Is the Name of Elohim lost to antiquity only to be speculated among men? A discourse – part VI

Previously we learnt that the Hasmonean Dynasty had achieved its full independence in 110 BC. It was, however, short lived. During that time John Hyrcanus succeeded Simon his father as the High Priest and also as ruler of the Jews. At this point the Hasmonean Kingdom slowly departed further from the right path and after him there was successive infighting among the family members which involved murder of their own flesh and blood.

John Hyrcanus had also forcefully converted the Idumeans, i.e. the Edomites, to Judaism. A generation later, one of the converted descendants would later alter the course of the Jewish destiny. It was to be through the progeny of Antipater the Idumean. Antipater later held a high ranking position in the service of Hyrcanus II, a grandson of John Hyrcanus. Through his line, Antipater’s son was to pave way for the Herodian Dynasty that would close the chapter of the Hasmonean Dynasty. Thus, ushering in the seed of the old serpent that would soon bruise the heel of the seed of the woman as foretold in the Book of Genesis:

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15).

The Herodian Dynasty

Herod the Great, born 73 B.C. was the second son of Antipater. His Nabatean mother, Cypros, was the daughter of an Arabian Sheikh. Soon, the era of the Hasmonean dynasty would come to an end and the Herodian era would begin. Thus, it would also mark the beginning of the New Testament period.

Herod was conferred the title “King of Judea” by the Roman Senate. He reigned Judea ruthlessly from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C.  Under his reign he showed no mercy to those whom he feared would betray him. By his schizophrenic rule he demonstrated the spirit of anti-christ which appeared every now and then in the course of Biblical history and will emerge again in full force at the end of age.

Following Jesus’ birth, Herod gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under as recorded in Matthew 2:16. He even killed several members of his own family, including his wife.

Herod had earlier defeated Antigonus II Mattathias, son of Aristobulus II. He then had Antigonus II executed by the Romans in 37 B.C. By his marriage to Mariamme of the Hasmonean royal blood he thus enhanced his legitimacy to the Hasmonean line. Herod was made king of Judea in 40 B.C. by the Roman Senate. However, he did not formally reign the region until he had successfully crushed his last Jewish opponents in 37 B.C.

Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph, was born just a few years before Herod was to die of a prolonged and painful disease on about 4 B.C. The reign of Herod’s terror and tyranny in Judea totaled more than three decades. After Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided by the Romans among three of his children. These three were Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas and Herod Philip.

Thus, Archelaus was appointed ethnarch of the tetrarchy of Judea. Antipas the tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea. And Philip the tetrarch of territories east of the Jordan. Later, Herod Agrippa I of Judea succeeded the Judean Monarchy. According to the Bible, he was struck down by the angel of the Lord and was “eaten by worm” to his death as mentioned in Acts 12. He reigned from 41-44 A.D. followed by Herod Agrippa II of Chalcis who ruled the region in 44 A.D. as mentioned in in Acts 25:13-27 and also in Acts 26.

In Matthew 14:1-12 Herod Antipas was mentioned as the ruler who ordered to have John the Baptist beheaded. He later thought Jesus was John arisen from the dead. This account was also mentioned in Mark 6 and Luke 9. Antipas was also mentioned in Luke 23:7-11 for questioning Jesus and chose not to release him. Instead, he and his court elders “treated him with contempt and mocked him, arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him back to Pilate.” Subsequently, Jesus was put to death on the cross. Thus fulfilling Genesis 3:15 concerning the seed of the serpent bruising the seed of the woman.

During this period when Jesus walked among his people, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes were well established and proliferating. From my earlier discourse we learnt that these three main political and religious factions began to emerge during the Hasmonean rule. There was a fourth but lesser sect which came later, called the Zealots, founded by Judas of Gamala. aka Judas of Galilee, in 6 A.D.

The Pharisees 

The term “Pharisees” was an ancient Greek rendition of Hebrew term pĕrûšîm (פְּרוּשִׁים). Its verbal root is parash (פָּרַשׁ), which means to make distinct. They were the mainstream Jews. In all probability the Pharisees could have originated from the time of Ezra. During the Maccabean period the Pharisaic faction arose in opposition against the usurpation of priesthood by those of non-priestly class, such as Menelaus, who were not descendant of Zadokite line. Later, in the Hasmonean period they opposed the Hasmonean rulers for holding the dual positions of monarchy and priesthood. From historical perspective, it is uncertain whether they also questioned the Zadokite lineage of the Hasmonean family.

