Yahvah and Yahweh

Subhash Kak
Subhash Kak / 11 yrs ago /

History can be a great friend in times of crisis. Consider the ongoing sexual molestation and homosexuality crisis of the Catholic Church. Looking back into the Church history one finds that celibacy was adopted only a few centuries ago. The medieval popes were lprinces. Anyone fond of Italian history would recall the Medicis and the Borgias, in particular, Pope Alexander VI and his beautiful daughter Lucrezia. Many bishops in early Christianity were married, as were 39 Popes. Celibacy was introduced to ensure that the organization of the Church did not lose power to any one family. It was sold wrapped in the theological formula that each priest was to be married to the Church and each nun to Christ. The Church can easily abrogate this theology, claiming connection to an older tradition.

History helps in understanding current religious questions by explaining the original meaning of words and lending perspective. It is essential for regeneration and renewal because it lets one see the context in which certain ideas and practices arose.

Consider the general belief that East and West are forever apart because their religions originated in different circumstances. Is there no commonality between the two? I have argued elsewhere (http://www.ece.lsu.edu/kak/akhena.pdf) that perhaps the idea of monotheism for Akhenaten was derived from his Mitanni (Indic) queen, Tadukhipa. But can we go any further than speculation and speak of textual reference in support of the idea?

El and Yahweh

The Abrahamic religions trace their lineage to El and Yahweh. The Jewish and Christian God is called YHWH in Hebrew and spelt as Yehweh or Yahvah. According the Huston Smith's book The World's Religions (p. 222): “Allah is formed by joining the definite article "al" meaning "the" with "Ilah" (God). Literally, Allah means "The God." ... When the masculine plural ending im is dropped from the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, the two words sound much alike.” Eloah (Hebrew feminine) is similar to Ilah (God).

What is the origin of the Ila and Yahweh? El was the chief god of the Phoenicians and the Ugarits. Yet El is also the name used in many Psalms for Yahweh. In 2 Kings 22:19-22 we read of Yahweh meeting with his heavenly council. The Ugaritic texts have a similar account, with the difference that the “sons of god" are the sons of El. Other deities worshipped at Ugarit were El Shaddai, El Elyon, and El Berith. Since the writers of the Old Testament apply all these names to Yahweh, we can be sure that the Hebrew theologians assimilated the earlier mythology into their system.

Besides the chief god at Ugarit there were also lesser gods and goddesses. The most important of the lesser gods were Baal, the goddess Asherah, Yam (the god of the sea) and Mot (the god of death); Yam and Mot are the Hebrew words for sea and death, respectively. Asherah, a very important character in the Old Testament, is called the wife of Baal, although she is also known as the consort of Yahweh. Inscriptions dated between 850 and 750 BC say: “I bless you through Yahweh of Samaria, and through his Asherah!” And at `El Qom (from the same period) this inscription: “Uriyahu, the king, has written this. Blessed be Uriyahu through Yahweh, and his enemies have been conquered through Yahweh's Asherah.” The Elephantine Papyri tells us that the Hebrews worshiped Asherah until the 3rd century BC.

Baal's name occurs frequently in the Old Testament. Some Israelites viewed Yahweh as a God of the desert and so when they arrived in Phoenicia they thought it only proper to adopt Baal, the god of fertility. One of the central Ugaritic myths is the story of Baal's enthronement as king. In the story, Baal is killed by Mot and he remains dead until the new year. His victory over death was celebrated as his enthronement over the other gods.

The idea of an annual ritual death was widespread in the ancient world and it had a solar basis. The death and regeneration was taken to occur on the winter solstice, to celebrate the beginning of the new year. The Old Testament also celebrates the enthronement of Yahweh. As in the Ugaritic myth, the purpose of Yahweh's enthronement is to re-enact creation. Yahweh overcomes death by his recurring creative acts.

The major difference between the Ugaritic myth and the Biblical hymns is that Yahweh's kingship is eternal and uninterrupted while Baal's is interrupted every year by his death. Since Baal is the god of fertility the meaning of this myth is quite easy to understand. As he dies, so the vegetation dies; and when he is reborn so is the world. Not so with Yahweh; since he is always alive he is always powerful. When one reads the Psalms of the Old Testament and the Ugaritic texts one finds that Yahweh is acclaimed for things previously associated with El. These Psalms appear to have been originally Ugaritic or Phoenician hymns to El which were adopted by the Jews. El is called the “father of men” “creator,” and “creator of the creation,” attributes also granted Yahweh by the Old Testament.

