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blasphemy
Posted: 01 July 2011 01:38 AM   [ Ignore ]
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"Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. “

This is how the 3rd commandment appears in the KJV in Exodus and Deuteronomy. (At least, I was taught it was the 3rd: I gather some folks think it is the second or the fourth or something.)

What phrase is being translated from Hebrew here as “in vain”?

What would a direct translation into modern English of that phrase be?

What was the original intention of the instruction taken as a whole?

When young I mostly associated it with “blaspheming” in the narrow sense of saying a holy name in anger, excitement or some other intense emotion.

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Posted: 01 July 2011 04:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Note that the Ten Commandments come in three major flavors, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Protestant (probably with some other variants as well).

This one is number 3 in the Jewish and Protestant traditions, number 2 in the Roman Catholic.

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Posted: 01 July 2011 05:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Dave Wilton - 01 July 2011 04:30 AM

This one is number 3 in the Jewish and Protestant traditions, number 2 in the Roman Catholic.

Also #3 in Orthodox Christian tradition.

OP, you might try using a Strong’s Concordance.  Google it.  There are a number of online versions around.  There are other concordances besides Strong’s, as well.

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Posted: 01 July 2011 07:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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OP, you might start here.

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Posted: 01 July 2011 12:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Dave Wilton - 01 July 2011 04:30 AM

This one is number 3 in the Jewish and Protestant traditions, number 2 in the Roman Catholic.

To explain a bit further, Jews, Protestants (but not the Lutherans) and Orthodoxy has an extra commandment at the top. They split up the first two into no other gods and graven images. The RCs and Lutherans have an extra one at the end (they split the covets between wives on the one hand and “anything that belongs to your neighor” on the other).

The commandment is usually seen to be about more than blasphemy by most commentators. Goddammit is the minor offense. The major one is to swear on God’s name that I didn’t take the life of my child. Similar to “Thou shalt not lie.” That really should be “shall not bear false witness” in, say, a court of law.

But “in vain,” thanks to the Genesius entry on sobiest’s link, can mean a ban on the casual use of God’s name as well as the wicked use of it to avoid responsibility for something.

I would bet RebWlm could expand on this!

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Posted: 01 July 2011 11:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thanks all.

So ... falsely, wrongly, emptily.

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Posted: 02 July 2011 12:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Congratulations, OP Tipping. I think this is quite a toughie.

In default of Reb Wm, I’ll have a shot at at least a partial, “bare-bones” answer, though the subject cries out loud for a scholar - which I’m emphatically not.

The Hebrew term in the Commandment, rendered in the KJV as “in vain”, is the word lamed-shin-vav-aleph --- le-shav.  It is still in common use in modern Hebrew, to mean what “in vain” means in modern English, i.e. “unavailingly” ("he searched in vain"). It’s also used elsewhere in the Bible in exactly that sense (Psalm 127)*, but in the present case, I think that the meaning in the Hebrew Commandment (and in the KJV translation) is subtly different, and broader. If I had to render the Biblical commandment in modern English, I might say “You are not to make improper or unnecessary use of the name of the Lord your God” (the NEB says “you shall not make wrong use......").

This raises a whole lot of questions - first of all, what is the name of “the Lord your God”?

The Hebrew Bible refers to God in several ways. Genesis begins: “In the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and the earth”.  In Genesis 2:5, there is a change: God is referred to for the first time as YHVH Elohim, and later in the Bible, sometimes as YHVH, sometimes as Elohim, and sometimes as YHVH Elohim. When Moses before the burning bush (Ex 3:13) asks God: what shall he tell the people is God’s name, God replies (as languagehat reminded us in a recent thread): “I AM THAT I AM: say unto the children of Israel I AM hath sent me”. The First Commandment says “I am YHVH thy Elohim....thou shalt have no other Elohim before me”.

Since ancient times, names have been very important, especially names of gods, with all sorts of magical properties ("a name to conjure with"), often kept very secret, not to be revealed, and certainly not to be trifled with (Robert Graves discusses this subject at some length, I remember, in “The White Goddess”, my copy of which was “borrowed” some years ago, alas). The God of Moses clearly prefers to keep his exact name to himself, even from his most faithful followers. To Jews, YHVH is the nearest thing we know to God’s name, and the prohibition against using it “in vain” is taken very seriously indeed. Jews refer to God by a variety of titles and appellations. I think it’s not entirely clear, by the way whether “Elohim” is actually a name, or a title (same applies in English, to “God”, really, doesn’t it? There are other Gods, both in Hebrew and in English. Perhaps the capital G makes it specific). To be on the safe side, an observant Jew will say “Elokim” if he says the word at all - say, when reading from the Torah (YHVH will be read aloud as Adonai - “the Lord"). God is normally referred to in common speech obliquely, as “the Name” (ha-shem), or as “the Holy One, Blessed be He” (ha-kadosh-barukh-hu), for instance. That is how Jews understand the original intention of the commandment. Members of other faiths have their own interpretations. God only knows....

