We Don’t Need No Fat Country!

The Wall Lyrics, Creator, Yahweh, Akkadian, Hebrew, English, Assyrian, Isaiah, Israelite, God, Yeho-shua, Yeho-natan, dead language, Persian, Aramaic, syllabic script, Cuneiform, YHVH, Jewish scribes, torah, name of god, yehovahI hear all the time that the name of our Creator should be pronounced "Yahweh" based on this or that transcription in some foreign language. One of the most popular arguments points to ancient Akkadian sources. I could spend a great deal of time dissecting each one of these sources, but for argument's sake let's assume the Akkadian sources really do support the pronunciation "Yahweh." I still don't understand why someone would rely on a non-Hebrew source and ignore the Hebrew evidence.

As someone who reads several languages and speaks two fluently, I have seen how badly people butcher words in a language that is not their own. It is ludicrous to trust an Akkadian scribe to accurately represent the pronunciation of a Hebrew word. It makes even less sense to prefer an Akkadian source over a Hebrew one.

In the last few months I have been an English teacher in China and have seen countless examples of how difficult it is for people to HEAR a foreign language. Many of my students READ advanced English. However, when it comes to HEARING English, they have a very difficult time. For example, this past week I read the lyrics from Pink Floyd's The Wall to my Chinese students (yeah, I'm a pretty cool teacher). I asked the students to write down what they heard. I read one word at a time, very slowly, and repeated each word several times. They had never seen the lyrics before, so they had to base what they wrote on what they thought they heard. No matter how clearly I pronounced the word or how slowly I said each word, most of the students simply could not figure out what I was saying. Here are some examples of what they thought they heard:

We don't need no fat country
We don't need no fart control
We don't need no fort cometure
no dark sarcasion/ sokaseem/ sarcazen/ sourcastion in that classroom
Teacher, leaf zoos kids alone
Teacher, live through kids alone
Teacher, leave both those kids alone
All and all, it's just another break in the walk
All and all, it's just another break in the world
All and on, it's just another break in that warm
All or no, it is just another break in the wall
Allow all allow, it's just another break in the war
Along or and along, is just a break in the waste.
Along all the long, it's just another break in the work
Alone all along, is just another break in that word
All along, it's just another break in the one

These are smart kids who read English quite well. However, the sounds of spoken English are alien to them. To be fair, I would not do nearly as well transcribing the lyrics of a Chinese song. English is just so different from Chinese!

Now imagine you are an Akkadian scribe who does not read or speak Hebrew. Scripture refers to the Akkadian-speaking Assyrian invaders as "those people of an obscure speech, with their strange, incomprehensible tongue" (Isaiah 33:19). Now be one of those Akkadian speakers. Hebrew is just as obscure and incomprehensible to you as Akkadian is to the Hebrews. You hear these Israelite captives speaking about their God and you write down what you think you hear.

Actually, that never happened! What really happened (and where people are getting Yahweh) is some Akkadian scribes wrote down the names of individual Israelites that included part of the name of the Israelite God in them (like Yeho-shua, Yeho-natan, etc.). The pronunciation of "Yahweh" is based on an extrapolation from how the Akkadian scribes wrote down these personal names.

Now is where it gets really convoluted. No one today knows for sure how to pronounce ancient Akkadian! This was a dead language for thousands of years. In the 1800s someone discovered an inscription written in Old Persian and Aramaic on a mountainside at Behistun in Iran. He scaled the mountain and transcribed it. Eventually scholars were able to decipher the Old Persian based on the Aramaic. Even though Old Persian and Akkadian are like apples and oranges, they were able to extrapolate from Old Persian to decipher Akkadian. Both were written in a similar syllabic script called Cuneiform. Now for the fun question. How do we know how to pronounce Akkadian? Based on Old Persian! And how do we know how to pronounce Old Persian? Based on Modern Persian!

So when someone tells you that the name YHVH was pronounced Yahweh in some ancient Akkadian document, what they really mean is: The Modern Persian pronunciation of Old Persian used to decipher ancient Akkadian, records what some Akkadian scribe who didn't know Hebrew thought he heard an Israelite say. Huh! And that's supposed to be more trustworthy than a Hebrew source preserved by Jewish scribes? On what planet does that make sense?

I love it when they reply: "But those Hebrew sources are only from the 10th century AD!" And when is the Modern Persian source from? The 19th century AD!