Ila and Yahvah

The different Semitic gods have cognates in the Vedic pantheon. Yam may be connected to the Vedic Yama who in RV 10.10.4 is seen as being born from the waters, and Mot to the Vedic Mrityu, death. But more to the point, Ila represents Agni as in Yajurveda (VS) 2.3, whereas Ilaa represents Earth, speech, and flow. There is also the Vedic Yahvah. As an epithet it is associated with movement, activity, heaven and earth; it means the sacrificer and Agni, the chief terrestrial god. It is associated with energy like the Yahwah of the Semites. The name Yahvah occurs 21 times in the Rigveda [i]. It may be compared to Shivah, an epithet for auspiciousness in the Rigveda, that later is applied regularly to Rudra.

Are Ila and Yahvah like El and Yahweh just by coincidence? We don't know, but we certainly do know of the Vedic-god worshiping Mitanni of North Syria who could have served as the intermediaries in connecting the Indians and the Semites.

Ila and Yahvah are not better known in India because names in themselves are not central to the Indic system. The essence of the Vedas is that God is a category beyond words and one may describes its aspects by a variety of names. This is the reason there are 3 names (the triplicity arising from the three-fold division of the inner and the outer universes), or 33 names, or 330 million names of God. It is remarkable that the god lists of the Ugarits also contain 33 names.

It would be foolish to deduce that if Yahvah and Yahweh are identical names then the Vedas become the source of the Abrahamic traditions or Christianity the fulfillment of the Vedas. The Indic gloss on the matter is that names in themselves are mere sequence of syllables and they mean nothing; it is not names but the way of seeing reality that matters. The Western and Indian spiritual traditions as they exist now are quite different and they represent the unique genius of each region. But perhaps the commonality of origin could help people see the universality of the spiritual quest and help build bridges across cultures in these difficult times.


1: For a brief history of the early connections between India and West Asia, see

2: For further connections between India and the West, see

MogRhod / / 7 yrs ago

in one of the comments left here, it stated that hinduism and judaism have no common roots.  all human beings are born with the 7 chakras, and isn't this something hindus are thankful for at birth, that they are born with 7 chakras?

since we all have this cosmic imprint, all religions have a common vedic root.  whose to say that the 7 candled menorah, with the central heart lamp used to light the others, is not a representation of the kundalini.  whose to say we all have the "burning bush" of the 7 chakras within us.

in this article and postings i've seen the literal god yahvah mentioned, but nowhere the formula yhvh (i am that i am).  there is a very sublime association with yhvh and adi shankara's neti neti mantra.  in these academic arguments we are dealing with constructs, phenomena, and hardly reliable histories.  however in self realization we still the mind, to have an unobscured view.

please consider the "esoteric" view that quite possibly the ancient priests of judaism had, and read yhvh under the wiki entry of neti neti  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/neti_neti

all these experiences in all religions operate on the same fundamental dilemmas and riddles as do the vedas, stemming all the way back from the birth of the universe, the tantric chanaka seed, shiva-shakti with an obscuration of maya over it.  that is the root of all religions, this experience of light/luminosity which was called wadjet in egypt, to the quetzal coatl (feathered serpent) of mesoamerica and the originating olmecs.  we must be very careful in treating these correlations between religions to balance against the western exoteric assessments of deity and realize that deity and gods are the emanations of our selves.  sound oscillates, so mantras oscillate, light oscillates and serpents oscillate.  the ancients intuited the sciences as much as they mapped science out.

Altin Gjoka / / 10 yrs ago
Altin Gjoka

there is no doubt that india is the homeland of indo european people. it is interesting to note that celtic and illyrian settlements in spain, gallia and illyria and asia minor all display the root of ila varta. i found a website that describes the toponyms of indian origin in europe: www.geocities.com/protoillyrian/ila_varta

john kunthara / / 11 yrs ago
john kunthara

another school of thought suggest that vedic religions such as arya dharma, come from descendents of abraham. aryans migrated to indus valley, from egypt or persia. the name brahmin is sinomimous with abraham. abraham is an english word. the hebrew word has no vowels. if all the vowels are moved from the word abraham there is only brhm left. this group of people called themselves brahmins. as you know, the religion islam admit that their forefather is ibrahim (abraham). your article begins with the sex controversy in the catholic religion. i am mystified, what is the connection between your article and that issue. in all religions you can see some leaders are engaged in criminal activities, this has nothing to do with history of that religion, or you don't need to go back to the history to understand them. in the history of christianity there were thousands of saints and there are few criminals too. there are so many people out there all over the world using religion and god to full fill their personal needs and greed. that is the way people are. thanks john kunthara

Amandeep Singh / / 11 yrs ago
Amandeep Singh

kak i did check on you. undoubtedly you are an intelligent and well read guy. besides people from your community have a reputation as people of learning. any honest person will tell you what you are trying to do is not true and is just pure imagination. there is no word mot in hebrew. agni in sanskrit means fire and in latin this is ignis which means fire. how can you explain that most words in the indo-european languages are derived from sanskrit and rigvedic sanskrit has no semitic words. so it is not fair to force your views on people by fixing things. a reader of sulekha. amandeep singh p.s. take the example of your own brahmin historian kalhana he was fearless, honest and also loyal to his friends.

Subhash Kak / / 11 yrs ago
Subhash Kak

i have been reminded in private e-mails that i have not provided any etymology of "yahvah." so here it is: yah = what moves, air (vayu), fame (apte dictionary) hva = roots huu, hvaa, "to call" "invoke" (from sanskrit roots) traditionally, "yahvah" is derived from "yah". yahvah appears to tbe agni, the god of this world.

Subhash Kak / / 11 yrs ago
Subhash Kak

here's an encyclopedia article that deals with the pronunciation of yahweh (sorry, it is not yahoo :-)): yahweh from wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. jehovah and yahweh are the two most common ways to transliterate the personal name of god in the tanach (hebrew bible, old testament). this proper name for god is rendered as lord or god (in small capitals to distinguish it from adonai, another word translated as "lord") in most modern translations of the bible. most scholars believe "yahweh" to be most near the original pronunciation, but "jehovah" is still more commonly used today. see also: the name of god in judaism importance among the other names of god in scripture though called in the bible by numerous titles (such as "god", "giver of plenty", "sovereign lord", "creator", "father", "the almighty" and "the most high"), many people believe god's personality and attributes are fully summed up and expressed in this personal name. jehovah is the most commonly known english pronunciation of the divine name, "yahweh" is also used by some scholars. the oldest hebrew manuscripts present the name in the form of four consonants, commonly called the tetragrammaton (from greek tetra-, meaning "four," and gram'ma, "letter"). these four letters (יהוה) may be transliterated into english as yhwh or jhvh. like christianity, judaism forbids to "take the name of god in vain". however in judaism, this restriction is much broader and amounts to a taboo on pronouncing the ineffable name. when reading torah (or some other religious text) aloud, adonai is read instead of "jahovah"; the name itself is nicked "ha-shem ha-mefurash" - "the interpreted name" ("ha-shem", "the name", is one of god's other names in judaism). before writing down texts that include it, a torah script writer has to make a special ceremony of purification. as rabbinical sources tell us, even in ancient times the name was pronounced only once a year - on yom kippur, the jewish day of atonement, and only by the high priest of the temple in jerusalem. the tradition of high priesthood ended, however, in 70 a.d., as the temple was burned. puzzle of pronunciation this raises a question: as the name was never pronounced aloud for about two millennia now, what is the correct pronunciation? in the jewish bible, vowel marks (nikkud) suggest a spelling "jahovah" (this was picked up by translators in the middle ages, who have introduced this form into english usage). however, the nikkud system was invented only around the middle of the first millennium a.d. - almost 500 years after the name was pronounced for the last time! moreover, the vowel marks of "jahovah" look suspiciously similar to those of the word "adonai" - implying, that they replace the original vowels, which were made a secret (or left forgotten) in order to prevent blasphemy, even by accident. in addition, there is a large debate over the meaning of this name. it seems related to the hebrew root h-y/v-y/h (yod י, he ה, and waw ו are interchangeable in some cases), which is used to describe various aspects of being. therefore, most scholars agree it is something like "i am the one who is". appropriate reference points in the old testament to start an investigation into this name include: genesis 2:4, exodus 3:15 (others?). nevertheless, the most accurate meaning of god's name is "he causes to become", that is, everything that he wishes to happen is because of his will and becomes a reality (isaiah 55:10,11), there is nothing god cannot accomplish nor do, except lying (titus 1:2). from the point of view of history of religion, the god of the tanach whether referred to as yahweh or jehovah or by some other name, is the same god worshipped by muslims, christians, and jews, and is sometimes thus referred to as the judeo-christian god. however it is important to understand that there are major differences between the religions, so far as theology is concerned. thus, for example, christians believe in the holy trinity, while jewish theologians find that this sort of materialization (and division) of the deity is incompatible with the jewish religion. note: in hebrew yhwh reads like this: יהוה. it consists of the letters yod י he ה waw ו he ה. hebrew reads from right to left, most newer web browsers such as mozilla and microsoft internet explorer of version 4 and above would display these four letters correctly in bi-directional manner, but some older web browsers may display the text in the wrong direction.

Amandeep Singh / / 11 yrs ago
Amandeep Singh

a good effort by kak. i am sure his foreign followers are delighted as he is trying his best to please them even if it means manufacturing data. agni is an aryan god and any word linked to fire in the indo-european languages is linked to this. as far as semitic languages or gods or words are concerned the rig veda has none. the indian nation has nothing to do with the semites we fought them and beat them when the arabs tried tried to invade india. we worship idols, eat pork, do not circumcize, burn our dead so what do we have to do with the semites. also as is well known by now to people in india to link india to any other race or nation is only to confuse us. the reality is the oldest fossils of man so far have been found in india. check the hindustan times and what is below the earth in india has yet to be probed. no word yahoo or linked word exists in the rigveda. this is just fabricating words. kak in my opinion must not return to india and must stay in the u.s. to cater to his western audiences. they will be delighted the people in india already know what he is upto. amandeep singh patiala

vAjaratnAyana / / 11 yrs ago

i think this article had the potential of making an interesting point about early semitic paganism but slipped down the path of dubious etymology. koenraad elst has often warned of this tendency to etymologize in the "brahmana" style. while dr. kak is cautious about the etymological relationships, i feel as an educated individual he should have stayed far away from it. firstly yahveh was pronounced in the old semitic world as yahoo, as in the theophorous name netanyahoo. secondly, the vedic yahva while meaning free-flowing is not used as stand alone. it is almost always an epithet to describe agni, indra or the flow of soma. further the semitic yahm is likely to be derivative of yahv, rather than being related to yama. yama has a very clear ie etymology coming from pie *yema= twin (attested in old germanic yuminaz and greek jemini). this said the semitic pagan world had a rich pantheon that was definitely comparable to the ie one had a very ancient common origin with ie perhaps at the time of the split between the eurasian and afroasiatic languages. subsequently early ie and semitic interacted resulting in some convergence. baal was definitely not a minor deity and widely worshiped through out the semitic world. also elohim is likely to be originally plural: heavenly hosts of el.

Kalidass Ghosh / / 11 yrs ago
Kalidass Ghosh

i talked to both a hebrew and italian expert. mot is not a hebrew word but is actually an italian one derived from latin. this is from a standard italian dictionary:death(english) morte (italian). the r is silent. i agree totally by fixing one or two words you can not create a confusion on our divine tongue sanskrit. i also am of the opinion that the mother of all indo-european languages is sanskrit. no honest person can deny this. finally i personally do not accept the views of kak (as they have no bearing) but kak has a right to his views. india is a great democracy. kalidass ghosh

Antonio de Nicolas / / 11 yrs ago
Antonio de Nicolas

vincent desouza posts 16 and 17 by some one who calls himself a "jesuit priest" are a lie, a vilification of character and therefore legally liable, and a total fabrication by some one for the benefit of who knows whom!!! it is most unlikely that vincent desouza is a "jesuit priest." his english, his education, are really poor, just by reading the text of his comments. there is no jesuit priest that i know of in mumbay who has any idea of the rg veda,( with the exception perhaps of fr. gispert sauch) much less is an expert on what names are in it or are not. the historical connections between the middle east and the romans are idiotic and irrelevant. could he give us the latin word for "mot"? if dr. kak cannot speak for hinduism, who is a "jesuit priest" to speak for hinduism? but most of all, no jesuit priest will participate in a public forum without his superior's permission and no superior will consent for one of his subjects to put the whole jesuit order in legal trouble by insulting and spreading calumnies about not only one individual but a string of very distinguisged and respected individuals just to make the stupid point that he is an ignorant, arrogant,very disturbed individual, using the name of others in vain,proving that he is all of the above. i wish sulekha would have a filtering mechanism to see and aprove the comments before they are published. the damage is already done.( i wish i were wrong, but then this would be the last revelation of how low an order, that was the best amongst all the orders in the west, has descended. if that were the case, then take legal action and recover the land they own in mumbay) om shanti antonio de nicolas

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