In Exodus 6:2-3, God says to Moses, “I am YHWH; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty [Shaddai], but by My name, YHWH, I did not make Myself known to them.” This would straightforwardly lead us to expect that Moses might refer to God as YHWH (usually translated “the LORD”), but that Abraham would not. The frequent use of the name YHWH in the book of Genesis (e.g. in Genesis 12:1), describing times before Moses lived, might be ascribed to Moses’s own authorial voice. More challenging to explain, however, is when Genesis depicts God as revealing this name to Abram (e.g. Genesis 15:7), Abraham as invoking this name (e.g. Genesis 14:22) himself, and even using it in naming a place (Genesis 22:14). What are we to make of this apparent contradiction?
Famously, this discrepancy was the justification for the “Documentary Hypothesis” which denied the traditional view of Moses’s authorship of the Pentateuch and instead argued that multiple different documents (the two earliest of which were distinguished by calling God different names, the Yahwist using the name YHWH [“the LORD”] and the Elohist using the word Elohim [“God”]). In Wellhausen‘s influential formulation, the Yahwist document dated only from Solomon’s court in the 10th C BCE and the Elohist from the following century, both of them authored many centuries after the events they claim to describe. This explanation dominated modern scholarship on the Pentateuch from the late 19th to the late 20th C, until the consensus collapsed under the criticisms of even more iconoclastic scholars who deny any historical reality in the first five books of the Bible, and see them all as products of period of the Babylonian exile of the Jews (in the 6th century BCE) or even later. There is now no consensus, it seems, among scholars of the Pentateuch about the origins of the text, although most are very skeptical of any claims that they represent historical reality.
In this post I will present a curious feature of a few proper names, which certainly do not “refute” any of the various scholarly positions taken, but might be suggestive of an alternate approach.(more…)