Held by Jewish tradition to be unpronounceable, the Tetragrammaton is often replaced by “Adonai” or “Lord” when Jews read scripture. Christians often pronounce it as Yahweh or Jehovah.
Could Yahweh have both a yin and a yang? Does God’s gender matter?
“If we read the text as a mystic might, paying extremely close attention, assuming that the text conceals more than it reveals, we may find hints regarding God’s androgynous nature, so to speak, peeking out through the surface level of the Torah,” he wrote in the article published this week in the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) Journal.
“If Moses’ name spelled backward becomes the name HaShem [God’s name,] might not God’s name spelled backward similarly reflect something essential about humankind? Indeed it does.”
The four consonants that make up the Tetragrammaton appear 6,823 times in the Hebrew Bible. Since early Hebrew script included no vowels, the pronunciation of the name was known only by those who heard it.
According to Sameth’s research, ancient Israelites sprinkled the Tetragrammaton into everyday salutations until 586 B.C.E., when the First Temple was destroyed. Eventually, it was uttered only by priests. After the destruction of the Second Temple, it was no longer pronounced at all.
Sameth argues that when the four letters are arranged in their proper order, they spell out the sounds of “hu” and “he,” the Hebrew words for “he” and “she.” Therefore, he concludes, the ancient Israelites’ notion of God was not masculine, but dual-gendered, or hermaphroditic.
Sameth doesn’t advocate suddenly saying the name—backward or forward. But he does encourage Jews to open their minds and think more inclusively about God.