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Understanding Yahweh - Part I

The origin of the word

Published:Sunday | November 17, 2019 | 12:28 AMPaul H. Williams - Gleaner Writer

Two weeks ago, the media were replete with stories of the dramatic rescue of three children from the Qahal Yahweh church compound in Norwood, St James amid allegations of cultism, human trafficking, child abuse, sexual assaults and abduction by the church leaders and members themselves.

The media stories and counterclaims by the church leaders and some members garnered much national attention and discourse because such an incident has not occurred in Jamaica in recent memory. It was big news.

But, while the word, Yahweh, might not be new to many Jamaicans, and many more do not know where it had originated, Yahweh denominations have sprung up on the island over the years, but have not been popularly embraced because they have been branded as cults, just like the one in Norwood.

In its search for clarity, Family and Religion consulted several Internet sources that have similar and varied stories of how Yahweh came to be a ‘Christian’ denomination. The article by Joshua J. Mark, published on October 22, 2018, is very long, but seems to be quite helpful.

Mark is a freelance writer and former part-time professor of philosophy at Marist College, New York. He has lived in Greece and Germany, and travelled throughout Egypt, has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy at the college level.

He writes, “Yahweh is the name of the state God of the ancient Kingdom of Israel and, later, the Kingdom of Judah. His name is composed of four Hebrew consonants (YHWH, known as the Tetragrammaton), which the prophet Moses is said to have revealed to his people. As the name of the Supreme Being was considered too holy to be spoken, the consonants YHWH were used to remind one to say the word ‘adonai’ (Lord) in place of the god’s name, a common practice throughout the Near East in which epithets were used in referencing a deity.”

There were similar explanations in other pieces of literature, and there seems to be much agreement that it is not clear exactly when Yahweh was first worshipped, individually or congregationally, or how.

Mark says that “Scholars J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes write, ‘The origins of Yahwism are hidden in mystery. Even the final edited form of Genesis – II. Kings [in the Bible] presents diverse views on the matter. Thus Genesis 4:16, attributed by literary critics to the so-called `Yahwistic’ source, traces the worship of Yahweh back to the earliest days of the human race, while other passages trace the revelation and worship of Yahweh back to Moses [in the Book of Exodus].’ ”

However, he says, “Scholar Nissim Amzallag, of Ben-Gurion University, disagrees with the claim that Yahweh’s origins are obscure and argues that the deity was originally a god of the forge and patron of metallurgists during the Bronze Age (c. 3500-1200 BCE).”

Mark says Amzallag specifically cites the ancient copper mines of the Timna Valley (in southern Israel), biblical and extra-biblical passages, and similarities of Yahweh to gods of metallurgy in other cultures for support. And “although the Bible presents Yahweh as the God of the Israelites, there are many passages which make clear that this deity was also worshipped by other peoples in Canaan”.

Amzallag notes that the Edomites, Kenites, Moabites, and Midianites all worshipped Yahweh to one degree or another and that there is evidence the Edomites who operated the mines at Timnah converted an earlier Egyptian temple of Hathor to the worship of Yahweh.

The meaning of the name Yahweh has been interpreted as “He who makes that which has been made” or “He brings into existence whatever exists”, though other interpretations have been offered by many scholars. In the late Middle Ages, Yahweh came to be changed to Jehovah by Christian monks.

Despite the uncertainty of when Yahweh has evolved as an institutional religion, there are many denominations and splinter groups the world over. They include the House of Yahweh, the Assemblies of Yahweh, the Kingdom of Yahweh and the Congregation of Yahweh.