From the Exodus to Pentecost




Though it sounds like it could be the name of a distant planet in a sci-fi novel, the Tetragrammaton is actually the arrangement in Hebrew of the letters said to represent the very name of God, as first revealed by God himself to Moses in the Old Testament. Rabbi Jacobs says, "The Tetragrammaton is the four-letter name of God formed from the letters yod, hey, vav, and hey, hence YHVH in the usual English rendering."[1] Most commonly the divine name is translated into English letters as YHWH, and sometimes the vowels A (some say for another divine name, "Adonai") and E (for "Elohim") are inserted between the two H's to make the more readily pronounceable "Yahweh."
 
"The original pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton," continues Jacobs, "has been lost, owing to the strong Jewish disapproval of pronouncing the name. The pronunciation Yahveh or Yahweh is based on that used by some of the Church Fathers but there is no certainty at all in this matter."[2] This is a rather striking fact, that a community of many millions of people would be so averse to uttering a certain name for God that its pronunciation was finally forgotten and left a complete mystery to succeeding generations. All this naturally leads to the question: "Just why were the ancient Hebrews so reluctant to use that name?" 
 
One possible answer is found in a passage from Leviticus: 
 
“Then you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin.  And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death" (Lev. 24:15-16).
 
That helps explain things, in that the Jews weren't keen on the idea of breaking the laws of God that carried the death penalty. But certain Israelites were evidently willing to run that risk, at least when it came to things like breaking the Sabbath, committing adultery or cursing their parents. The question remains why the particular injunction against blasphemy was treated with such extreme seriousness. To answer that we may need to trace further back to the beginnings of the Hebrew nation, to God's revelation to Moses at the burning bush. There Moses directly asked God for a name to identify him before Pharaoh and to distinguish God clearly from the gods of Egypt:
 
And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you" (Exodus 3:14). 
 
There the Tetragrammaton first appears. According to Jewish scholars the name refers primarily to being, and thus means something like, "I am that I am," or, "I will be that I will be."[3] Jacobs adds that while names like Elohim are used of God in a universal sense, "the Tetragrammaton is used of God in His special relationship with Israel."[4] In other words this is the name God uses of himself in a highly personal way – which implies that if that name were to be misused God would likely "take it personally." 
 
Sometime later, following the Exodus from Egypt, the fledgling Israelite nation found herself in direct contact with God himself at Sinai in the wilderness. There God met with Moses, as the mountain burned with fire and the people trembled in fear below:
 
Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die" (Ex. 20:18-19).
 
From all indications, then, the Israelites' abhorrence of the particular sin of blasphemy arose from their experience, and ongoing national memory, of God's holy presence in the wilderness. So frighteningly powerful was this experience that they collectively decided to take no chances, and in a demonstration of reverence left off pronouncing God's name altogether. This makes Israel unique, in being the only nation on earth whose present existence cannot be adequately explained apart from some powerful historical interactions with the Almighty. That being the case, the reality of YHWH, the God of Israel, best explains the origins of Israel. As John Bright argues, “The history of Israel is the history of a people which came into being at a certain point in time as a league of tribes united in covenant with Yahweh… Since this is so, Israel’s history is a subject inseparable from the history of Israel’s religion."[5]
 
Fast-forwarding some 1500 years from the Exodus brings us to the time of Jesus and the apostles, and another set of unexpected divine-human historical interactions. God again appears to his people, this time in a resurrected body following three years of teaching and miracle ministry culminating in a brutal crucifixion at the hands of Roman authorities (and at the instigation of jealous religious leaders). This time he appears to a handful of men and women, whom he charges with the responsibility of preaching the gospel (good news) of his kingdom throughout the world. Again the people chosen are (mostly) Jews, and again history changes course to reflect the will of God. 
 
The Israelites were afraid to so much as utter the name of YHWH. Now God's people, having seen Jesus risen and having been filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, boldly preach God's salvation in the name of Jesus Christ to anyone who willing to listen. This saving ministry of Christ is all the more astounding when we realize that Jesus was crucified not for committing crimes or acts of sedition against the state, but for committing the ultimate blasphemy, that is, claiming for himself the very identity of the God of smoke and fire who met with Moses on the mountain so many centuries before. "Before Abraham was," Jesus declared to some very powerful and pious religious authorities, "I AM" (John 8:58).
 
At the cost of their livelihoods, their reputations, and even their lives, this small band of disciples thus managed to spread the gospel throughout the first century world. Just as God's revelation to Moses arguably best explains the origins of national Israel, so the post-mortem appearances of Jesus to his disciples seem to best explain the rise of the early church. As a result people like me to this day can confidently proclaim that the God of Abraham has acted again in history; that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead.
 


[1]  Rabbi Louis Jacobs, "The Tetragrammaton," My Jewish Learning, http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-tetragrammaton/.
 
[2]  Jacobs, "The Tetragrammaton."
 
[3]  Crawford Howell Toy & Ludwig Blau, "Tetragrammaton," Jewish Encyclopedia, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14346-tetragrammaton
 
[4]  Jacobs, "The Tetragrammaton."
 
[5]  John Bright, A History of Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), p. xvii.

Comments

Anonymous said…
DM: This makes Israel unique, in being the only nation on earth whose present existence cannot be adequately explained apart from some powerful historical interactions with the Almighty.

Modern scholar holds that the Exodus was a myth, and the Israelites were originally a mix of Canaanites and other races, living in the highlands. Turns out Israel cannot be adequately explained by powerful historical interactions with the Almighty, but can be from a naturalistic perspective, just like every other nation.