As Bart Simpson would say: "¡Ay, caramba!" Which my Chinese students would no doubt transcribe: "Oil corn-flour!" Now let's reconstruct the pronunciation of Medieval Spanish based on what my Chinese students think they heard from Bart Simpson! That's about as reliable as using Akkadian to support the pronunciation of our Creator's name as "Yahweh."

I can't hear in the sense of I can't understand.

In Chinese "I can't hear" often has the meaning of "I can't understand what you are saying." This is similar to the Hebrew meaning of "hear" as in the verse:
"Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand [literally: "hear"] one another's speech." Gen. 11:7

 

50 thoughts on “We Don’t Need No Fat Country!

  1. Nehemia,

    As you know, I don’t know Hebrew, but I have decades of experience with Spanish. I can attest to the fact that hearing (and understanding) correctly comes last. That’s why a student won’t achieve all the success he/she desires without living in a Spanish-speaking country—and for a good long time. How much more is this problem compounded when dealing with ancient, dead language? Unfortunately, folks with no linguistic experience aren’t aware of any of this.

    You have a lot of knowledge and perspective to bring to the table, for those who have eyes to see. Keep proclaiming the truth!

    Blessings,

    Don

  2. I have been drawn to Publishing the Word. So the first thing I have prayed about is the correct way to write the name of Elohim.

    I came across your Youtube video showing His name as the
    Son. Yah –Hebrew for; God, in English spelled with
    English letters. And shua –Hebrew for; saves or savior
    with English letters both vowels and consonates.

    Then I search for the Father’s name and found scripture
    saying that not only is He “ONE” but that He has many
    names. It seems that Hebrew names are VERY discriptive. So
    it was not a surprise to see YAH in the Son’s name.

    Now I notice YAH in lots of Hebrew Prophets names. Trying to
    follow “The Way” obeying only His Word (Torah), I noticed that “Yehoshua”, English for Joshua, was the correct spelling of (Yeshua, –the shortened Aramaic of Hebrew.)

    My first question at this point is why Yah with an “A” and Yeh
    with an “E” is interchangeable. When writting English,
    pronouciations?

    Then I was writting a Bible Study, “Parsha” (Torah
    Portion) for VAYERA (and He appeared) It was paramount for
    me to be able to use the correct English spelling of His
    name. But I noticed the contensious letter “V” while
    writting Abrams name. “Avraham” the English spelling of a
    Hebrew name.

    My second question is then, why in YeHo”V”aH has the
    letter “W” a consanant in His name changed? And Why in
    Abraham’s name “V” replaces the English letter “B” and in Hebron to Hevron in the Orthodox Jewish Bible? Can the letter “V” replace both “W” and “B”?

    Now when reading Yahoshua’s geneology in Matthew, I
    noticed the Hebrew, English spelling of his name as
    “Mattityahu”. And noticed the last four letters of G-d’s
    name plus a little clue to the next vowel; Yah”u”.

    So my third a last question is, why is the name, of the
    ONE who appeared, not spelled and interpeted in English
    as; “YAHUWEH”?

    Nehemiah: Nechemyah
    Isaiah: Yeshayah
    Zephaniah: Tzefanyah

    Joshua: Yehoshua son of Nun
    Joshua: Yeshua

    Abraham: Avraham
    Hebron: Hevron

    • hi terry your question has already been addressed in Nehemia book called Shattering the Conspiracy of silence in chapter 6.. my advice is you get it, it is full of very good information regarding the name of God.

  3. I always say, “What language did YHVH bring back”? Was it Aramaic? Akkadian? No, it was Hebrew. So, use Hebrew to pronounce and understand Hebrew.

  4. Echo the above post…most sources I have tried to study indicate vav was waw in ancient Hebrew? Can you comment on that Nehemiah? BTW thanks for all you do. Also those who say the vowels are the same as adonai??? How is Yehovah like adonai??? Sound different to my English ears.

  5. I don’t have anything scholarly to add, as I’m not a scholar; but I love the way you break it down so simpletons like me can understand. I’m trying to work up the resolve to learn modern Hebrew; to speak, read, and write. Right now i’m looking for the easiest way to do it. I’d like some feedback on that if you can take the time to answer me. By the way, I love “The Hebrew Yeshua vs.The Greek Jesus; I keep rereading it, and I get more out of it each time Shalom, Shalom!

  6. Ha-ha… that was sooo funny… BUT true!
    Thanks for a good laugh 😉
    Thanks also for helping us “non-he-bru-speekers”.
    Shalom-regards.

