Who has experienced or seen a deity?

"Hallowed be your name" - but which one?

Monday, May 24th, 2021

About the names of God

By A. Hagin and F. Grotjahn

What does God's name mean for our religious practice, for our faith? (Stock.XCHNG - Cris Watk)

The Judeo-Christian God has many names by which he is called. So he is called in the Bible, the "Merciful", the "Father", the "Mother", but also the "Righteous" and the "Angry". Jesus calls God "Father". But what should we best call him?

"The nine billion names of God." This is the title of a science fiction story by the British writer Arthur C. Clark. In it, a Lama brotherhood in Tibet devoted its entire life to listing the names of God. These names are very numerous: nine billion. When all have been said and deciphered, the end of the world will dawn. - A nice performance for Tibetan monks.

But the work is progressing slowly and has been going on for centuries. Then the lamas hear of occidental machines that can record and decipher incredibly quickly. And so they order a powerful computer from IBM. American technicians come to the mountains of Tibet and install such a computer in a monastery there. According to her, it only takes three months to finish the job. Of course, you yourself do not believe a word of the prophesied consequences of this list. Shortly before the end of their work, they flee the monastery at night. They fear the monks' vengeance if the end of the world does not come. But even as they descend into the civilized world, they see one star after another go out.

Given these nine billion names, the 99 names of Allah seem rather modest. Or is it a hundred?

In Günter Eich's radio play "Allah has a hundred names" a young man is looking for this hundredth. In front of an embassy building, he meets a caretaker who is sweeping the stairs. He asks him too. The man replied that he could only name 99 names, but, thanks to Allah, he also knew the hundredth.

And he tells the story of his life, a story full of failures that finally brought him, the once successful businessman, into this subordinate position of caretaker. But when he got here, he realized that all the beautiful things he had experienced in his life were in fact translations of the hundredth name of Allah. And once alerted to the work of Allah, he saw his hundredth name everywhere: in the call of the bird and in the gaze of the child, in a cloud, in a brick and in the stride of the camel

How many names does God have? What is he called and what does he want to be called?

We have to distinguish between the first names of God, the names with which he is called, and his proper name with which he introduced himself. In the abundance of given names, God can keep up well with other deities. They reflect experiences that people have made with God. For example, when we address God as "father" or as "mother", we take up an image from our world of experience. Likewise, when we call him the Merciful, the Righteous, the Hidden, the Silent, or call on him as the Almighty or the Wrathful.

But what about his proper name?

There is a story about it. It's in the Hebrew Bible, in the Old Testament, in the second book of Moses, in the 3rd chapter. This is the well-known story of Moses before the burning bush, in which God instructs Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, out of slavery. And then Moses asks his name.

"If I come to the Israelites and say to them: 'The God of your fathers sent me to you', and they ask me: 'What is his name?' - what should I answer them?"

And this is how God introduces himself to him:

“'I will be who I will be.' (…) So you should say to the Israelites: 'I am here', the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob has me with you sent '. That is my name forever. " (Exodus 3,14f)

In this conversation, God introduced himself in three ways: Once as God of the Fathers. He is already known to his people. And then under his own name. ,I'm there'. And he explains this name with the sentence: "I will be who I will be."

But what about this proper name? It consists of four letters, a 'tetragram'. These are the letters J H W H. They come from the verb "sein", and they can be translated as: "I am there" or "I will be". Now nobody knows exactly how these four letters, all consonants, are pronounced. Because the vowels that belong in between were not included in the Hebrew Bible.

Attempts have been made to insert vowels in the tetragram: The vowels E O A, for example. Then the name reads: "Jehovah" - as "Jehovah's Witnesses" pronounce it to this day. The vowels A and E have generally prevailed in the letter chain. Then the name reads: "Yahweh". But that too is ultimately just a reconstruction.

Let us return to the tetragram, the actual proper name of God. Whenever it appears in the Hebrew Bible - that is about 6,800 times the case - the word "Lord" appears in the usual Bible translations. And from what we have heard so far about the meaning of the name of God, that can hardly be regarded as a successful translation. "Herr" is a nickname, not a proper name.

How the nickname "Lord" has replaced God's proper name has historical reasons. Around the fifth century BC there was a reluctance to utter God's proper name among pious Jews. And so the tradition gradually developed to replace the name of God with the word 'Adonaj'. Adonaj literally means 'gentlemen'. But this address is used exclusively for God, so that confusion with other gentlemen is impossible.