Pix
Don McIntosh said…
Right, the Exodus didn't happen because there's presently no direct evidence for it. That's what they said about the reign of King David, until archaeological finds from the nineties confirmed it to basically everyone's satisfaction. But be of good cheer: Even when we do come upon decisive evidence for the Exodus, you will still be able to construct naturalistic explanations for it!

This is basically a restatement of the "hermeneutics of suspicion," the idea that the Bible, despite countless "unexpected" discoveries over the years confirming myriad details of both Testaments, must be presumed false until proven true.

As the renowned Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen says: "When scholars say such things as 'We have no evidence,' that merely means we do not know. Negative evidence is no evidence. It only takes one fool with a spade to dig up a new inscription and, whoosh!, that 'no evidence' disappears. I'm just amazed over the 40 years I've been in this business how we keep blundering into things you didn't expect that tie in with the Scriptures."

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1998/september7/8ta044.html?start=3 (You'll have to paste the URL into your browser window; I can't use HTML tags using this computer for some reason)
Joe Hinman said…
Modern scholar holds that the Exodus was a myth, and the Israelites were originally a mix of Canaanites and other races, living in the highlands. Turns out Israel cannot be adequately explained by powerful historical interactions with the Almighty, but can be from a naturalistic perspective, just like every other nation.

that doesn't effect his argument, even if Israel was totally Canaanites they still have the mystery of the name and that doesn't explain it.
Joe Hinman said…
One thing no one ever points out, Abraham settled in Canaan and that was the land God gave him in going back there they Israelite were going home. They were in a sense Canaanites too.

Assume the exile really happened, they could not have produced that many people from one family in three generations. The family went into Egypt with an unknown number of servants,slaves,and employees. When they left the took people of other races with them who were also slaves. So they were Canaanite and other races e en according the Biological record, That changes nothing.

The bit that modern scholarship may disprove is the conquest of Canaan. The evidence indicates no slaughter of the Amalekites, no battle of Jericho and so on. That may strike at inerrency but itgalso elemimates teh Amalekite issue.
Anonymous said…
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Joe Hinman said…
The issue here is that there is no evidence despite people looking very hard for it. This is not just my opinion, but the opinion of most scholars in that field. If you want to cling to the hope that it is still possible, well, in science we call that God-of-the-gaps.

DM: This is basically a restatement of the "hermeneutics of suspicion," the idea that the Bible, despite countless "unexpected" discoveries over the years confirming myriad details of both Testaments, must be presumed false until proven true.

The Bible is a book with many stories by many authors. Confirming one story does not automatically grant them all the status of confirmed. Each one should be judged on its merit, with the evidence for and against. With regards to the Exodus we have records from Egypt that entirely fail to mention the sudden departure of a huge group of people, and we have no archeaological evidence of their journey.

I'm not sjre that;s True Px. I'll have to check but I may have seen refutation of that in some way. For me the real issue for the accuracy of OT history is the conquest of Canaan.

DM: As the renowned Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen says: "When scholars say such things as 'We have no evidence,' that merely means we do not know. Negative evidence is no evidence. It only takes one fool with a spade to dig up a new inscription and, whoosh!, that 'no evidence' disappears. I'm just amazed over the 40 years I've been in this business how we keep blundering into things you didn't expect that tie in with the Scriptures."

As this review shows, Kitchen has a very pro-Christian agenda. That does not make him wrong, but if he views archaeology through Christian-tinted glasses, we need to me mindful of that when reading his work.

However, the real point here is that 'We have no evidence' means that there is zero evidence to support your position. When someone blunders into something that offers support for the Exodus, let us know. Until then, given the number of people who failed to find anything when actively looking for it, I shall tentatively assume it was made up.

DM: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1998/september7/8ta044.html?start=3 (You'll have to paste the URL into your browser window; I can't use HTML tags using this computer for some reason)

I read what I could without subscribing up, but that was not much at all, I am afraid.


Joe Hinman said…
that link does me no good because after about a minute they close of the article iwth an add and you have to subscribe to read it. If had time to research this I would try to find stuff on how much else we have providentially to document the period imn general, Because if we know little about the era and there is no evidence for any major events of that time the lack of evidence on a huge group leaving Egypt would be less damaging than if we knew the shape or the period, and it did not include the possibility.
Joe Hinman said…
I just did a very stupid thing guys,I have pneumonia so i'm not real alert now. I wiped out Px's post because I was tryiung to hit the title and I hit "remove content." I am truly sorry.It was an accident.

Not to panic, the content is still there in my post above, the one where only added one sentence in bold all the rest is PX/s post.

Here is a quote from an article that Might be helpful:

"Exodus, Fact or Fictiomn?" Bible History Daily, published by Biblical Archaeological Society (April 10,2016)
http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/exodus/exodus-fact-or-fiction/

>>>"The question “Did the Exodus happen” then becomes “When did the Exodus happen?” This is another heated question. Although there is much debate, most people settle into two camps: They argue for either a 15th-century B.C.E. or 13th-century B.C.E. date for Israel’s Exodus from Egypt.

The article “Exodus Evidence: An Egyptologist Looks at Biblical History” from the May/June 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review1 wrestles with both of these questions—“Did the Exodus happen?” and “When did the Exodus happen?” In the article, evidence is presented that generally supports a 13th-century B.C.E. Exodus during the Ramesside Period, when Egypt’s 19th Dynasty ruled."

Link to Article cited in quote


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