  7. Way cool. Yehovah just feels right in my heart. What about those that claim it’s Yehuwah based on the fact that there was no “v” sound in ancient Hebrew? BTW, welcome back!

  8. I am a native Portuguese speaker and I am a Hebrew student. I have heard the word Yahweh pronouced by English speaking people. I gues it makes sense to them to pronouce this very strange and English like sound. It sounds soooooo English!!! It has nothing to do with the sounds of the Hebrew language!!

  9. Excellent point!
    People, The Torah is not a worldly manuscript. It is still very much relevant to our lives. Do you really believe that The Creator of the Universe will allow transgressions in the use of HIS NAME?????
    May יהוה צבאות ישראל will enlighten your lifes for HIS Glory.
    In Yehova name.
    Amen

  10. So neat.
    My ex misspelled certain words consistently. I asked him why. He said, that is how he heard the words. I would carefully repeat the words, and he would repeat back what he heard, which was in error.
    Also, thanks for the “Tanak Pearl” in Is 33:19.
    sandie b

  11. BAM! Gosh, how I loved this article! Made me miss my Asian students, all the while delivering a most important message to us all. As usual, very well done, brother. This reminds me a bit about the development of “pigeon English” still spoken in the Southern United states. Slaves had to learn by the immersion method and misheard many, many English words and phrases — which had life or death consequences for them at times. Thanks, again!

  12. very good points indeed. i wonder how many people who call themselves christian vs the god fearers and those who are messianic jews would come up with all sorts of excuses to hold fast to the akkadian transliteration. that would be like hiring a russian to work as a stenographer in a spanish court of law.

  13. My concern is less educational and more common sense why trust Hebrew scholars who have purposely misconstrued and voided the original name for their own selfish controlling reasons for centuries. I don’t profess to be a Hebrew scholar or hold any doctorate given by man. I will continue to trust in the self existent one who is still in the business of reviling not only his many names but His power. Let I AM be the truth and every man lier!! Beware of men making memorials in the sand!

  14. Nehamia, what is good about your work is that this is well researched. you presented the facts and the truth in your material. all we need to do is absorb this. I like your comments

  15. It seems to me that no matter the source or tradition, the same pronunciation problems will arise. I have to agree with Nehemia. We even have trouble with pronunciation of words from one region to another!

  16. Hi Nehemia just thought i would share a conversation I had with yoel regarding the name of God, as being YEHOVAH.. this is what he said about the whole vowel issue wanted your feed back on it ..I quote him : Nehemiah knows I disagree with him, and knows that his opinion is not new. S ome have argued this in the academic world, and an overwhelming number of scholars have rejected this opinion. The issue is that the chataph patach under the aleph in Adoni is really a Shva that is enhanced due to the guttural that it is under. Gutturals as a rule do not take a vocal shva and need a change to a sounded vowel. When changing the guttural into a regular consonant, there is no need, and actually it goes against grammar rules, to have a chataph. Nehemiah argues that this is not the case due to rules of Keri and Ketiv, if the vocalization was the same (and maybe even as Adonai) then we should have a chataph patach under the Yod. Now here is my point, when vocalizing a Hebrew word there are rules of how vowel points are set, the argument Nehemiah poses does not take in consideration the possibility that the masorites adjusted the vocalization based on vowel point rules which force them to change the vowels. In other words the shift from one word to another which both use the same vowel points forces the hand of the speaker to change the sounds. The masorites were experts in the vocalization traditions, and probably had a tradition on how to sound the name, but as I said it is highly suspect because the name has the same vowels as Adonai.Then yoel goes on by saying…I quote : I am not here to under mind the work of the masorites, but to pose a question about this specific vowel setting. The masorites wrote the Aleppo in the 10th century, many years after the prohibition on speaking the name was created, and many Karaite communities took on this prohibition. The other side is that there is an argument whether or not they were Karaites or Rabbinic. If they were Rabbinic, where did they get the vowel setting from? It was prohibited and no one had a tradition, unless they took it from a Karaite source. But where did this source come from. A friend once showed me a manuscript from a Persian Karaite community where they had four vocalizations. It is understood that each one had a special meaning and represented a different aspect of God. One of them was the same as in the Aleppo. Could it be that in the case of the Aleppo the decision to use this vowel setting has to do with a Karaite tradition about the meaning of the name, not how it should be sounded, meaning that this vocalization has nothing to do with the original but more with a philosophical idea. end of quote. ? so what is your opinion ?

