint, dating back to the last centuries prior to the Christian era, had regularly rendered the Hebrew tetragrammaton with the Greek word Kyrios, which means 'Lord.' Since the text of the Septuagint
constituted the Bible of the first generation of Greek speaking
Christians, in which language all the books of the New Testament were
also written, these Christians, too, from the beginning never
pronounced the divine tetragrammaton."]).
Many bilingual Hebrew-English versions systematically use "Lord" for "YHWH" uttered "Adonai" during a Jewish praying service and "HaShem\השם = the Name" when not in the context of a praying service. "G-d, G., God" corresponds to "Elohim\אלהים". Now, in the Roman Catholic Latin mass (there are 14 different rites accepted by the Roman Church because she includes the Oriental and some Western rites), the "Kyrie eleison" is broken down in "Lord have mercy", then "Christe, eleison" and finally "Lord (Spirit), have mercy". In the Latin mass, it is not clear whether it refers to the Spirit. In Aramaic, there is still the original difference between the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity: Mar/Mor - Mariya/Mariyo and Maran ܡܪ ܡܪܝܐ ܡܪܢ\מר- מריא -מרן, which makes a clear difference between the Persons of the Holy Trinity.
Still, Christians are not Jews and vice versa. It is important to do everything to cancel this terrible estrangement, but with much respect for every tradition. Christianity cannot replace Judaism. The point is that the Zenith note does not explain the context in which Jews could not utter God's Name.
True, the canonical attitudes adopted by the Churches toward the Name of the Lord could pave the way to a better understanding of Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement which plays a major role in the liturgical and spiritual ways that govern the Ecclesia universa, plerome of the Church.
The Vatican note quotes Saint Paul: ""When in fact, St. Paul, with regard to the crucifixion, writes that 'God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name" (Phil 2:9), he does not mean any other name than 'Lord,' for he continues by saying, 'and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord' (Phil 2:11; cf. Isaiah 42:8: 'I am the Lord;
that is my name'). This would imply that Paul of Tarsus only referred to the Septuagint. He certainly did when he wrote his epistles in Greek. In Philippians 2:11, the verse does not cancel God's lordship. On the contrary, it defines with precision why and how Jesus is Lord "to the glory of God the Father". This is clear. The Son does not replace His Father. He leads to the Father who is God.
"The attribution of this title [Lord] to the risen Christ corresponds exactly
to the proclamation of his divinity," it continued. "The title in fact
becomes interchangeable between the God of Israel and the Messiah of
the Christian faith, even though it is not in fact one of the titles
used for the Messiah of Israel."
The Christian faith confesses that Jesus is Christos = Messiah as the Son of Man. He is the Son of God; still everything depends on the will of His God and Father. Is there any kind of interchangeability? "Lord" does underline, for the Christians, that Jesus of Nazareth is both divine and human. The Oriental prayer of Jesus - Yeshua\ישוע - יהושוע traces back to "healing and redemption, salvation" in Hebrew. In Greek, Slavonic, Arabic and the tongues used in the Orthodox Churches, the Name of Jesus is very specific and can hardly be confused with the Kingly Name of His Father and our living God.
I am often surprised that many Christians think that the Prayer of the Lord (Our Father) is directed to Jesus!! A lot of faithful don't make any difference with God the Father. But there cannot be any "neutralization". The Father and the Son are One (John, ch. 17). Each naming allows to get deeper into the mystery of redemption to the full.
av Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel
Photograph: avun divshmayo - Our Father (Aramaic)
אבון דבשמיא ܐܒܘܢ ܖܒܫܡܝܐ