The Pharisees held no priestly role but considered themselves to be teacher of the Torah and Oral tradition. They believed in the concept of resurrection, eternal life and judgment. However, Josephus, who claimed to be a Pharisee, suggested that the Pharisees believed in reincarnation.

The Pharisees routinely engaged in scholarly debate concerning religious matter. They were also adept in the interpretation of the written Torah based on oral tradition. This oral tradition was claimed to have stemmed from the Oral Torah which was said to be the oral teaching of Moses as taught to him by Elohim Himself. The Pharisees held the Oral Torah with high regard, even more so than the written Torah. Together with the Sadducees they constituted the members of the Sanhedrin. However, the Pharisees had the support of the masses. Thus, they were also very influential in Judea. Their doctrine and rules of hermeneutics have a very strong impact on every aspect of Jewish life which survives rabbinically even to this day.

Another distinct group closely associated with the Pharisees was a group called the scribes mentioned in Luke 11:44-46. The Encyclopedia Britannica described them as follows:

“In the 1st century, scribes and Pharisees were two largely distinct groups, though presumably some scribes were Pharisees. Scribes had knowledge of the law and could draft legal documents (contracts for marriage, divorce, loans, inheritance, mortgages, the sale of land, and the like). Every village had at least one scribe. Pharisees were members of a party that believed in resurrection and in following legal traditions that were ascribed not to the Bible but to “the traditions of the fathers.” Like the scribes, they were also well-known legal experts: hence the partial overlap of membership of the two groups. It appears from subsequent rabbinic traditions, however, that most Pharisees were small landowners and traders, not professional scribes.”

In Luke 11:44-46 Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees, saying:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.”

Following this, verse 45 also brought out another group called the “lawyers”:

“Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.”

So, who were the lawyers? The lawyers were also scribes who were experts in the interpretation of the law. Many of them were Pharisees but it was not necessary to their office for them to be so. The four Gospels were consistent in highlighting Jesus’ strong opposition against their self-righteousness and their hypocrisy. Specifically, Jesus accused them of putting heavy burden on the common people with their expanded legalism which they would not touch with one of their fingers.

During the Second Temple period, the oral tradition was not recorded in writing. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. this oral tradition was later necessitated and succeeded by written records which were collected and compiled into a compendium sometimes in the 2nd century A.D. At this point the Temple was no longer in existence for their communal worship and gathering. As such religious assembly had to be carried out separately in synagogues located in various regions. Following the destruction of the Temple, the Pharisees were the only sect left standing. However, they were subsequently known simply as the Rabbis for their post-temple contribution that created the Rabbinic literature. Over the course of some three hundred centuries this compendium, collectively known as the Talmud, was extensively studied, discussed, debated and edited by subsequent generations of rabbis in the synagogues.  The Talmud, specifically the Babylonian Talmud, became the authoritative foundation of Rabbinical or Orthodox Judaism that is widely practiced today in the global Jewish community.

The Sadduccees 

The term Sudducees was derived from the Hebrew word Ṣĕdûqîm or Tsĕdûqîm (צְדוּקִים) which is a plural past participle of the root verb ṣādaq or tsädak’ (צָדַק). It means to be righteous. The name Zadok is also derived from this root verb. Thus, Sudducees identified themselves as from the order of Zadok, the priestly class of the descendants of Eleazar. This group came about the same period as the Pharisees during the second century B.C. and was politically active from about 150 B.C. to 70 A.D. Members of this sect were mostly Hellenistic wealthy elites who held priestly role and maintained the Temple. However, not all priests and aristocrats were Sadducees. Contrary to the Pharisees, they don’t believe in resurrection or afterlife. They also reject the Oral tradition or Oral Torah. However, this sect became extinct after the destruction of the Second Temple. Some proposed that Karaite Judaism was the offshoot that stemmed from this sect. Members of Karaite Judaism, however, disputed such notion even though both group rejects the doctrine of Oral tradition.

The Essenes and the Zealots 

Historically, the Essenes also emerged during the second century B.C. The members were known to live a life of simplicity, poverty and abstinence from worldly pleasure. They also abstained from swearing. It is said by scholars that the Essenes were constituted of various groups having similar belief of the mystical and ascetic persuasion. But, except for the legacy of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient artifacts they left behind, this is just a speculation by the scholars since not much was known about this group of people from historical fact, not even from the Rabbinical source despite their centuries of existence. However, the Jewish Encyclopedia has this to say regarding the Essenes:

 “A branch of the Pharisees who conformed to the most rigid rules of Levitical purity while aspiring to the highest degree of holiness. They lived solely by the work of their hands and in a state of communism, devoted their time to study and devotion and to the practice of benevolence, and refrained as far as feasible from conjugal intercourse and sensual pleasures, in order to be initiated into the highest mysteries of heaven and cause the expected Messianic time to come (‘Ab. Zarah ix. 15; Luke ii. 25, 38; xxiii.51).