When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek for the first time during the last three centuries BC, this Jewish tradition was adopted and the word 'Kyrios' was used instead of the tetragram. Kyrios means lord. And with this word God is also addressed today at the beginning of every worship service:

"Kyrie eleison! - Lord have mercy."

From the Kyrios became in the Latin Bible: Dominus - Lord.

"Dominus vobiscum - The Lord be with you."

When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, the problem of how to translate the tetragram reappeared. And Luther decided - in the tradition of Adonaj, Kyrios, Dominus - for the word "Lord". But remembering that the Jewish Adonaj is only used for God, he wrote his 'Lord' in all capital letters to distinguish the Lord God from other gentlemen. But speaking there is no difference between the Lord God and the Mr. Miller next door. Among other things, this has sparked controversy in recent times.

The Magdeburg Protestant theologian Magdalene Frettlöh, who has dealt intensively with this question of names, says: "

"The discussion has been restarted above all by feminist theology. It rightly draws attention to the fact that the one-sided translation of the proper name God with" Lord ", the relationship between God and the world, God and man, To speak of God as "Lord" can have a double function: On the one hand, by addressing God as rulership, we can criticize every rule of people over people, especially the rule of men over women Then we say: God is the one and only Lord. If we were to do this consistently, we would also have to stop addressing men as "Lord".

On the other hand - and this has happened just as often in history - the appeal to God the Lord can also legitimize earthly rulership instead of criticizing it. And this is exactly the point where feminist criticism attacks and says: When I speak of God alone as 'Lord', I fix God on one side on a male image and on one side on a dominant relationship with people. "

Shouldn't we then rather forego the word Lord in connection with God?

The opinions are divided. There are voices who say that when addressing 'Lord' God is unilaterally defined as masculine. It is not possible for them to speak of God like that. Others, on the other hand, are so critical of addressing their rule as "Lord" in the sense of "our only master" that they do not want to do without it in church services, for example. Then "Herr" should not be the only form of address, says Magdalene Frettlöh:

"The feminine names of God must also always come up for discussion, such as speaking of God as a friend, speaking of God as a mother, of speaking of God as a wet nurse, as a baker, as a weaver. All of these are biblical images of God. These images too and names of God must appear next to the salutation. "

My name is "I'm here", God had said to Moses near the burning bush. That's actually not a name, but a sentence. How can you make a name out of a sentence?

The reformer Johannes Calvin and after him the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn believed that if God is always there, one can also say that he is eternal. And so was her translation of the tetragram 'the Eternal'. But God can also be eternal for himself. This also applies when God is called 'the being'. This is an old Greek translation of 'I will be who I will be'.

In this formulation, "I am the being", it does not become clear that God is the one who is with, the one who is for his people.

The Jewish religious scholars Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber saw this shortcoming, who began to translate the Hebrew Bible into German again in the 1920s. They came up with an initially surprising solution to the naming problem. They decided to translate the tetragram not with a name but with a pro-noun.

'Pro noun' means 'for the name'. And they took that literally. And so God is called "I" when he speaks himself - when he is addressed: "You", and when he is spoken of: "He".
In a letter, Franz Rosenzweig wrote about this discovery:

"Suddenly, when the translation, Herr, became unbearable to the point of despair, we remembered the current translation. We greeted it hesitantly at first, then tried it out and found it more and more correct."

Then God says when he speaks of himself: "I am the one with you, who is there for you". When we address God, it means "you are the one who is there for us, who is with us". And when we speak of God to others, we say, "He, God, is He who is with us.

How then can we speak appropriately of God? What should we call him? Yahweh, Jehovah, the Eternal, the Being, Lord? Each of these terms has its own set of problems. Perhaps the "I" - "You" - "He" form that Rosenzweig and Buber have found is still the best option, however unusual it may seem at first.