      • Well steve my conclusion is I am sticking to the best evidence available the Hebrew text the Aleppo codex and the b19 codex both has the name written as YEHOVAH…with respect to yoel but I don’t agree with his assessment on the vowels…but we will see what Nehemia has to say on this matter..since he is scholar on Hebrew Manuscripts … just hoping he will reply.

        • Thank you for responding Pedro. I appreciate that. I believe Nehemia will respond; he’s a good man and does not ignore those who seek knowledge.

  17. Nehemiah, you have hit another home run with this one! Talk about hitting the nail on the head!! As a linguist myself, I could not agree more with this argument. Absolutely, positively and absetively posilutely, if you get my drift…..

  18. I am convinced it is because they learn from each other, non native English speakers and mistakes in pronunciation get perpetuated. One of our exchange students got and ear to ear grin when we watched Karate Kid, saying, now THAT is English I can understand!

  19. Right now I am taking Akkadian in school and plan to take two more courses in it. I have to whole heartedly agree with you Nehemia. Like you said the pronunciation of Akkadian is purely an educated guess based off related Semitic languages.So determining Divine name’s pronunciation in Akkadian can not be taken as reliable. I would also say that we have a good number of records in Akkadian recording the names of various Israelite kings and persons, and it is quite common to see how their Hebrew names got butchered in their Akkadian spelling of their name. Just google Akkadian inscriptions of Israelite or Judean kings. So, yes we can not rely upon a foreign pronunciation for the Divine name. Although I would still say that Akkadian is still of some value to Hebrew scholars in understanding rare Hebrew words through their cognates in other Semitic languages, they can confirm our suspicions of a given singularly occurring word in the Tanakh.

  20. Thanks for your insights. You made a very good point, and well said. Questions: Isn’t modern day Hebrew different from ancient Hebrew in some way? And would that affect the pronunciation of a word?

    • Hi Ann, I wonder about this too, pronunciation (vocalization) of all languages apparently ‘morph’ over time, think of the J sound in English… Maybe that is a simple explanation of ‘renewed Name in Rev 3:12 (from ISR) “He who overcomes, I shall make him a supporting post in the Dwelling Place of My Elohim, and he shall by no means go out. And I shall write on him the Name of My Elohim and the name of the city of My Elohim, the renewed Yerushalayim, which comes down out of the heaven from My Elohim, and My renewed Name.” Something great to look forward to then!

    • Ann,

      in re-checking my post to make sure that I didn’t say something to offend, i think that you may not have meant language “sounds” but “meanings”.

      I don’t know the answer to your big questions, but here is one small thing: I use concept maps in my language research because it can ‘release’ the subject-verb-object (SVO, English, Modern Chinese, other languages) structure allowing for cross-language (bilingual) influence. I think that ancient Hebrew is VSO while modern Hebrew is SVO. Perhaps even more intriguing or “quaky’ is that MAYBE the actual neuronal location of Hebrew language (as MRI) is shifted, i.e., ‘hear and do’, for example: see

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3694568/

      • Ancient (by that I mean “biblical”) Hebrew appears to me to be largely order-independent, which is why it has a specific object indicator *et”, or Aleph Tav that is used when the verb’s object is not clear.

  21. I love what you bring to the table because I’m come from Spanish language to English , actually we need more PhD in Common Sense; Great simple answer for a for a difficult question .
    Please keep your pristine job going forward.

  22. Once again, your way of ” putting it out there is wonderful”!

    In what planet, indeed. Thank you for helping us understand, see your time in exile is just what WE needed.

    • On December 30, 2015 at 7:48 pm, Nehemia Gordon said:

      “ET is actually required in prose when the noun is “determined” (preceded by “the” or through other means such as construct case).”

      Thank you. I’m quite the neophyte here. I wondered why it seemed (to me, in my confusion) to be sometimes used inconsistently.

      I assume the first excerpt below to be an example w.r.t. the determined [pro]noun.

      [ English text taken from the Biblos interlinear, reordered left-to-right ]
      1) Numbers 24:11 “And lifted up Moses ET his hand and he struck ET the rock” (the “ET” is required because of the definitives “his” and “the” )

      I don’t understand this example, however. Why is no ET required to show that the water did drink the congregation?
      2) Numbers 24:11 “… and came out the water abundantly and drank the congregation and their beasts ”

      Thanks for bearing with us and our questions.

Please leave a comment.