Recent official statements of the Catholic Church prohibit the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton in the liturgy. To be sure, the use of “Yahweh” as needed in courses on the Old Testament and in scholarship generally is not thereby prohibited. יהוה is also pronounced by many (not all) Jewish scholars outside of worship as the (rare) occasion demands. The prohibition is presented as a return to earlier tradition in the official Catholic statements, and as an act of repentance by Catholic participants in Jewish-Christian dialogue. Which is it? Should other Christians follow suit?
In the language of English-speaking Christianity, “Jehova(h)” is found with some frequency in older Bible translations and hymns. More recently, “Yahweh” enjoyed a vogue and is still popular in the prayer language and in hymns of praise in some Christian settings.
It is rarely noted that a shortened version of the Tetragrammaton is pronounced in the context of Jewish worship – “Yah,” to be pronounced as such according to the Masoretic text at Exodus 15:2 and in 49 other instances (statistics according to BDB). It appears as “Yah” in NJPSV at Isaiah 12:2; 38:11 (2x); in other loci (a hypercorrection?), as “Lord.”
Yahwistic names of biblical individuals are also pronounced in Jewish worship, for example, Hizqiyahu the king of Judah, interpretable as a sentence name “Yahu is my strength” (cf. Psalm 18:2); originally, however, “YHW(H) has strengthened (the family by providing a son).”
The Catholic Church’s recommended liturgical substitute for the Tetragrammaton is the traditional one: Lord, equivalent to Adonai in Hebrew, Kyrios in Greek, and Dominus in Latin. The downside is that a personal name is replaced by an attribute which may or may not be apropos in context.
One could only wish that the Protestant churches would follow the example and edit the Bible translations and hymns that use Jahveh or even Jehovah as renderings of the name of Israel’s and only through Israel also the Church’s God.
Hymns like “Guide me, O thou great Jehova” are still sung with great enthusiasm in thousands of churches. Editing such ancient, wonderful hymns, loved by millions of Christians throughout generations and often translated into many other languages, would, no doubt, cause a lot of anguish. But it would be one of the acts of repentance for centuries of Christian anti-Judaism and disrespect of our Jewish relatives, and it is certainly one of the ‘sacrifices’ a new theological understanding of our relationship with Judaism demands.
The wish is understandable. It is far more likely, however, that in non-Catholic settings, the old hymns will continue to be sung as before. It is also likely that Catholic charismatic hymns which use “Yahweh” and have become part of the worship repertoire of many non-Catholic Christians will be sung as before.
This will be done based on a distinction between appearance and intent. Phrases like “Guide me, O thou great Jehova” or “Yahweh’s love will last forever” (Dan Schutte) are prima facie disrespectful of God from the point of view of post-biblical Jewish tradition, but are not disrespectful of God from the point of view of authorial intent.
In short, I cannot agree with Fritz Voll’s statement that the non-use of “Jehova(h)” and “Yahweh” [in Christian worship] is “one of the ‘sacrifices’ a new theological understanding of our relationship with Judaism demands.” To put it another way, is the removal of statements in the Talmud that are derogatory to Mary and Jesus an equivalent ‘sacrifice’ that same relationship demands? If not, why not? Let me be clear. As a Christian I would be offended if said statements were, for the sake of appearances, removed.
But perhaps I am comparing apples and oranges. Further discussion and eventual correction on this matter are welcome.
Unanswered questions in the ongoing debate:
(1) The article in the Jewish Encyclopedia on “Jehovah” by Emil Hirsch treats it correctly as a mispronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, but exhibits no angst in the face of Gentile use of it. Is a history of Jewish offense-taking at Gentile use of Jehovah available?
(2) Yahweh might be more problematic precisely because the Tetragrammaton was so pronounced in Greco-Roman antiquity - for example, by Samaritans in judicial oaths and by (presumably) Jews and non-Jews alike in magical incantations (go here for details), not to mention the biblical authors themselves and ancient Israel in general during First Temple and early Second Temple times. To be sure, Yahwī would have been the pronunciation in earliest times, which may have been reduced in anthroponyms to Yaw-, -Ya, or -Yahwe, the first and the last later (through phonological change affecting the language as a whole) pronounced as Yo and Yahu, respectively. For Yahwī, compare the Amorite personal names attested at Mari, Yaḫwi-ilum, Yaḫwi-Adad (ARM 23, 86:7), and Ya(ḫ)wium (= Iaḫwi-ilum e.g. ARM 23, 448:13) [= the Akkadian name Ibašši-ilum (‘God has manifested himself’)]. Perhaps the issue is to be understood along the lines of copyright infringement. I have RC friends who seethe at the fact that there are churches with names like Santa Maria de Guadalupe Lutheran Church (ELCA). No fair: she’s ours, I hear them muttering. But is YHWH the private possession of the Jewish people? Are not Gentiles free to worship him as they see fit? Of course, the answer to the first question is “no,” to the second question, “yes,” at least in an a-confessional polity. Nevertheless the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton in Christian worship is deeply offensive to (some or many) Jews. So, of course, are other things said and done in that context. Where to draw the line, if at all? And what about songs like Bono’s “Yahweh”? I could be wrong, but I think "Yahweh" is likely to be employed by non-Catholic Christians in the anglosphere - with respectful intent - for the forseeable future.
UPDATE: Doug Chaplin weighs in here.
For Further Reading
Karel van der Toorn, “Yahweh,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd ed.; Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter Willem van der Horst, eds; Leiden: Brill, 1999) 915-919 (bibliography!)