A good decade ago, the word "Adonaj", with which Jews paraphrased the name of God, experienced an unexpected "resurrection". The men and women who interpret the Bible texts at the German Evangelical Church Congress have chosen this word. Your spokesman, the Bochum theologian Jürgen Ebach, wrote in his introduction to the biblical texts of the Stuttgart Kirchentag 1999:

"To some people it will initially seem very unusual and strange to call God 'Adonaj'. But there are many Greek and Hebrew words in the language of the Church that we naturally use. Think of Hallelujah and Amen, Christ and Messiah, to Zebaot and Zion. And also words such as pastor, presbyter, bishop, even the word church have such origins. It might be good to hear the biblical usage for oneself while listening to the name of God. But in this question too, it is true the correct translation does not exist. "

The "correct translation" of the name of God may only be available at the end of time. This is what the prophet Zechariah speaks of when he describes the day of salvation at the end of time:

"On that day there will be no more heat and no cold or frost, and it will be a continuous day (...), no alternation between day and night, even in the evening it will be light. (...) And Adonaj will be king over the whole earth. On that day Adonaj will be the only one and his name the only one. " (Zechariah 14: 6-9)

The many names that we give God, and which may well be in contradiction to one another, if we speak of God, for example, as the Almighty or of him as the powerless, "on that day" they will be reconciled with one another in their diversity.

Whatever name we want to give God - what does this mean for our religious practice, for our faith, for our lives?

"Our Heavenly Father
Blessed be your name."

... it says in the Lord's Prayer. The question arises as to who should actually sanctify the name of God. The passive form "hallowed be your name" allows two possibilities: On the one hand, we ask that God himself sanctify his name. On the other hand, we are called to sanctify the name of God.

This means, however, that we do not see in God the "motionless mover" who looks mildly and silently at the world from somewhere, "far from heaven". The relationship between God and the world, God and man, is an interactive, two-way affair. God wants to be called upon, wants to be claimed. His offer is formulated in the 50th Psalm:

"Call me in need, I will save you and you should praise me." (Psalm 50:15)

Talking to God is an interaction with consequences. When we - as in the Lord's Prayer - call God "Father", we understand ourselves as his "children". If we want to sanctify his name, then we will only do so if we deal with the other "children of God" in a fraternal way. If we call him the "Merciful", we will only sanctify that name if we ourselves also act mercifully. So the sanctification of the name of God has very concrete effects on our personal and political life.

Magdalene Frettlöh found a name story in the first book of the Bible, which vividly expresses how, on the one hand, man sanctifies God's name and, on the other hand, God himself sanctifies him.

It is the story of Hagar, the Egyptian handmaid of Abraham and Sarah. At Sara's insistence, she and her son Ishmael are expelled from the community. In the desert a messenger of God saves you and your child from dying of thirst. Hagar thanks God and gives him the name: "You are the God who sees me." That is how she experienced God. He saw her in need. (Genesis 21)

But this name is also an obligation. Magdalene Frettlöh says:

"When Hagar calls God by this name, (...) then she obliges him to continue to be the God who does not overlook her, who perceives her in every life situation and takes her seriously, gives her dignity and weight. So God should sanctify the name: 'You are the God who sees me'.
But if she calls God by this name, then with this name of God she commits herself not to overlook other people, to take them seriously, not to pass them by, but to give them weight and dignity. Sanctifying the name of God means probation, making the name true on earth. "

- Arthur C. Clarke, The Nine Billion Names of God,
in: Heyne Science Fiction Annual Volume 1982

- Jürgen Ebach, introductions to the texts of the Bible workers and worship services,
in: Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag (Ed.) You put my feet in a wide space. Exegetical sketches

- Günter Eich, Allah has a hundred names
in: Günter Eich, Fifteen radio plays 1957

- Magdalene L. Frettlöh
Quotes from a personal conversation with the author (F.G.) 2001

- Franz Rosenzweig, June 23, 1927 to Martin Goldner,
in: Franz Rosenzweig, Letters and Diaries, Volume 2, 1918-1929
ed. By Rachel Rosenzweig and Edith Rosenzweig-Scheinmann,
Martinus Nijhoff

Music information:

Saraband & Fadia El-Hage
Modern String Quartet
Vladimir Ivanoff

- The Arabian Passion according to J. S. Bach
The Arab Passion according to J. S. Bach

"My Jesus keep silent about false lies"

"Jesus of Nazareth"

"Can tears of my cheeks reach anything"


- The Astonishing Eyes of Rita, Anouar Brahem

- "The Lover Of Beirut", Anouar Brahem
Performers: Anouar Brahem, Klaus Gesing, Björn Meyer, Khaled Yassine

The editorial and content responsibility for this article lies with Pastor Petra Schulze, broadcasting representative for Deutschlandradio and Deutsche Welle for the media representative of the Evangelical Church in Germany.

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