THE NAME OF GOD AS REVEALED IN EXODUS 3:14

Completing the Interpretation of Exodus 3:14

- The Meaning of  Ehyeh asher Ehyeh

K J Cronin 

According to the Explanation of the Meaning of the Name, I AM is the name of God. I AM is also one of the only two universally accepted literal translations of the word ehyeh as it occurs in Exodus 3:14. The word ehyeh of Exodus 3:14b can be identified in its context as a Divine name, and, because it is a first person singular of the verb, can be identified as the name by which God is known to Himself; His Personal name. Therefore, the Ehyeh of Exodus 3:14b is the Personal name of God and translates into English as I AM.

Having established this, all that remains to be done in order to fully interpret the verse is to explain and translate the puzzling words of Exodus 3:14a; ehyeh asher ehyeh. This is undoubtedly the greatest challenge in Biblical interpretation. What follows is my answer to it.

In Exodus 3:13 Moses asks God what he should say to the Israelites if they ask him for the name of the God who sent him to them. For the purpose of establishing how we would expect God to respond to this enquiry, I would ask you to imagine yourself in an identical exchange, but with you in the place of God. Imagine it is you who is sending Moses on a mission to the Israelites, and that Moses is asking you what he should say to the Israelites if they ask him for the name of the one who sent him to them. The most natural and reasonable way to begin your response to his enquiry would be with a declaration of the name that you wanted Moses to relay to them. This would be naturally and reasonably followed by your instruction to Moses that he was to inform the Israelites that the one who bears that name has sent him to them. Your response would therefore fall into two parts. The first part would be some form of self-identification employing the name that you wanted Moses to relay, and the second would be your instruction to him that he was to respond to their question with that name. A self-identification is normally comprised of some form of self-address and a name, and would normally take the form "My name is x" or "I am x". We will assume that you are of sufficient renown to employ the latter form of words; "I am x". If we now combine the two parts of your response, then you would most naturally and reasonably respond to Moses' question with: "I am x. Tell the Israelites that x has sent you to them".

Now consider the exchange that took place between God and Moses in Exodus 3:13-15. Moses has asked God what he should say to the Israelites if they ask him for the name of the God who sent him to them. According to the above analysis, we would most naturally and most reasonably expect God to begin his response to Moses with a Self-identification that would employ the Divine name that he was to reveal to the Israelites. This would be naturally and reasonably followed by God's instruction to Moses that he was to inform the Israelites that the God who bears that name has sent him to them. We have already identified two forms of self-identification that God might employ – "My name is x" and "I am x" - but in the Hebrew Bible God identifies Himself according to the latter form of words with "I am YHWH". Therefore, if God were to identify Himself to Moses using His Personal name Ehyeh, we would most naturally and most reasonably expect His response to Moses' enquiry to be: "I am Ehyeh. Tell the Israelites that Ehyeh has sent you to them".

However, the Divine Self-identification "I am YHWH" is rendered in Hebrew with a non-verbal clause, employing the personal pronoun ani or anoki, meaning 'I', and the name YHWH, but without the verb 'to be'. Examples of this are "ani YHWH" of Exodus 6:2 and "anoki YHWH" of Isaiah 43:11, both of which translate literally as "I YHWH" but are usually translated as "I am YHWH". If, therefore, this form of Self-identification were employed by God in declaring His Personal name Ehyeh, we could reasonably expect that declaration to take a corresponding form, i.e. 'ani Ehyeh' or 'anoki Ehyeh', but that is not what we find. Therefore, if God did commence His response to Moses with a Self-identification that employed His Personal name Ehyeh, then the words Ehyeh asher Ehyeh do not conform to the Hebrew construction that we would expect such a Divine Self-identification to take, and so we apparently still cannot account for the dual occurrence of ehyeh in ehyeh asher ehyeh.
However, this puzzle can now be readily solved, and its solution leads us to the recognition of what I believe to be the most profound and remarkable words ever written, words so uniquely remarkable that I believe they can only be attributed to the historic architect of Judaism; the man we know as Moses.