The Zealots emerged much later after the common era. They were ruthless anti-Roman political rebels. Josephus identifies this group as the fourth sect founded in 6 A.D. by Judas the Galilean who led the Jewish revolt against the Roman in 66 A.D. They were brutal even against their own Jewish brethren and Christians. This group was mercilessly annihilated by the Romans during the subsequent revolt in 70 A.D. that saw the destruction of the Second Temple and the expulsion of the Jews from their Holy Land a few years later.  

The Rabbinical Period 

The Rabbinical period was the continuation of the Pharisaic era following the destruction of the Second Temple. Without the Temple as the center of sacrificial worship and religious exegesis, the Jews in diaspora, and a small remnant that remained, could only carry out the prayer and religious study in the synagogues without the sacrificial ritual.

By 200 A.D. the Oral Law and injunctions were compiled and preserved in written form for posterity. This authoritative compendium and redaction of the Oral Law, known as the Mishnah, and its rabbinical commentary, known as the Gemara, is collectively called the Talmud.

Among the Rabbinical injunction is the Rabbinical prohibition against uttering or pronouncing the Name of Elohim. As we had seen from my previous discourse, the Rabbinical prohibition came about during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the corruption of Hellenized Jews. After the Maccabees revolt the Righteous Jews finally regained the right of Jewish self-rule and freedom of religion from the Greek authority. They subsequently rededicated the Temple and reinstated the Temple worship ritual. They also restored the invocation of the Name of Elohim during this time in the same manner as their forefathers before them.

However, as always, in time some rebellious elements began to stir the pot. As recorded in Barakhot 9:5, the Mishnah in fact not only confirms that in early days there was no prohibition against invoking or uttering the Name of Elohim but it also did exhort the Jews to greet each other in Elohim’s Name to the contrary of what the heretics taught:

“When the heretics corrupted [matters] and said, “there is no world but this one,” they [the Sages] corrected this so that they should say, “From the world and until the [next] world.” And they corrected this, that one shall inquire after the peace of his friend with the Name [of God], as it says, “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the harvesters, ‘God be with you’, and they said to him, ‘God bless you.’” (Ruth 2:4) And it says, “God is with you, great and valorous one.” (Judges 6:12) And it says, “Do not scorn, because your mother is old.” (Proverbs 23:22) And it says, “It is time to do for God, they have broken your Torah.” (Psalm 119:126) Rabbi Nathan says, “’They nullified your Torah’ – because it is time to do for God.””

Let’s examine Ruth 2:4 from KIV Bible, which says:

“And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The LORD be with you. And they answered him, The LORD bless thee.”

Here the “LORD” in all capital letters represents “YHWH” which is the tetragrammaton of the Name of Elohim as recorded in the Masoretic Text. In ancient times the Scriptures were written in consonantal script. That means there was no vowel letter or vowel point represented in the Hebrew alphabet system. The vowel pointing system, with its vocalization and accentuation symbols called the Masorah, came much later sometimes during the period from the 7th to the 10th century A.D.

Therefore, the ancient Hebrews would read the Scripture by recognition and thus supplied the vowel from memory much like the Chinese people who read the Chinese characters by recognition without having any vowels built into the system.  Therefore, the ancient Hebrew would have pronounced the Name of Elohim just as they would pronounce each and every consonantal word in the Scriptures as they read aloud to the masses. The Encyclopedia Judaica also verified the above historical fact. In its entry “God, Names of” (volume 7, page 680), it states:

“At least until the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. this name was regularly pronounced with its proper vowels, as is clear from the Lachish Letters, written shortly before that date.”

The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, published in New York in 1941, volume 5, page 6, article “GOD, NAMES OF” also states as follows:

“The Tetragrammaton or Four-Lettered Name (YHWH), which occurs 6,823 times, is by far the most frequent name of God in the Bible. It is now pronounced ‘Adonai’; but the [Catholic] church father Theodoret records that THE SAMARITANS pronounced it as ‘Iabe adonai’, and Origen transcribes it as ‘Iae’, both pointing to an original vocalization ‘yahveh’.”

