In an article titled, “God’s Name in a Gender-Sensitive Jewish Translation,” published in the Society of Biblical Literature Forum, David E. S. Stein asked this question:
If you were preparing a gender-sensitive translation of biblical books, how would you represent God’s name – that is, the Hebrew four-letter proper noun sometimes called the tetragrammaton?
In order to find an answer to this question, Stein polled several scholars, most of them Jewish, but the group also included a Catholic and a Protestant scholar.
After tabulating the results, the editors of the new translation concluded that the most popular view among the scholars polled was to render the name of God as “the Eternal.” However, this suggestion was rejected by the editors in favor of another rendering.
In the end, the editors of The Jewish Publication Society made a decision that will surprise many American readers.
To read the process that culminated with the selection of the name of God which will appear in the new translation, visit the SBL Forum and read the article.
In their final decision, the publishers “opted to employ Hebrew letters rather than YHWH.” I agree with the decision to leave the tetragrammaton untranslated, but the use of Hebrew letters to represent the name of God will confuse many American readers who are not familiar with Hebrew.
The use of Hebrew letters to represent the name of God may be acceptable in the Synagogue and in Jewish circles but it will not be popular with non-Jewish readers. I am sure the new translation will be aimed at a Jewish audience, but such a decision will deprive many non-Jews from using this new translation.
The unvocalized YHWH is familiar to many pastors, seminary students, and educated lay people. However, many of these same people will be reluctant to use a translation which employs Hebrew letters for the name of God. Take for instance Exodus 15:25:
“He cried out to יהוה; and יהוה showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There יהוה made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test.”
When the average American reader reads this verse, the mention oיהוה f three times in Hebrew will create the fear of reading the text in public. Although many Jews today are reluctant to pronounce the name of God aloud, I seriously doubt that that was God’s original intent when he gave his name to Moses and to Israel.
Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13)
Moses had to say something to the people because God could not remain nameless. The name God gave to Israel was to be remembered by the people. As God told Moses: This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations (Exodus 3:15).
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
If you are unable to see the Hebrew letters in the essay, download the Biblical fonts and install them on your computer. Download the fonts here.