The solution to the puzzle that is Ehyeh asher Ehyeh is to be found in two key insights into the words of Exodus 3:14. The first is that in response to Moses' enquiry of Exodus 3:13, God first identifies Himself using His Personal name Ehyeh, as explained in the Textual Analysis of Exodus 3:13-15 in Part II of this website. The second is that Ehyeh asher Ehyeh is the Divine Self-identification when God identifies Himself using His Personal name Ehyeh instead of His proper name YHWH. The explanation for this is as follows.

A self-identification would normally be comprised of some form of self-address and a name, such as "I am x" or "my name is x". A self-address is a statement born of self-reflection, the purpose and effect of which is to bring to awareness knowledge of the one doing the reflecting. Therefore, the purpose and effect of Divine Self-reflection is to bring to God's awareness the knowledge He has of His Personal existence. On the occasion of God revealing to Moses His Personal name Ehyeh/I AM, it is reasonable to expect the Divine Self-reflection to have been perfect because the Personal name is perfect, as established in Part 7 of the  Explanation of the Meaning of the Name. This informs us that on the occasion of God revealing to Moses His Personal name Ehyeh/I AM, the perfect Divine Self-reflection would have been identical to the perfect knowledge that God has of His Personal existence. The following interim conclusion ends Part 6 of the Explanation of the Meaning of the Name: "'I AM' is the articulation in God of the knowledge He has of His Personal existence". Therefore, on the occasion of God revealing to Moses His Personal name Ehyeh/I AM, the perfect Divine Self-reflection was also articulated as Ehyeh/I AM. This in turn means that God's perfect Self-address either is or at least incorporates the Divine Self-reflection Ehyeh/I AM. However, because Ehyeh/I AM is recognisable as a complete form of Divine Self-address in Hebrew as in English, there is no place for the asher in this Self-address. Therefore Ehyeh/I AM is the Divine Self-address when God identifies Himself using His Personal name Ehyeh/I AM instead of His proper name YHWH. We can thus confirm that the Divine Self-identification employing the Personal name of God Ehyeh ought to include the twofold declaration of the word Ehyeh that occurs in Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, and we can thus confirm that Ehyeh asher Ehyeh is the Divine Self-identification when God identifies Himself using His Personal name Ehyeh instead of His proper name YHWH, and the second key insight is confirmed.

Moreover, we can confirm this even without translating the asher, because it is inconceivable that there could be a second meaning being intentionally conveyed in the twofold Ehyeh of Ehyeh asher Ehyeh. As to which of the two Ehyeh is the Self-address and which is the name, the answer is that they are identical and so they are both Self-address and name. However, if for any reason they are to be thought of as one or the other, for example in the writing of a paraphrase, then I would suggest thinking of the first Ehyeh as the Self address and the second as the name, because this is the word order of the most characteristic of Biblical Divine Self-identifications, "ani/anoki YHWH". How this might manifest in a paraphrase will be seen below.

 As for the asher, it is described in the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon as a "sign of relation" (BDB, p.81), which is its precise function in Ehyeh asher Ehyeh. Its presence has the effect of bringing the two Ehyeh into an unspecified relationship, and it is thus a generic sign of the existence of a relationship between them. Because it is generic, the asher has no exactly corresponding word in English (BDB, p.83), and so we must search instead for an English relative word or phrase that fits the context. Having undertaken such a search, I cannot identify any lexically acceptable English relative word or phrase that when emplaced in "I AM asher I AM" makes of it a recognisable Divine Self-identification. For that reason, I believe that the nuance of meaning in the asher of Exodus 3:14 is untranslatable into lexically acceptable English .

Which brings me to the translation of Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, and first to the literal translation. Because the asher is untranslatable, it makes most sense to retain it in the literal English translation of Exodus 3:14, where it will mean the same to the Hebrew reader as to the Hebrew non-reader who knows the grammatical purpose that it serves. I would therefore propose that Ehyeh asher Ehyeh should read as follows in literal English translation: "I AM asher I AM".

