The book of Exodus states that Moses introduced the divine name yud-hei-vov-hei (“Y-H-V-H,” or “Yahweh”) to the Jewish people. (See Exodus 6:3) But the letters yud-hei-vov-hei (“Y-H-V-H”) are not readily pronounceable in Hebrew. What is the secret of this puzzling name?
In ancient Egypt, the sacred emblem of the god Thoth (Djehuty) was the ibis. Thoth was the god of the Egyptian scribes. Moses was, of course, a master scribe who was sometimes called “Moses the Scribe” — for example, in the targums and the book of Jubilees. Thoth was particularly popular among the pharaohs, and the Torah relates that Moses grew up as a prince in the house of the pharaoh (see Exodus 2:10), thus it would not be surprising if he developed an attachment to the god Thoth. According to a legend recorded by Flavius Josephus (1st century c.e.), Moses won victory in battle by using ibises, Thoth’s emblem. (See Josephus, Jewish Antiquities II, chapter 10) And Artapanus of Alexandria (2nd century b.c.e.) asserted that Moses was an Egyptian sage who knew the priestly sciences associated with Thoth and consecrated his military camp to Thoth. Artapanus further asserted that Moses was highly respected by the Egyptian priests (cf. Exodus 11:3), who called him by Thoth’s name. (See Eusebius, Preparatio Evangelicum, 9:27:3-20) Christian scripture also states that Moses “was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.” (Acts 7:22)
Thoth invented hieroglyphs, and he also acted as the scribe of the gods. He “wrote Ma‘at,” meaning that he rectified the world by writing its story. Thoth was also the author of ritual and civil law, as well as the sacred spells and rites used in worship of the gods. According to one ancient tradition, Thoth is the author of all the scriptures of the world. A guardian of peace, Thoth was the mediator who reconciled disputants. He was also the god who presided over the Egyptian calendar. Most important, Thoth was a creator god — his mastery of letters and language allowed him to speak the world into existence. Thoth was lauded by his devotees as a friend to all who are self-restrained, modest, humble, and pious.
The name Thoth is an English transliteration of the Greek name for this Egyptian god. In ancient Egypt, Thoth’s name was pronounced “djehuty” — strikingly similar to the Hebrew name “yehudi.” The name “yehudi” means, of course, “Jew” or “Judean”, but it is also the secret pronunciation of the divine name yud-hei-vov-hei (“Y-H-V-H,” or “Yahweh”), as is explained in detail here.
Can it be that yhvh — the Torah’s most important name for God — is a reference to an Egyptian god? Hebrew scripture says so expressly. Through the mouth of the prophet Hosea, yhvh says: “I am yhvh, your god from the land of Egypt.” (Hosea 13:4; see also Hosea 12:10) (To see one conception of the first set of tablets, the ones that Moses shattered, click here.)
At the Burning Bush, yhvh said to Moses: “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, and [by] my name yhvh, I was not known to them.” (Exodus 6:3.) In other words, the Patriarchs, who lived in Canaan, called God by the Canaanite names El and Shaddai, but Moses, who was reared as an Egyptian prince, called God by the Egyptian name yhvh (“Thoth”). And the Torah’s bold syncretistic message is that, irrespective of name and culture, God is One. (On the Egyptian god Thoth, see Patrick Boylan, Thoth: The Hermes of Egypt (Kessinger Reprints); C.J. Bleeker, Hathor and Thoth: Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion (Brill 1973).)
The foregoing is based on the ideas in Torah Nondualism: Diversity, Conflict, and Synthesis in the Pentateuch.
To read the entire book, please click here.
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Copyright © 2011 James H. Cumming