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?


4 Answers 4


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

  • not translated into the LXX.1
  • translated into the LXX as κύριος.2
  • translated into the LXX as ὁ θεὸς.3
  • translated into the LXX as κύριος ὁ θεὸς.4

Relatively modern Hebrew manuscripts (e.g., the Aleppo Codex) do have “vowels”—or rather, vowel pointing (referred to in Hebrew as nikkud). However, these vowel points were not created until approximately the 10th century A.D. The original scrolls lacked vowel pointing.5 Instead, the original scrolls contained only twenty-two consonants.

However, Josephus wrote the following concerning the Tetragrammaton engraved on the high priest’s crown (tiara):6

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.

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.

This appears to be a contradiction, but in Hebrew, a few of the letters also functioned 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, hence the reason Josephus referred to them as vowels (φωνήεντα).

Another letter that also used to function 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. (emphasis mine)

So, like י and ו, the letter ה was another one of the immot kriʿah, 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.7 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.

Had scribes actually transliterated יהוה into the Greek Septuagint, the Greek text may have had the name Ἰάβε—if you consider the vowel points of the Tetragrammaton to be יַהְוֶה. This word (name) would be conjugated in binyan Hifʿil, imperfect tense, 3rd person, masculine gender, and singular number, from the verb הָיָה, and thus means, “He causes to be/exist.”


Benner, Jeff A. The Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible. College Station: Virtualbookworm.com Publishing, 2005.

Flavius Josephus. Flavii Iosephi Opera. Ed. Niese, Benedictus. Vol. 6. Berlin: Weidmann, 1894.

Flavius Josephus. The Complete Works of Flavius-Josephus the Celebrated Jewish Historian. Trans. Whiston, William. Chicago: Thompson, 1901.

Ortlepp, Steven. Pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton: A Historico-Linguistic Approach. Lulu.com: 2010.


1 cp. Gen. 2:7
2 cp. Gen. 4:3
3 cp. Gen. 4:1
4 cp. Gen. 2:8
5 Benner, p. 43
6 Wars of the Jews, Book 5, Ch. 5, Sec. 7. Niese, p. 466, Line 235–236. Whiston, p. 649. cp. Exo. 28:36
7 Ortlepp, p. 167

  • 2
    I love that you use the Hebrew for mothers of reading instead of the Latin Mater Lectionis.
    – Frank Luke
    May 23, 2017 at 14:07
  • Note that the vowel pointing generally reads יְהוָה /jəˈwɑ/ "yeh-WAH" rather than יַהְוֶה /jaˈwɛ/ "yah-WEH". Whether this represents another conjugation or placeholder vowels because nikkud was added so long after the name ceased to be pronounced, I don't know. May 6, 2018 at 2:49

While @Simply-a-Christian has provided a fine answer to this question, there are a couple more wrinkles that can be added for the sake of completeness.

1. The "PIPI" Representation

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). So the letters line up this way:


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. And this is "transliteration" in only a qualified sense.

2. Greek Tetragram Transliterated

Writing in the early 1980s, Pietersma did not have access the full riches of the Dead Sea Scrolls (= DSS), which only became widely available for scholarly consultation in the mid-1990s. However, he drew attention to a report from Patrick Skehan, "The Qumran Manuscripts and Textual Criticism", in Volume du Congrès International pour l'étude de l'Ancien Testament, Strasbourg 1956 (Brill, 1957), pp. 148-160 (see p. 157) that one of the Septuagint manuscripts from the DSS -- 4QLXXLevb, dated to the Hasmonean period (1st century BC) -- used the Greek ΙΑΩ where we would expect κύριος = "LORD". Here is Skehan's description:

