Hebrew place names and personal names and some Hebrew words that appear in the King James and other versions of the
bible were transliterated according to an often incorrect and arbitrary method, and sometimes several words were run
together either in the Hebrew original or gratuitously in the translation.
These errors originated before the publication of the King James Version, but one of the rules adopted by the
translators was to retain the "vulgar" or common pronunciations,
thereby perpetuating distorted pronunciations such as Jehosaphat for Yehoshaphat
and "Jezebel" for "Eey - Zehvehl."
Very often, the biblical name of a place or person has a meaning in the context of the story being told, as names of
persons were often assumed names, epithets or nicknames. These meanings are often lost in
translation and transliteration. Sometimes the original is unintelligible from the English transcription,
which came by way of Latin and Greek.
In some cases, we do not know the original meaning of a name for certain, and
we do not even know if it had a meaning. However such meanings were often
attached as "explanations" or "glosses" and gained credence by force of
A further difficulty is added by the fact that Hebrew was written without
vowels originally. Like all Semitic alphabets, Hebrew was derived from the
phonetic alphabets of consonants devised by the Phoenicians. Symbols for vowel
sounds were added or the sound could be inferred from the consonant letter, its
position in the word or the grammatical construction of verbs and possessive
nouns from the roots, which is reasonably regular. For example, the letter Yud
usually is pronounced "ee:" BaYit - house. BaitY - my house.
The letter Heh at the end of a word usually signifies an "ah" sound: BeitaH -
Nonetheless, the absence of vowels left ambiguity in the pronunciation of certain words
and still does in modern Hebrew. This
is especially true of names and regular nouns, since the vowels cannot be
derived from the rules of grammatical construction from roots. For example, "DAVID" is usually written "DVD" in the
Old Testament Bible, and might have been DAVID, DUD, DOD or a number of other
names. Ayin Bet Dalet may be "Avad"" - he worked or Eved - slave. The correct
pronunciation can only be known from context.
Pronunciation and linguistic assimilation - The most popular
names became parts of other languages and assimilated into the. English
speakers replaced short Semitic vowels with long English ones. Shiloh is
pronounced "Shee Lo" in Hebrew, not "Shai Low" as in English.
English speakers cannot pronounce the 'H (Het) sound, which does exist
in English, In words like 'Hebron it was transformed to a an "H," In other names
it was simply ignored or omitted. The Hebrew name "Yeh 'hehz kehl became
"Ezekiel," in English, a name which is quite different from the original.
German Scholarship - German uses the Latin alphabet, but the letters
are not pronounced the same as they are in English of course. German Biblical
scholarship encouraged the proliferation of transliterations of Yud as "J" and
Vav as "W." In German, the sounds are correct, but not in English.
W for Vav causes the most confusion, since Vav can also have a vowel sound in
which case it is "oo" or "o."
Passage of time - The Bible itself covers a vast time span, and
the period of it existence and transmission is even longer. We know that
pronunciation changes over time even for the same words and letters. The "great
vowel shift" took place in English for example, so that words such as "love" are
no longer pronounced as they were in time of Shakespeare. It is unlikely that
that the pronunciation of the first kings of Judea was the same as that of the
Maccabbean Kings, or that words were pronounced the same way in the time of the
The names of God. - In the Hebrew Bible text, God is referred to in a
number of ways, including ELOHIM and YHVH. The latter "tetragrammaton"
also appears on the Moabite Mesha Stele as the name of the Hebrew God. It
literally means "he will be" or "It will be" when translated into Hebrew, but it
may have been derived otherwise. It would be pronounced "Yehaveh" in modern
Hebrew if it meant "It will be.". t is supposedly forbidden for modern Jews to
pronounce this name, and the pronunciation is probably not known. This
prohibition is held by some to hav been in force in ancient times.
According to Maimonides, the name, whatever it was, could be uttered by the
Levites. The English text always refers to "The Lord" or Lord God.
It is always
pronounced "Adonai" today as are other codes such as "YY." The ancient pronunciation
is not known, and we do not have sufficient information to reconstruct the
Probably at least part of it was pronounced an some occasions, since it was
incorporated in names such as Yedidiah, Adoniyah and others. In Jewish tradition
the name of God was supposed to have mystical powers. In non-Jewish renditions
and derivations this name became "Jehovah."
The Hebrew voweling or pointillation system for pronunciation of vowels was devised by
the Mesoretic scholars about 400 ACE. it renders YHVH in a way that is
apparently intentionally unpronounceable, since the VAV (V) has both a cholam
("O") and a kamatz - "AH." The name "JEHOVAH" or any equivalent does not seem to
exist in Hebrew, and may have been devised by Catholic divines (see
in the middle ages.
Some insist there is a theological issue involved in finding the "correct"
pronunciation of "Yahveh" or "Jehovah." This question cannot be answered
with existing information. It is almost certain that the name was never
pronounced "Jehovah" as there is no "J" sound in Hebrew, However, we do not have
enough information to reconstruct the original pronunciation, which was probable
different at different times in any cases. Knowledge or pseudo-knowledge about
pronunciation has been abused in tendentious attempts to back one or another
pronunciation, but it is not likely to lead to "the truth." This page is
not intended to answer questions of that nature.
