Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

It seems to me that the Hebrew language doesn't have graphemes representing vowel sounds. On the other hand, the Greek language does.

Also, I've heard that Josephus said that the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) actually doesn't have consonants at all, but rather, all four letters of the Tetragrammaton are vowels.

I've heard that the name יהוה, when transliterated into Greek, would be pronounced like /Iaoue/ (that's 5 vowels actually).

Did those individuals responsible for producing the Septuagint simply translate all instances of יהוה as κύριος (kyrios), or did they ever actually transliterate יהוה into Greek?

share|improve this question
If you want a Greek Translation you can parse the Name of Jesus (Ἰησοῦ) pronounced "Yesou" in Greek. We would remove the Sigma leaving (Ἰηοῦ) pronounced "Yeou" or "Yiou" depending on your perception of the Hebrew (יה) part of God's Name. The Added S To Yeshou (Iesous) I have heard is because the names in Greek often has the S at the End. – Decrypted Aug 7 '14 at 2:27
up vote 11 down vote accepted

No, the Tetragrammaton יהוה is never transliterated into the Greek Septuagint (LXX).

  • Sometimes יהוה is not translated into the LXX (cp. Gen. 2:7 LXX).
  • Sometimes יהוה is translated into the LXX as κύριος (cp. Gen. 4:3 LXX).
  • Sometimes יהוה is translated into the LXX as ὁ θεὸς (cp. Gen. 4:1 LXX).
  • Sometimes יהוה is translated into the LXX as κύριος ὁ θεὸς (cp. Gen. 2:8 LXX).

Hebrew does have vowels; but, these vowels were not created until approximately the 10th century A.D. The original scrolls would not have had vowels (nikkud).

In Wars of the Jews, Book V, Line 235, Josephus wrote,

τὴν δὲ κεφαλὴν βυσσίνη μὲν ἔσκεπεν τιάρα, κατέστεπτο δ ̓ ὑακίνθῳ, περὶ ἣν χρυσοῦς ἄλλος ἦν στέφανος ἔκτυπα φέρων τὰ ἱερὰ γράμματα· ταῦτα δ ̓ ἐστὶ φωνήεντα τέσσαρα.

which is translated as,

And a tiara of fine linen encompassed the head, and it was crowned with hyacinth, around which there was another golden crown, bearing the engraved holy letters. And these are four vowels.

This appears to be a contradiction, but in Hebrew, a few of the letters also function as vowels, even today. Two of the consonants doubling as vowels are י and ו, which can be transliterated as "i" and "o"/ "u," respectively. Coincidentally, these two letters (י and ו) also appear in the Tetragrammaton.

Another letter that used to function more often as a vowel, but rarely so today, is the letter ה.

In his analysis of the Isaiah Dead Sea Scroll, Fred Moeller wrote,

Just as the Masoretes invented pointings to indicate vowel sounds so the Q[umran] scribes have added some semi-vowels to the text. The use of yod, waw, and "he" are frequent.

So, like י and ו, the letter ה was another one of the immot kri'ah, or "mothers of reading" (consonants which also functioned as vowels). Thus, Josephus was not wrong. At that time, those letters may have been considered vowels.

As for the reason that κύριος is predominately used to translate יהוה, rather than יהוה being transliterated into the LXX, is that it was already the common practice of the Jewish scribes to never pronounce the Tetragrammaton יהוה whenever it appeared on a scroll. Instead, the scribes would pronounce the word אֲדֹנָי (adonai), which essentially means "lord," "master" in English, and thus, κύριος in Greek. Now, since the scribes already pronounced אֲדֹנָי for יהוה, they decided to write κύριος for יהוה when producing the Greek Septuagint, since κύριος is the (closest) Greek equivalent to אֲדֹנָי.

share|improve this answer

While @H3br3wHamm3r81 has provided a fine answer to this question, there is one more wrinkle that can be added for the sake of completeness.

We know of a tradition of supplying the Tetragram (Y-H-W-H), HaShem, the name of God, in special characters from the Dead Sea Scrolls. One of the clearest places to see this is in the Psalms scroll from Cave 11:


Or, in close-up:


In this scroll, the Name is consistently written in paleo-Hebrew script, showing the special status accorded to it.

