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Alexandr Loginov ©, 2017

Quite long ago in Biblical exegetics they offered a version that the full name of Yahweh is presented in Ex. 3:14 in a contorted form. “In its real form the phrase is meaningless.1 However, initially its meaning revealed the content of the tetragram. Later the phrase became subject to editing, that is why it is necessary to restore its initial form to elicit its original sense”. /Vestel Y. “Ineffable Name”. Such contortion was not at all unusual, it occurs repeatedly in Old Covenant texts, and they even received a certain name - Tiqqun soferim «corrections of scribes». The cause of willful contortion of the name-epithet Yahweh is not a secret. In ancient times they believed that to know the entire true name of the deity means to obtain supernatural abilities, and articulation of the name only enchants unprecedented power. Such conceptualization, which can be viewed as magic superstition though, continued in Judaism for quite long. “In the Temple was to be found the Foundation Stone on which were engraved the letters of God's Ineffable Name. Whoever learned the secret of the Name and its use would be able to do whatever he wished.” (Toledoth Yeshu, 5) / /.  It is impossible for Yahweh adepts with their extra care of the holy name to entrust it to any text reader including an adherent of different faith. The tabooed name of Yahweh is directly affirmed in Genesis: “Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there ” (Gen. 32:29). Such refusal to divulge the name of the deity of the Moses adepts is presented in Judges: Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?” He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding… Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. “We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!” (Judg. 13:17-18, 21-22). Though it is referred to an angel, he is the incarnation of Yahweh himself and the bearer of his holy name. “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.” (Ex. 23:20-21; also “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them.” Is. 63:9).

In both citations the author asks a rhetorical question: “What do you ask about My Name?” which is directed to the readers – his contemporary adherents. For them the sacred name Yahweh seemed highly valuable religious information. The author eluded that for such gnosis they had to have the particular right, which only priests had. It is highly unlikely for them to share the exclusive information with profanes, that is why we can assert that in Ex. 3:14 the name-epithet Yahweh was written down in a contorted or incomplete form.


It is long since appearance of Exodus with the contorted variant of the vast name-epithet Yahweh, and its true sounding seems completely impossible now to restore. However fortunately, it is not so. Authors of Biblical texts “gave the information away” in artistic presentations of their deity, and thereby prompted the wishing to unravel the ancient mystery.

The first prompt is in the same third chapter of Exodus, where Yahweh says about himself: “I am Existing”. Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Madian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush,


1 This “senselessness” of the name-epithet Yahweh served as a base to its apophatic interpretation, which was founded on admition that a human mind is not able to gain an insight into the God on principle, and all the attributes applied to the God will be incomplete and insufficient.  Such interpretation supporters thought that Yahweh in Ex. 3:14 introduced himself to Moses indefinitely and mysteriously on purpose in order to point to his incomprehensibility for humans. Philo of Alexandria: “And God said, "At first say unto them, I am that I am, that when they have learnt that there is a difference between him that is and him that is not, they may be further taught that there is no name whatever that can properly be assigned to me, who am the only being to whom existence belongs”. (Mos. I, 75; tr. by Ch. D. Yonge).


“Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  (Ex. 3:1-5).

The wonder with the nonburning bush was explained long ago. There is a natural plant which does not burn on fire. It is widely common in Europe and Asia, including the Middle East; the English for it is dittany (lat. Dictamnus albus). This plant gives off volatile oils, and in windless weather and in hot sun it can inflame, but the plant itself stays hurtless. Such flame undoubtedly impressed witnesses of the unusual natural phenomenon, but anyone could see it.  Why to describe the effect of volatile oils overheating as a supernatural phenomenon of the God? We can admit the Ex. author’s naivety, who with no true mystic experience took a natural strange thing for a wonder. Though he had a definite reason to identify Yahweh with a burning bush.

The second prompt is the description of the deity visitation in Judg. Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the Lord. And the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. “We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!” (Judg. 13:19-22). In real material altar flame, like in the burning bush, it was the prosopopoeia of Yahweh, and like in the burning bush the angel stayed harmless on fire.


Now let us consider the description of the God of Israel in Ezekiel which occur twice in the text and are repeated almost literally. “Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.  Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.” (Ezek. 1:26-28). “In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign Lord came on me there. I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man. From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal. He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood. ” (Ezek. 8:1-3). As we see Ezekiel presented Yahweh as an anthropomorphical creature of beyond with the main peculiarity of absorption into its own flame.

In another famous Biblical vision presented in Daniel, Yahweh is similized to a spiritual elder sitting on the burning throne.  “As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”  (Dan. 7:9-10).

In Daniel the God of Israel can be on fire and gift His just men with flame invincibility “Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace… Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Dan. 3:19-21, 24-25).

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to worship the golden calf were not at all injured in glowing furnace. Moreover, there supernaturally appeared the fourth character who is likened to “the God’s son” by the author. That was the name of the proof against fire character in the translation of Theodotion, the Judaist proselyte in II century A.D., who used the earlier versions of Daniel. The variant of Theodotion translation Hieronymus used in his Vulgate, and it is presented in classical KJV (version NIV – son of the gods, follows the later Masoretic version of the text). Apparently, the “God’s son” was a the fiery angel – the incarnation of Yahweh himself (like in Judg. 13:19-22), who freely lived in hottest flame.


Thus, Yahweh like other deities of that time beside a personal name (Yahu) had also a name-epithet. The variant we know is presented in Exodus 3:14 – “I am who I am”, is very indeterminate, but initially the name-epithet of a deity must be clear to believers. The reason of the name’s contortion could only be a responsible decision of the author to conceal the holy epithet from readers of the text.

But we have the larger part of the sacred name-epithet, and we know its meaning: “...The phrase אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶהmost likely meant "He who is Alive” /Brockhaus and Efron Jewish Encyclopedia/. And what was removed from the name-epithet in Ex. 3:14 then?Let us take the description of Yahweh given above and see what unites all of them – the deity is described as one living in flame as at home. Then the sacred name-epithet of the deity must mention the most important attribute of Yahweh, and it sounded as “He who lives in fire”, or “Living in Flame” as more poetic-sounding.

The Biblical Hebrew for the name together with the word “fire” - אֵשׁ (esh), makes אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה בָּאֵשׁ–Ehye asher Ehye ba-esh. It is the sacred name ofYahweh. 



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