In ancient times, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the name YHVH was spoken aloud only by the High Priest, and only once a year: in the Holy of Holies, during Temple services on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. When the Temple was destroyed, the practice ended. I don’t think anyone today even knows how YHVH was pronounced: “Yahweh” and “Jehovah” are only guesses.

All the above refers, of course, to the use of God’s name aloud and in public. Private communication between an individual and his/her God is nobody else’s business, and is obvously not easily subject to regulation.

(Note: I see wikipedia has a lot of stuff about this, by people who obviously know a lot more than I do. To anyone interested, I’d say “start with Yahweh")

* Sobiest: most of the 48 examples of “in vain” cited in the Blue Letter Bible, are translations of various other phrases, not of le-shav.

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Posted: 02 July 2011 05:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Well, thanks for all that, lionello! A lot to think about…

BTW, what “I am that I am” ... would a better translation be “I am what I am” or does it mean something else?

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Posted: 02 July 2011 06:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I’ve always taken it as ‘I am that which I am’. ‘I am what I am’ says much the same thing but with the added bathos of bringing Popeye the Sailor to mind rather than the Lord God Almighty.

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Posted: 02 July 2011 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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But what does “I am that I am” mean? What exactly is the “that” doing in that sentence?

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Posted: 02 July 2011 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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It’s archaic syntax.  It means what we now express by “I am what I am.”

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Posted: 02 July 2011 07:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Well that’s what I wanted to check. Thanks.

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Posted: 02 July 2011 10:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I don’t think anyone today even knows how YHVH was pronounced: “Yahweh” and “Jehovah” are only guesses.

Brilliant job Lionello! Jehovah, however, is actually the combination of the consonants of YHVH and the vowels of Adonai. When the Masoretes in the 9th and 10th centuries (CE) wrote out the version of the Hebrew Bible that contained the vowels (you would know that Hebrew has no native vowels) they put in the vowels for Adonai underneath the consonants for YHVH. It’s what’s known as Ketiv-Qere (what is written and what is read--YHVH is written but Adonai is what was to be read). Wikipedia has the two words in reverse order but this is the way I learned it.

edit: So, to reinforce your point, Lionello, there are no vowels for the unpronounceable Tetragrammaton YHVH.

I presume that non-Jews saw this word and didn’t know about the Ketiv-Qere issue and pronounced the name of the Holy as Jehovah.

[ Edited: 02 July 2011 10:52 AM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 02 July 2011 01:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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the meaning of the verb root “h.v.h” or “h.w.h.” in Biblical Hebrew is “being”. The four letter word “Y-H-W(V)-H is most likely the future tense (roughly) causative of the word root. Therefore the best pronunciation would be “Yahweh” and the meaning would be “causing being”. “Ongoing cause of being” would probably be the most accurate phrase to translate “Yahweh.”

Le-shahv - means literally, “in vain”. Here it probably means “for no purpose.” In biblical and rabbinic law, an oath could be decisive evidence in a legal case, and therefore oaths had to be reserved for the most serious of purposes. An oath upon oneself, or an oath to the veracity of one’s words, were thought to create a reality or affirm one.

the great Jewish exegete Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (France, 1040-1105) summarized it thus:  do not swear that a wooden pillar is gold. another commentator adds, and do not swear that a gold pillar is gold.

Only swear to create a new moral or spiritual obligation upon oneself, or swear to the veracity of a statement that cannot be proved otherwise. Invoking God’s name - Yahweh - seals the seriousness of the oath.

Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh—“I shall be that which I shall be”. “asher” is simply the relative pronoun, much still in use in modern Hebrew.

[ Edited: 02 July 2011 02:55 PM by Reb Wlm ]
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Posted: 02 July 2011 02:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Relative to the “asher” thing. One of my favorite novels is “My Name is Asher Lev”. Would that be “I am heart” I’ll bet this has been discussed ad infinitum elsewhere. “Lev” could be “heart” or “the seat of reason” which is the central theme of the Potok novels.

On the “W” vs. “V” issue, this first emerged in the 1890s in German scholarship where the “W” is a “V” sound. Think of the name of the VW auto as sounded in Germany as “Fauw Vay” Same is true with the “J” and “W” sounds. in JHWH/CVJM The YMCA in Germany for example is the CVJM “Christlicher Verein Junger Menschen”.

Thanks so much Reb Wlm. Love the “do not swear that the gold pillar is gold.”

[ Edited: 02 July 2011 03:01 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 02 July 2011 03:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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re Asher:

The name Asher and the relative pronoun are actually two different words. You would only notice if you saw the vocalization.

Asher, the name, is vocalized (letter first, then vowel under it after the slash) Aleph/kamatz—Shin/tserei—Resh.  אָשֵֽׁר

asher, as the relative pronoun is spelled aleph/chataf-patach—shin/segol — resh אֲשֶׁר֙

(Oc: I love that thought, too)

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