Transliteration and pronunciation of these foreign (Hebrew) words in English
can never reconstruct the original sound, since this is not known. But the
pronunciation should be as close as possible to the probable original, ad the
transliteration system should be internally consistent.
following will give some idea of the distortions and how to restore the original.
Letter J - Hebrew has no letter "J." In all names having a "J" in
them, the J should be pronounced as "Y" or sometimes as 'I"
at the beginning of the syllable. For example:
Adonijah should be Ahdoneeyah (meaning, "My lord is God")
Jedediah should be Yehdeedyah (meaning, "Friend of
Jeremiah is Yehrmiyahu in Hebrew.
The omission of the final "u" is an unexplained inconsistency.
Joel is Yo El in Hebrew (meaning
"Jehovah is God" or "Yo is God")
The error was reinserted in many cases owing to the work of German scholars,
since the German "Y" sound is written as "J." The German transliteratons were
correct of Germans, but they were then inserted directly into English.
The J for Y error was transmitted indiscriminately, even when the Hebrew spelling was Aleph Yud rather than Yud:
Jaffa is Yaffo
Job (Aleph Yud Vav
Bet) should be iyohv.
Jezebel should be
eezehvehl. The name begins with "ALEPH" and not with "YOD." The name means "pile of
garbage" in Hebrew, and was certainly not the real name of the Phoenician
princess taken to wife by King Ahab.
She was given that
name because of her idolatrous practices, and because the compilers of the Bible and the
Book of Kings obviously did not
like her. It is not clear what the actual name should be, or what she was called in her lifetime by her subjects.
The application of the erroneous transliterations is not always consistent,
and therefore there is no rule that can be used reliably to retrieve the
original. The transliterations often passed through Latin, Greek. middle
English, Old French or German. Latin had no "J." German renders "J" as
"Y." The popular pronunciation of the names, however incorrect, became
established and had to be respected. This was especially true of the most
familiar names, which were subjected to the most mutilation and were hardest to
These vicissitudes may account for a part of the vagaries of
The name Yeh'hehzkehl (God will strengthen) was transmuted to "Ezekiel" in English.
If the transliteration had been consistent in the error it would have
rendered his name as "Jehezkel." The name Yishahyahu (probably God
will save) was transmuted to "Isaiah" in English, rather than "Jeshayah," but "Yishai"
(father of King David) Is rendered as "Jesse." "Jesus" was probably called "Yeshua"
Letter S - The letter "S" is often used instead of the Hebrew or Semitic "Shin" which is pronounced as "sh".
Thus, for example:
Jerusalem is Yerushalayim in Hebrew (Meaning "City of
Peace" perhaps originally "Yeru Shalem or Ur Salem")
Jehoshapat) is Yeho-Shahfaht (meaning "God Judged".
Letters B and V - In the middle or end of a syllable, the Hebrew Bet (B) is always "soft" and is
pronounced as "v." Thus for example:
Abigail is Ahvigahyil in Hebrew.
Abinadab is Ahvi nahdahv in Hebrew
(Ather of Nadav).
Abimelech is Ahvi Melech in Hebrew (meaning "Father of
Ebenezer is Evehn ehzehr in Hebrew
Jeraboam is Yerahvahm in Hebrew.
It probably means, "May the nation increase."
Jerubaal is Yerubaal in Hebrew because the "B" in
Baal begins a new syllable and is therefore a hard "B." The name means "Fears (worships) Baal (the god of the Canaanites).
Joab is Yoav, meaning perhaps "God is the father."
Caprices of transliteration - Transliteration can generate unfamiliar
vowel combinations, which are the mispronounced in English. For example, the
name "Beulah" is pronounced Byoolah in English. In Hebrew it is
Beh'oohla, which means given a husband or mated.
Letters th - The th dipthong combination was often used to signify the letter "taf" in the middle or end of a syllable,
where it is softer than "T." In modern Hebrew these are not usually distinguished. Thus, "Jonathan" is "Yohnahtahn" (God Gave) in
Common components of biblical names - Some commonly used components of biblical names and their meaning:
Ahvi - Father. Always transliterated incorrectly as "Abi" in the King James version.
Mehlehch - King.
Ehl - God
Yah - God. Usually transliterated as JA in the King James Bible.
Yahu - God
Yo - God
Nahtahn - gave
Rahm - mighty. Abram (av ram) may have meant "mighty father," or "father of the mighty."
Tsehdehk - Justice.
Melkizedek (pronounced Mehlkitsehdehk) = My king is justice.
Nouns mistaken for names and incorrect plurals - The translators sometimes mistook ordinary nouns for names of
nations. Thus, for example, Anahkim means "giants". It is the plural of Anahk. The translators apparently
took "Anahkim" to be the name of a people, and therefore added an "s" at the end and rendered
it as "Anakims." Likewise, Seraphim (plural of Saraph) is rendered in English as "Seraphims."
These renditions are rather comical to speakers of modern Hebrew.