Alternatively, if Ehyeh asher Ehyeh is to be represented in paraphrase, then the most accurate such paraphrase  is "I am I AM", which corresponds to the Divine Self-identification "I am YHWH", and which I believe precisely articulates the meaning of Ehyeh asher Ehyeh.

With these translations, and equipped with a comprehensive understanding of why it is that Ehyeh asher Ehyeh translates in this way and what it means, I believe the puzzle that was Exodus 3:14 has now been solved. The words that God addresses to Moses in Exodus 3:14-15, in response to Moses' enquiry of Exodus 3:13, can now be confidently understood as equivalent to the following simple statement: "I am I AM. Tell the Israelites that I AM has sent you to them, and tell them also that they are henceforth to address Me and refer to Me by My proper name YHWH."

In summary, therefore, the words Ehyeh asher Ehyeh of Exodus 3:14a are God's Self-identification to Moses, just as they are understood in the Septuagint, and the absolute Ehyeh of Exodus 3:14b is the Personal name of God and translates into English as I AM. The two Ehyeh of Ehyeh asher Ehyeh are identical in meaning, as proposed by Maimonides and Sarna, but they have complementary functions within the Self-identification, as explained above.

And so to the final step on this exegetical journey, which is to write Exodus 3:14 in the two versions that I would propose.

First with Ehyeh asher Ehyeh in a partial but literal translation:

                                          Then God said to Moses, "I AM asher I AM".
       And He Said, "Thus shall you say to the Sons of Israel: 'I AM has sent me to you'".

And second with Ehyeh asher Ehyeh in a paraphrase that corresponds to the Self-identification "I am YHWH":
                                           Then God said to Moses, "I am I AM". 
       And He said, "Thus shall you say to the Sons of Israel: 'I AM has sent me to you'".

In Conclusion

The evidence of the textual, philosophical and theological analysis presented in this paper is that there is a Divine name in Exodus 3:14, that this name is the Personal name of God, that it is the Hebrew word Ehyeh and that Ehyeh should be translated into English as I AM. The meaning of I AM as presented in this paper is most readily apprehended from the Diagram depicting the creative activity of God, is comprehensively explained in the Explanation of the Meaning of the Name and is concisely explained in the Summary of the Explanation. That meaning is that Ehyeh / I AM articulates the perfect knowledge that God has of His existence.

The words Ehyeh asher Ehyeh are God's Self-identification to Moses, just as they are understood in the Septuagint. They are not a name. They translate literally as "I AM asher I AM" and in paraphrase as "I am I AM", as explained in The Meaning of Ehyeh asher Ehyeh in Part II of this website.

It goes without saying that the extended Explanation of the Meaning of the Name, as presented in Part II of this website, would not have been readily understood by many of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt, and so it is unlikely that Moses presented any such explanation to them. However, it is entirely possible that he presented some such explanation to the Elders of Israel. As for the majority of the Israelites, he could certainly have drawn them a diagram, and a diagram can make a point very effectively, and it can do so in a way that almost everyone can understand.

If the meanings of  the  declaration Ehyeh asher Ehyeh and the name Ehyeh are as I have explained them to be, then I would propose that Exodus 3:14 can stand alone as confirmation of the peerless depth and authority of the prophecy of Moses, and so of the peerless validity of the Jewish understanding of God. Indeed, I would go one step further and propose that it is specifically the declaration Ehyeh asher Ehyeh that sets the seal on the peerless prophetic authority of Moses, because it is the depth of meaning in these words that is peerless at least to my knowledge and understanding, and they are undoubtedly unique in the human historical record. I am certain that however long I had spent thinking my way towards God, I would never have reached the contemplative depth at which these remarkable and beautiful words are to be found except that they were written down on the page in front of me and in a book of some consequence. It is the acquisition by Moses of this unique and astonishing depth of understanding that I cannot account for in any other way than as the greatest ever instance of Divine revelation to humanity.