The papyrus manuscript of Leviticus (4Q LXX Levb), of which again some fragments were obtained from the controlled excavations, is in a hand closely akin to that of the Fuad papyrus of Deut., and is datable accordingly to the first century B.C. Averaging about 27 letters to the line, it presents us with numerous fragments of chapters 2 to 5 of the book,from which ten separate segments of text can be pieced together (ii 3-5; ii 7; iii 4; iii 9-13; iv 6-8; iv 10-11; iv 18-20; iv 26-29; v 8-10; v 18-24). Its only special feature is that in the midst of the Greek text familiar from the LXX codices, the divine name here appears not as Kυριος, but as ΙΑꞶ — a form previously known to us in manuscript only from the margin of the codex Q of the Prophets. The reading των εντολων Iαω in iv 27 is ineluctable; and in iii 12 the last two letters of the same name can be verified— Kυριος does not occur in the document. This new evidence strongly suggests that the usage in question goes back for some books at least to the beginnings of the Septuagint rendering, and antedates such devices as that in the Fuad papyrus or the special scripts in the more recent Hebrew manuscripts of Qumran and in later Greek witnesses.

The text he points to is Leviticus 4:27 which, among the fragments of 4QLXXLevb is Plate 378, Frag 15 B-503715.


It compares to the Septuagint we know this way, with ESV for convenience, roughly indicating the breaks in the fragment with square brackets:

LXX: πασῶν τῶν ἐντολῶν κυρίου ἣ οὐ ποιηθήσεται


ESV: all of t]he commandments of the Lord <which> not d[o

Other than missing ἣ "which", the major and obvious difference is the one Skehan points out: that this Greek DSS manuscript transliterates ("properly") the Tetragram (by "sound", not visually, as in PIPI) where the LXX tradition usually translated it by κύριος = "LORD". This leads Pietersma to observe (p. 91):

in spite of its apparent excellence as a representative of the LXX, [4QLXXLevb] contains the Hebrew tetragram in the form of the Greek trigram ιαω.


I don't know if either of these curiosities lie 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, and the Septuagint manuscript from the DSS gives us a particular example.

Thanks to @Susan for drawing the DSS evidence to my attention.


  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.
  • Such fascinating insight here! I 1st encountered "ΙΑꞶ" in the Coptic Book of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Bartholomew, but didn't realise that the letters look pretty much the same in Greek script. Is this rendition (of the Name) legitimately transliterated into Roman as "iao" &/or "yao"? & would it be pronounced something like "yah-oh" or "ee-ah-oh"?
    – Adinkra
    Jun 14, 2017 at 22:34
  • & what about "ΠΙΠΙ"? If this was produced in scribal ignorance, would it have ended up being pronounced "pippy", d'you think? (To extrude this 1 more level out, e.g., "ΠΙΠΙ" sort of looks like Roman-script "nini", which happens to be Swahili for "what".)
    – Adinkra
    Jun 14, 2017 at 22:38
  • @Adinkra - (1) yes, "iao" and probably best pronounced as "ee-ah-oh". (2) ΠΙΠΙ is normally referred to as pipi, pronounced "pee-pee". Oh well!
    – Dɑvïd
    Jun 15, 2017 at 7:27
  • Oh, dear! I really did try to avoid that other pronunciation (of ΠΙΠΙ). Do we know anything about how it would've been pronounced in ancient times? Or would it have been either (1) an awareness that this is somewhat of a purely literary stylistic choice of rendering the written name-form thus or (2) everybody knows that that word is unpronounceable (because the "true" original pronunciation has simply been forgotten, or in order to avoid speaking the Name altogether)?
    – Adinkra
    Jun 15, 2017 at 16:23

God's proper name יהוה in GH'abaray (proper/attested Paleo Hebrew) is pronounced YA'ŌH written in fragment Q120 in the Dead Sea scrolls.

LXX Septuagint was captured phonetically by Hebrews in the 1st-2nd century BCE was written in high Koine Greek the language of the wealthy in yarōshalam (Jerusalem) at the time; was 'IA♎/iaō which is spelled YHWH /YA'ŌH in Paleo Hebrew and pronounced nearly the same.

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    – agarza
    Jul 8, 2021 at 14:21

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).

  • 1
    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, 2014 at 13:26
  • @DallinHeperi Due to the nature of this site, a reference may be required to support your conclusions. Aug 7, 2014 at 3:54

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