Allen S. Maller

Converts to Judaism get the most important name of God

An ancient tablet discovered near the Palestinian city of Nablus may contain the earliest known mention of the Biblical name of God, YHVH “Yahweh” in proto-alphabetic Hebrew writing; according to Scott Stripling, director of the Archaeological Studies Institute at The Bible Seminary in Texas, who announced the discovery of the lead tablet on March 24, 2022.

Stripling said it could push back the written record of the name “Yahweh” to 1300-1200 B.C.E. The inscription reads: “Cursed, cursed, cursed — cursed by the God YHW. You will die cursed. Cursed you will surely die. Cursed by YHW – cursed, cursed, cursed.”

The words El, Elah, Elohei and Elohim are pre Abrahamic west Semitic generic terms for a God or for many Gods. In these various forms they appear almost 3,000 times in the Hebrew Bible.

Of the dozens of names Jews use for God, the most important name is the one that God himself reveals to Moses at the burning bush: YHVH, which appears more than 6,800 times in the Hebrew Bible.

In Exodus 3:13-15, Moses said to God, “If I go to the Israelites and tell them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’—what should I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh”.

Ehyeh is the verb “to be” future tense singular and means I will/could/might/may be/become Who I may/could/will/might be/become i.e. Ehyeh is The God of Potentialities, The God of Possibilities, The Living God of Becoming and Transforming, the One who can liberate Israel from bondage in Egypt.

Unfortunately, the Greek and Latin translations of this verse were influenced by the Greek philosophical idea that God was similar to a permanent ideal form (like an equilateral triangle) or an unmoved mover, and is not like a living personality.

Since they thought God must be a static unchanging being they mistranslated “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh’ as ‘I am who I am’ rather than its plain meaning of ‘I can be whatever I should be to redeem you” i.e. God Almighty

The Torah continues, “And God said, “You must say this to the Israelites, “I am” (the usual false translation for God’s self revealed name) has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “You must say this to the Israelites, Ehyeh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and this is my memorial from generation to generation.’ (Exodus 3:13-15)

When Jews speak of God in the third person, God’s name is YHVH– “the One who causes being and becoming, the One who brings potentials into existence.”

This name (YHVH) was spoken publicly from the time of Moses and throughout the 3½ centuries of the 1st Temple of Solomon. But during the period of the 2nd Temple it was pronounced as Adonai (Lord) because of the feeling that God’s actual Holy name was too holy to utter audibly.

In later centuries even the alternate substitution word was considered too holy to utter; and the custom among pious Jews till this day is not to use any name for God at all (except in prayer); but to say HaShem–the name (of God) when speaking about God; and when writing use the form G-d. But why would a Psalm (117) use the YHVH when inviting non-Jews to praise Israel’s God?

Psalm 117 is only two verses long and exhorts non-Israelites to praise YHWH. Why would such a psalm be written? A look at the worldview of the exilic prophet Deutero-Isaiah provides an answer.

In Isaiah 49:6 God says to Isaiah: “Is it too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

And Isaiah 56:3-5 states: “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself (converted to Judaism) to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from His people.” Nor let the eunuch say “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “(especially) to the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and embrace My covenant; to them I will give in My (Temple) house and within My walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.”

Thus Psalm 117, the fifth of the 15 psalms that were sung by pilgrims, especially converts to Judaism, as they walked up to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, is comprised of a only two verses, fewer than twenty words, none especially difficult: “Praise YHWH, all you nations; extol Him, all you peoples, for great is His steadfast love toward us; (Jews) the faithfulness of YHWH endures forever. Hallelujah.”

“What does the psalm mean? Simply put, it exhorts the non-Jewish nations of the world to praise YHWH for what he did (and will do) on behalf of Israel. Psalm 117 is not unique in this, since other psalms also include exhortations to non-Israelites to praise YHWH. For example, Psalm 96, whose theme is the importance of proclaiming YHWH among the gentiles, also insists that the nations acclaim the God of Israel.

And Psalm 96:7 states: “Ascribe to YHWH, O families of the peoples, ascribe to YHWH glory and strength. 96:8 Ascribe to YHWH the glory of His name, bring tribute and enter His courts.”

Similarly, Psalm 100 opens with “Raise a shout for YHWH, all the earth,” and also appears to demand that the nations should praise YHWH because of his relationship with Israel; the same remarkable idea found in our psalm. The two even share some phrases. When read in light of these other psalms, Ps 117 seems less anomalous.

While the very brief Psalm 117 does not explain why the non-Jewish nations should start worshipping Israel’s God, some of these longer psalms do. For instance, the final line of Psalm 96 explains that the world should rejoice before YHWH: Ps 96:13 …for He is coming to rule the earth; He will rule the world justly, and its peoples in faithfulness.”

Thus the Most Important Name For God (YHVH) is very good for Non-Jews who become Jewish even though they have no knowledge of Jewish ancestry; and may not even have Jewish descendants, thus being single Jews in love with the Jewish People and its single God.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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