Conversely, and in my opinion very fittingly, the Divine name Ehyeh - the Personal name of the God of Judaism – can stand alone as the definitive response to and decisive refutation of the Christian idea of a triune God. This is so because the Explanation of the Meaning of the Name has as its most fundamental premise the Jewish understanding of God as one in His Person, and is derived in its entirety from the Jewish understanding of God as in every conceivable sense The Perfect One. It is therefore incompatible with the Christian understanding of God, which contends that God is three persons, and is moreover an implicit refutation of that understanding.[65]

Thus at once does Ehyeh declare against all religious claims to superiority over Judaism, and against all religious claims to have superseded Judaism, and specifically against the Christian idea of a three-person God, and so against the entire edifice of Christian thought and belief.

As regards the rabbinic identification of Ehyeh asher Ehyeh as a Divine name, this is evidently incorrect. It is not incorrect only because of what I have written. It is incorrect also because of what is written in Exodus 3:13-15, and it is there for everyone to read and confirm for themselves. It is extraordinary that such an important error has stood unchallenged for so long, but such is the power of tradition. I am aware that the meaning of these words has not been understood since long before the writing of the Talmud, but that does not entirely excuse the perpetuation of what is an obviously incorrect reading of the biblical text. I believe this traditionally perpetuated error cannot but be harmful simply because it relates to what are surely the most important and holy words in existence. I therefore take issue with the rabbis on this point.

As regards the relationship between the names Ehyeh and YHWH, I would suggest that YHWH should not be regarded as the third person singular equivalent of Ehyeh because to understand it as such does not make good linguistic sense.  The reason for this is that the Personal name of God is 'I AM', not 'He is'. I would instead suggest that the name YHWH should be regarded as the untranslatable and gender-free proper name of God, and that it should be understood to bear fully the same meaning as Ehyeh, as was proposed by Ibn Ezra. If understood in this way, then the use of the name YHWH in prayer and worship would have the effect of bringing powerfully to mind the meaning of the name Ehyeh, but without such mindfulness requiring the utterance of the most holy of Divine names and the most holy word in existence; Ehyeh.

And finally to the question of whether or not the name Ehyeh should ever be uttered, this is of course something everyone must decide for themselves. I would only point out that Moses was commanded to tell the Israelites that they are always to refer to and address God by His proper name YHWH, and by implication that they are never to use His Personal name Ehyeh. The Bible therefore supports what many may feel intuitively, which is that the utterance of the name Ehyeh should at least be highly restricted. However, the Bible does not command us to forget about the name Ehyeh, or to cease from contemplating its meaning. Had that been what was intended, then it would not have been written into perpetuity in the Book of Exodus. Moreover, I believe that the meaning of Ehyeh as a Divine name is of immense importance to every person of faith and to all theological and philosophical enquiry. I am therefore certain that its meaning should be understood, and contemplated, and discussed, and remembered, even if the name itself is never uttered at all. As for myself, and outwith the sphere of the most meaningful enquiry, the name Ehyeh in any language will be ineffable, but I will speak of it respectfully as the Personal name of God.

References and Endnotes

 [1] The 1985 JPS Tanakh does not translate these words from the Hebrew, and so the division of Ex.3:14 can be readily displayed with reference to this text, as follows:  3:14a And God said to Moses,"Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh" 3:14b He continued, "Thus shall you say to the Israelites, 'Ehyeh sent me to you'".  Source: Berlin A. and Zvi Brettler M. (eds.), The Jewish Study Bible, featuring the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation, (NY: Oxford University Press, 2004), p.111.

 [2] Perkins L., A New English Translation of the Septuagint, Electronic Edition, available online at: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/.  The Greek ho on has also been translated as "The Being", for which see: The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament, with an English Translation, (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1879), p.ff.73

 [3] Propp W., Exodus 1-18, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible, (NY: Doubleday, 1998), p.225.

 [4] For an English translation of Vulgate Exodus, see: Douay-Rheims Bible, available online at: http://drbo.org/index.htm.

 [5] Grossfeld B. (trans.), Targum Onkelos to Exodus, Aramaic Bible Vol. 7, (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1988), p.8. See also: Ethereidge J., The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch, (1862), available online at: http://targum.info/targumic-texts/pentateuchal-targumim/

 [6] McNamara M. and Maher M. (trans.), Targums Neofiti 1 and Pseudo-Jonathan, Aramaic Bible Vol.2, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1994), p.19.