In addition, the Talmud records how the Rabbinical prohibition of the Second Temple period came about:

“R. Aha b. Huna raised an objection [from the following]: ‘On the third of Tishri the mention [of God] in bonds was abolished: for the Grecian Government had forbidden the mention of God’s name by the Israelites, and when the Government of the Hasmoneans became strong and defeated them, they ordained that they should mention the name of God even on bonds, and they used to write thus: ‘In the year So-and-so of Johanan, High Priest to the Most High God’, and when the Sages heard of it they said, ‘To-morrow this man will pay his debt and the bond will be thrown on a dunghill’, and they stopped them, and they made that day a feast day.  (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 18b)”

The above Mishnah clearly confirmed the historical account of the Maccabees Revolt following the abomination of Antiochus IV Epiphanes which we had covered during our previous discourse. Thus, in Mishnah  Sanhedrin Chapter 10:1, quoted in part:

“These have no share in the World to Come … Abba Shaul says, also one who utters the Divine name as it is spelled.”

The probable turning point of when this restraint to utter the Name of Elohim became a practice in Israel was  pointed out in the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1901. In Volume 11, page 353, it states:

 “SIMEON THE JUST (): High priest. He is identical either with Simeon I. (310-291 or 300-271 b.c.), son of Onias I., and grandson of Jaddua, or with Simeon II. (219-199 b.c.), son of Onias II… After Simeon’s death men ceased to utter the tetragrammaton aloud (Yoma 30b; Tosef Sotah. xiii.).”

This is also verified by another record in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma, page 39b, that states:

“…When Simeon the Righteous died, with many indications that such glory was no more enjoyed, his brethren no more dared utter the Ineffable Name…”

Thus, we see that even before Antiochus Epiphanes imposed the prohibition there was a faction of  heretic Jews who were inclined to introduce false doctrine and caused the common Jewish people to practice complete  restraint in vocalizing the Name of Elohim, reserving such  only for the High Priest during worship. In other occasion the Name of Elohim was replaced with the title “Adonai”, which means “My Lords”. But in reference to Elohim of the Israelites the plural form, Lords, is to be rendered singular. That is “My Lord”. On the entry regarding “Adonai” the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia states the following:

“This word occurs in the Masoretic text 315 times by the side of the Tetragram YHWH (310 times preceding and five times succeeding it) and 134 times without it. Originally an appellation of God, the word became a definite title, and when the Tetragram became too holy for utterance Adonai was substituted for it, so that, as a rule, the name written YHWH receives the points of Adonai and is read Adonai, except in cases where Adonai precedes or succeeds it in the text, when it is read Elohim. The vowel-signs e, o, a, given to the Tetragrammaton in the written text, therefore, indicate this pronunciation, Aedonai, while the form Jehovah, introduced by a Christian writer about 1520, rests on a misunderstanding. The translation of YHWH by the word Lord in the King James’s and in other versions is due to the traditional reading of the Tetragrammaton as Adonai, and this can be traced to the oldest translation of the Bible, the Septuagint. About the pronunciation of the Shem ha-Meforash, the ‘distinctive name’ YHWH, there is no authentic information. In the early period of the Second Temple the Name was still in common use, as may be learned from such proper names as Jehohanan, or from liturgical formulas, such as Halelu-Yah. At the beginning of the Hellenistic era, however, the use of the Name was reserved for the Temple. From Sifre to Num. vi. 27, Mishnah Tamid, vii. 2, and Soṭah, vii. 6 it appears that the priests were allowed to pronounce the Name at the benediction only in the Temple; elsewhere they were obliged to use the appellative name (kinnuy) ‘Adonai.’ Philo, too, in referring to it says (‘Life of Moses,’ iii. 11): ‘The four letters may be mentioned or heard only by holy men whose ears and tongues are purified by wisdom, and by no other in any place whatsoever.’ According to Josephus (‘Ant.’ ii. 12, § 4): ‘Moses besought God to impart to him the knowledge of His name and its pronunciation so that he might be able to invoke Him by name at the sacred acts, whereupon God communicated His name, hitherto unknown to any man; and it would be a sin for me to mention it.’ Pronunciation of the Name by the Temple priests also gradually fell into disuse. Tosef., Soṭah, xiii. 8, quoted Menaḥot, 109b, and Yoma, 39b, relates that ‘from the time Simon the Just died [this is the traditional expression for the beginning of the Hellenistic period], the priests refrained from blessing the people with the Name’—in other words, they pronounced it indistinctly, or they mouthed or mumbled it. Thus says Tosef., Ber. vi. 23: Formerly they used to greet each other with the Ineffable Name; when the time of the decline of the study of the Law came, the elders mumbled the Name. Subsequently also the solemn utterance of the Name by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, that ought to have been heard by the priests and the people, according to the Mishnah Yoma, vi. 2, became inaudible or indistinct.”