Something like this also happens in Greek transmission. In an influential article,1 Albert Pietersma drew attention to Origen's knowledge of this phenomenon in Septuagint mss:

In the more accurate exemplars [of the LXX] the (divine) name is written in Hebrew characters; not, however, in the current script, but in the most ancient.

Pietersma goes on to note the evidence of the pipi texts, that is ΠΙΠΙ in Greek - pi + iota + pi + iota, which appears to be Greek scribes reproducing in ignorance the letters of the Tetragram, יהוה, but in Greek characters rather than Hebrew. That is, the two he letters (ה) represented by pi (Π), the yod and vav (ו ,י being virtually identical in, e.g., the Hebrew script of the Dead Sea Scrolls -- or Arial, for that matter) both represented by iota (Ι). Obviously in this scenario the letters used for the Tetragram are most likely to be standard "square" script (i.e., not paleo-Hebrew) in an otherwise Greek setting.

I don't know if this is what lies behind OP's information that LXX contained "יהוה transliterated", but it's possible. Origen's testimony suggests that something like this practice was known to him.


  1. A. Pietersma, "Kyrios or Tetragram: A Renewed Quest for the Original LXX", in DE SEPTUAGINTA. Studies in Honour of John William Wevers on his sixty-fifth birthday. Ed. by Albert Pietersma and Claude Cox (Benben Publications: Mississauga, 1984), pp. 85-101. What follows is cited from pp. 87-88 - see the PDF for discussion and references.
share|improve this answer
As much as I love ΠΙΠΙ, I'm having trouble figuring out how ΙΑΩ didn't make it in here. This seems to be a "transliteration" in more the standard sense, and it is represented in a manuscript (4QLXXLev<sup>b</sup>) with "genuinely Septuagintal credentials [that] are well-nigh impeccable" (Pietersma), as opposed to the (I guess patently?) hexaplaric ΠΙΠΙ. I may be missing the point. – Susan Mar 19 at 12:59
Ha! Well spotted. :) I expect it was omitted because I was relying on selective memory when producing that answer. Do feel free to edit in ιαω information -- very helpful, and pertinent! – Davïd Mar 19 at 17:13

Three consonants make a Hebrew word, yes it is tri-consonantal, less than three consonants, it's not Hebrew, probably Proto-Canaanite. It must start with a consonant, then a vowel (normally). You cannot have two vowels in a row, never happens. For 600 years there were no vowels until the 9th century BC and 586 BC and of course the nikkud developed by the Masoretes, Tiberias Hebrew (extinct) 8th century AD, the forerunner to what we know now as Masoretic Hebrew of the JPS 1917 or the KJV 1611. Also, don't confuse modern hebrew with biblical hebrew, modern is never spoken in a jewish synagogue. Four letters will generally be made up of, Consonant+Vowel+Consonant (Consonant+Vowel+Consonant=closed consonant, Consonant+Vowel=open vowel)and Consonant+Vowel+Consonant, which I will abbreviate C+V+C, C+V+C. or C+V, C+V, C+V+C. Take the word YEHUDAH (JUDAH) it follows those rules, יְהוּדָה(read right to left) YE+HU+DAH. Take out the "Dalet" (דָ) and you have three open vowels (YHVH), which cannot happen so the "Vav" ן must take the consonantal sound "Wah" and not the vowel sound.The Jewish do not know how to pronounce YHWH, they will not pronounce it. They will say, Hashem or Adonai, they don't even write G_d in their bibles, OJB (Orthodox Jewish Bible). The Germans took the Nikkud of Adonai and applied it to YHWH arriving at YAHWEH (the Documentary Hypothesis).

share|improve this answer
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! We're a little different from other sites. While this answer has good information, it doesn't address the question of how is the tetragrammaton handled in the Septuagint. Can you can edit your answer so that it does? – Frank Luke Aug 6 '14 at 13:26
@DallinHeperi Due to the nature of this site, a reference may be required to support your conclusions. – Paul Vargas Aug 7 '14 at 3:54

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.