Saturday, October 4, 2008

Speaking the unspeakable

Christianity Today has an interesting discussion of whether Christians should use the holiest term of the Jewish faith, Yahweh. This word, unspeakable and unwritable in the Jewish faith, is often abbreviated YHWH to avoid this prohibition. (Just as some Jews write G*d to reflect the spirit of this belief.)

The word is so holy, that Christians have 3 chapters in the Old Testament named after a minor prophet, Joel, whose name means “Yahweh is God.”

The CT article was prompted by a recent change in Catholic doctrine to respect the Jewish tradition by banning Y*hw*h from worship.
"By directive of the Holy Father, in accord with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, this congregation ... deems it convenient to communicate to the bishops' conferences ... as regards the translation and the pronunciation, in a liturgical setting, of the divine name signified in the sacred Tetragrammaton," said the letter signed by Cardinal Francis Arinze and Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, congregation prefect and secretary, respectively.

The Tetragrammaton is YHWH, the four consonants of the ancient Hebrew name for God.
The impact should be small, because only a few hymns in the Catholic missal use the word.

Since the 16th century, the English have used the word “Iehovah” as a reading of YHWH. Under the current interpretation, saying “Iehovah” (or “Jehovah”) does not violate the prohibition on saying YHWH.

For that I thank God, for I certainly want to keep in the liturgy all the Anglican hymns containing that term. First on that list “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,” an 18th century lyric with a 100-year-old tune.

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