As we had learnt in my previous discourse, the office of High Priesthood had already been corrupted following the disposal of the High Priest, Onias III. He was disposed and replaced by Jason and later by Menelaus, both Hellenized, through their bribery of the Seleucid king. After the Maccabean Revolt and the passing of Simon, the office of High Priesthood was occupied by Hellenized Hasmonean rulers. It was in this political climate that the prohibition of uttering the Name of Elohim took place. The tradition was thus established that the common Jewish people could use “Adonai” only in prayer. On other occasions they were to use the word “HaShem”, which means “the Name”, to refer to Elohim. Only the High Priest was allowed to pronounce the Name of Elohim on the Day of Atonement in the Holy of Holies.

However, current Jewish people go even further than that. They don’t even pronounce other titles of Elohim or written them as they are spelt. They engage in substitution of letters or syllables. Such that “Adonai” becomes “Adoshem”, “Elohaynu”, which means Our God becomes Elokaynu, and Elohim becomes Elokim. In writing they would not dare write “God” or  “Lord”. Instead, they write “G-d” or “L-rd”.

The rationale given by them for such phobia is that they were taught to demonstrate their enormous respect and reverence to Elohim by not vocalizing His Name, even in praise or worship for fear of what other people might do to abuse the Name in an unholy manner or use if for some magical invocation. But, that’s like arguing that we should not allow the Bible to be circulated or to exist anywhere on earth because of some elements in our society who would abuse the Holy Book or the Words in the Scriptures. Wouldn’t that be ridiculous?

Therefore, they called Elohim’s Name the “Ineffable” or “Unutterable” Name. In effect, whether they meant it or not, they considered Elohim’s Holy Name to be a taboo for the mention. Yet, nowhere in the Bible did Elohim prohibit His people from calling His Name. In fact, the Bible told us otherwise. Everywhere in the Bible, we are told to praise His Holy Name. We read in the Old Testament that the ancient Hebrews and the Israelites often times called upon Elohim’s Name and praise Him in His Name. In Jeremiah 23:26-27, Elohim specifically declared the truth of the matter concerning this Rabbinical prohibition:

“How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; which think to cause my people to forget my Name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my Name for Baal.”

Incidentally, Baal means Lord in the Canaanite tongue. So Elohim is in effect saying that the forefathers of the Jewish people had forgotten His Name in place of the title Lord or Adonai. That’s exactly what has been happening now in the Jewish communities worldwide since the Second Temple period. Of course, there is nothing wrong to address Elohim as the Lord. But, when His Name is specifically written in the Bible, it would be wrong to cover it up as though it is something bad to be avoided at all cost. More so when His people are told to call upon His Name so that He may hear us.

Christians followed the same tradition through the Roman Catholics. Before the Christian era the Name of Elohim had long been made hidden from the common Jewish people by the Pharisaic tradition. In the New Testament, Jesus himself told us in his prayer to Elohim during his last hour that he had revealed the hidden Name of Elohim to his disciples. John 17:6 very clearly states what Jesus said in his prayer to Elohim:

“I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.”

This was not just a passing prayer but an intense dialog with Elohim the Father in which Jesus reiterated that it was Elohim who gave Jesus His Name to gave to his disciples so that the love of Elohim is in them and in His Name his disciple would be one with him and be protected. The significant of those in Christ to know the Name of Elohim is shown in the following verses:

John 17:11 “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own Name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” 

John 17:12 “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy Name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.”

John 17:26 “And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

So, now the question is: Is the Name of Elohim lost to antiquity only to be speculated among men?

Personally, I don’t think so. I believe it is just hidden by the takanot of the Jewish tradition, i.e. made hidden by the enactment of man-made-laws, i.e. the Rabbinic law. The early Christians writings showed that Elohim’s Name were known and invoked upon by them in their documents. Elohim’s Name became hidden again in the Christian world after Constantine made Christianity the State religion and through the Roman Catholics, the Jewish tradition was observed. Thus, it is now hidden from the people.

In my next discussion, I will present from Biblical source Elohim’s desire for His people regarding His Name. I will also present what I believe to be Elohim’s Name through the Biblical Hebrew Grammar that has been preserved for us to this day by the Masoretes.