 [7] Ibid., p.168. See also: Etheridge J., The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch, (1862), available online at: http://targum.info/targumic-texts/pentateuchal-targumim/.

 [8] Walton B. (ed.), Biblia sacra polyglotta: complectentia textus originales, Hebraicum, cum Pentateucho Samaritano, Chaldaicum, Græcum; versionumque antiquarum, Samaritanæ, Graecæ LXXII interp., Chaldaicæ, Syriacæ, Arabicæ, Æthiopicæ, Persicæ, Vulg. Lat., quicquid comparari poterat, (London: Thomas Roycroft, 1657), p.237.

 [9] Rosenzweig F., The Eternal, in: Buber M. and Rosenzweig F, Scripture and Translation, (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), p.103.

 [10] Ibid. p.102.

 [11] Fox E. (trans.), The Schocken Bible: Vol.1, The Five Books of Moses, (NY: Schocken Books, 1997), p.273.

 [12] See No. 1 above.

 [13] Fox E., The Schocken Bible. p.273.

 [14] Quoted from: Pelcovitz R. (trans.), Sforno, Commentary on the Torah, Translation and explanatory notes, (NY: Mesorah Publications, 2004), p.295.

 [15] Propp, Exodus 1-18, p.181.

 [16] Epstein I. (ed.), The Babylonian Talmud, (London: Soncino Press, 1978). The Soncino Talmud translates all three citations of ehyeh asher ehyeh as "I am that I am", and the ehyeh of 3:14b in Berakoth 9b as "I AM".

 [17] Freedman H. (ed.), Midrash Rabbah, (London: Soncino Press, 1983).  The Soncino Midrash Rabbah translates all citations of ehyeh asher ehyeh as "I am that I am", and the ehyeh of 3:14b as "I AM".

 [18] Munk E., The Call of the Torah, Volume 2 - Shemos, (NY: Mesorah Publications Ltd, 1994), p.41.
 [19] Chavel C. (trans), Ramban (Nahmanides), Commentary on the Torah: Exodus, (NY: Shilo Publishing House, 1973), pp.36-39.  Elements of Rashi's, Halevi's, and Maimonides' interpretations are to be found in Ramban's comments on Berakoth 9b, while his own interpretation on p.38 draws upon Rashi's and was substantially incorporated into Sforno's interpretation.

 [20] Maimonides M., Guide of the Perplexed, Part 1, Ch.63 (LXIII), trans. Friedlander M., (2nd edn., 1904), available online at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp073.htm.

 [21] Pelcovitz R. (trans.), Sforno, Commentary on the Torah, Translation and explanatory notes, (NY: Mesorah Publications, 2004), p.295. See also: World ORT, Navigating the Bible II, Translation: Exodus 3:14, available online at: http://www.bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=2&CHAPTER=3

 [22] Herczeg Y. (trans.), Rashi, The Sapiristein Edition Commentary on Torah, Vol.2 - Shemos (Exodus), (NY: Mesorah Publications, 1999), p.25. Rashi's commentary on Exodus 3:14 is available online at: http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9864/showrashi/true.

 [23] Munk, The call of the Torah, p.42.
 [24] Schorr Y. and Malinowitz C. (eds.), The Scottenstein Edition Talmud Bavli, Tractate Berachos, Volume 1, elucidated by G. Zlotowitz, (NY: Mesorah Publications, 1997), p.9b1.

 [25] Halevi J., The Book of Kuzari, trans. Hirschfeld H., (NY: Pardes Publishing House, 1946), Part IV, p.178. Hirschfeld's translation of The Book of Kuzari is available online at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/khz/khz04.htm, p.202.  Halevi wrote The Book of Kuzari in Arabic, which I cannot read, and so I am unable to say how he rendered the ehyeh asher ehyeh of 3:14a and ehyeh of 3:14b in the original.  In his translation of The Kuzari Hirschfeld rendered ehyeh asher ehyeh as "I am that I am" and retained the Hebrew transliteration of the absolute ehyeh.  I can find no clear indication that Halevi intended ehyeh asher ehyeh to be read as "I am that I am" and so have taken the safest default position of rendering these words also in Hebrew transliteration. 

