Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A piety that caused an error

I was amused to realize recently that a famous religious order selected its name based on an older misunderstanding of the Hebrew bible.

The group Jews call the "Witnesses" pronounce the first name of their denomination based on how the Masoretic Text(1) vowelizes the Tetragrammaton, a vowelization which reflects an ancient piety(2) of the Jews. Since Hellenist times at least, Jews have pronounced the Tetragrammaton as Adonai/the Lord. When the Masorites vowelized the Tetregrammaton they used the vowels of this word.[illustration here] (3)

Early Christian Hebraists did not realize this, and presumed this vowelization reflected the proper pronunciation of the name itself. Years later when the Witnesses named themselves, they based the name of their group on this error.

(1)Though some imagine the vowel system goes back to Sinai, they are wrong: The nikudot are a creation of the Masorites.

(2) A piety I share. As you see, I'm unwilling to write the name here.

(3) Occasionally, the Tetragrammaton is read as Elohim. On these occasions the Tetregrammaton is assigned that word's vowels.

No comments: