Giving names to gods

Christianity creates unnecessary confusion because of the doctrine of the Trinity, three gods in one, so when Christians speak of god, it is not clear which member of the Trinity they are referring to. Isaac Newton felt that this doctrine was a heresy introduced into Christianity by Catholics early in church history and spent considerable time researching this question and arguing against it.

As long time readers know, I have long advocated that it would clarify matters to some extent if they at least gave different names for each member of the Trinity and suggested that they name their father god Melvin, retain Jesus for their son god, and name their Holy Spirit god Harvey. I am still waiting to hear from the Vatican about my proposal.

A complication arises when you throw the Jewish god into the mix because the relationship between the Jewish god and the Christian Trinity is ambiguous. Further complicating matters is that Jews tend to have rules about not using their god’s name explicitly and when they do, leaving out vowels, thus making the full name of their god ambiguous. But the recent discovery of old manuscripts apparently gives the full name, vowels and all.

For two hundred years, scholars have believed based on Greek sources and conjecture that the Hebrew name of God was originally pronounced “Yahweh.” In late 2016, Gordon found never-translated traditional Jewish sources that explicitly identified the vowels of God’s name in Hebrew as “Yehovah.” This is similar to the English Jehovah, but with a “Y” and the emphasis on the final syllable.

God’s name, known as the Tetragrammaton, is written in most Hebrew Bible manuscripts with one of its vowels missing, making it unreadable in accordance with an ancient Jewish ban on speaking the name. Despite this, Gordon had previously discovered five Bible manuscripts with a full set of Hebrew vowels proving the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton was known to Jewish scribes as “Yehovah.”

So the name of the Jewish god is Yehovah. But I think that we need further clarity on this. Is Melvin the same god as Yehovah? If not, are they siblings? Parent-child? Or is there some other relationship?

You would think that religious authorities from the worlds of Christianity and Judaism would meet and settle such an important issue once and for all.


  1. says

    No no no. God-the-Father’s name isn’t Melvin, it’s Harry. We know this. Haven’t you heard the Lord’s Prayer?

    “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Harold be thy name…”

  2. says

    It’s so weird, because not being able to say a name takes away the whole point of having a name.

    That said, if a god was the only god, why would it need a name? Then again why would that god care about so many of the things religious people claim it cares about? The whole thing makes no sense.

  3. RationalismRules says

    I second abbeycadabra re Harold, and I feel Casper would be a better choice for the Holy Spirit.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    A further complication: the “original” Hebrew god is an amalgamation who started off as El and later merged with Yahweh (or Yehovah). The latter was a warrior god (“lord of hosts”) from the Negev desert area, whose cult had spread in the southern section of Canaan later known as Judah.

    Complications upon complications: El himself was a composite, having started out as the patriarch of a northern Canaan (“Israel”) divine family including his wife Asherah (whose name pops up several times in the Hebrew Testament, mostly in connection with the “Asherah poles” used in her worship); their son Baal (a storm god, and thus automatically a fertility god in a dry climate); and their daughter Anat, supposedly the only one not absorbed into her daddy’s persona (though I have some doubts, in that her most notable traits include a thirst for bloody vengeance against any perceived slight (but maybe the first Yehovah behaved similarly)).

    The ancients played a lot of mix ‘n’ match with their deities. Alexander, e.g., after conquering Egypt, introduced Serapis, a mixture of Egyptian and Greek father-figure gods, and apparently had no problem recruiting priests to staff the big temple he ordered built for the new guy.

  5. anat says

    Ahem. It is common to write YHWH’s name with the vocalization of Yehovah when the intent is that the reader substitute Adonai (literally ‘my lords’), and with the vocalization of Yehovih when the reader is supposed to substitute Elohim (which happens if the name YHWH is already preceded by the word Adonai). According to wikipedia this goes back to the Leningrad and the Aleppo codices, so back to the 10th or 11th centuries.

  6. says

    Christianity creates unnecessary confusion because of the doctrine of the Trinity, three gods in one

    Is that christianity, or just that bunch of heretics?

    Semi-related, I did not realize (until I heard about it on the “stuff you missed in history class” podcast) that Constantine’s gift was a forgery. I believe that makes it the most significant fake real-estate transaction in history.

  7. Mano Singham says

    I chose Harvey because he was the imaginary friend of James Stewart in the film of that name.

  8. says

    Then there’s the problem with how the early Christians thought of the the trinity as Melvin, Jesus and Mary. (Father, son and mother.)

    Mary was relegated to secondary status when the whole goddess problem raised its head and she was replaced by Harvey.

  9. KG says

    I feel Casper would be a better choice for the Holy Spirit. -- RationalismRules@3

    Or Jamesons? (Despite being an adoptive Scot, I prefer Irish whiskey. Much smoother. But then the Jewish god was in ancient times very keen on burnt offerings, so perhaps one of the smokier Highland Malts such as Ardbeg or Laphroaig.)

  10. Dunc says

    KG -- Ardbeg and Laphroaig aren’t Highland malts, they’re Islays! That’s a terrible mistake to make… We’ll have to throw you out if you carry on like that! 😉

  11. rjw1 says

    I doubt that the issue will ever be settled. The Christian and Jewish gods are separate inventions as is the Moslem mythical sky deity. Religiots are very proprietorial about their imaginary friends.

    Mano, @8
    If my memory is accurate, Harvey wasn’t imaginary, he communicated with Mr Wilson by altering text.

  12. Holms says

    This is like an argument between comic book fans as to which powers and which storylines of a character with many authors are canon, and whether the character is original or just a rip-off or amalgamation of earlier characters from fanfic writers. The original authors of the earlier work disavow the validity of the fanworks, the fan authors maybe start out by saying theirs is an homage to the original with no intent to supersede it, but then when the authors of the original work die off they change stories and say that it is a completely legitimate continuation of the original storyline ‘written by fans and for fans’ and so on the mess continues.

    And then comic book scholars and literary critics unearth early drafts of the original and discover that even the original work had earlier versions and precursor works…

  13. purrs says

    Technically, the Tetragrammaton *was* intended to be spoken -- just only once a year, on Yom Kippur, in the Temple. Except, whoops, the Temple maybe kind of sort of got demolished nearly two thousand years ago…

    And the xtian deity(ies) is absolutely not the jewish deity. They lost their right to that when they deliberately distanced themselves from us and got all that antisemitism and Never-Question-The-Doctrine-ness mixed up in there.

    Incidentally, my favorite pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton always has been and always will be “Yahoo-Wahoo”. It’s ridiculous. I love it.

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