 [26] Strickman N. and Silver A. (trans), Ibn Ezra's Commentary on the Pentateuch: Exodus (Shemot), (NY: Menorah, 1997), p.64.  In a footnote to Ibn Ezra's comment on Ex.3:14, the authors explain his interpretation as follows: "According to I.E., That I Am explains I Am. In other words, God's name is not I Am That I Am. His name is I Am, the meaning of which is, That I Am".  Ibn Ezra's comment on Ex.3:15 describes the name YHWH in the following terms: "Another name meaning the same as the first one. However, one name (EHYH) is in the first person and this name (YHWH) is in the third person".

 [27] Propp, p.225.

 [28] Tisby I., The Wisdom of the Zohar: An Anthology of Texts, Vol.1, trans. Goldstein D., (NY: Oxford University Press, 1989), p.345.

 [29] Ibid, p.310.
 [30] Ibid, p.243-244.

 [31] Scholem G., Kabbalah (J. mysticism), Details of the Doctrine of the Sefirot and their Symbolism, in Wigoder J. (ed.), Encyclopaedia Judaica CD-ROM Edition, (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 2004).

 [32] Munk, p.42.

 [33] Fox M., God, Names of, Encyclopaedia Judaica CD-ROM Edition.

 [34] Rosenzweig F., "The Eternal": Mendelssohn and the name of God, in: Buber M. and Rosenzweig F., Scripture and Translation, trans. L. Rosenwald, (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), p.103.

 [35] Rosenzweig, "The Eternal", p.102.

 [36] Fox M., God, Names of, Encyclopaedia Judaica CD-ROM Edition.

 [37] Buber M. and Rosenzweig F., Scripture and Translation.

 [38] Buber M., Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant, (NY: Harper and Row, 1946), p.48-55.

 [39] Jenni E. and Westermann C., Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. Mark Biddle, (Peabody: Hendrikson's Publishers Inc., 1997), p.523.

 [40] On the Historical Presence of Exodus 3:14 in Judaism
The suggestion that the name in Exodus 3:14b and the declaration in Exodus 3:14a have been all but absent from Jewish life ever since the day this verse was first penned is very hard to believe, especially if these words are as important as they appear to be. There is therefore a very important and very interesting question that must be asked in relation to this verse. If the words of Exodus 3:14 are not referred to elsewhere in the Bible, then where in Judaism are they? I think the most propitious approach to answering this question is to try to imagine how Moses might have intended this verse to be remembered, if it was of such great importance to him and his fellow Israelites. What follows is my answer to that question.

If the words of Exodus 3:14 are as religiously important as they appear to be, then Moses would surely have wanted them to be remembered by the Israelites in their place of greatest religious importance, and to be remembered during the event of greatest religious significance. In Moses' day the place of greatest religious importance was the Tabernacle, which was so important that it is the sole subject of the last fifteen chapters of the Book of Exodus, along with the brief and fitting interlude of the incident of the Golden Calf.  The religious event of greatest significance in Mosaic times was the daily sacrificial service that took place in the Tabernacle, the Tamid service, which is first referred to in Exodus 29:28. Here is an extract from the Soncino Talmud, Tractate Tamid 33b (Misnah 7:3), describing the ceremonial that took place when the High Priest officiated at the Tamid sacrifice in Second Temple times:

"The deputy high priest stood on the horn of the altar with the flags in his hand, and two priests on the table of fat with two trumpets in their hands. They blew a Teki'ah Teru'ah Teki'ah, and then went and stood by Ben Arza, one on his right and one on his left. When he bent down to make the libation, the deputy high priest waved the flags and Ben Arza struck the cymbals and the Levites chanted the psalm. When they came to a pause a Teki'ah was blown and the public prostrated themselves; at every pause there was a Teki'ah and at every Teki'ah a prostration. This was the order of the regular daily sacrifice for the service of the house of our God".

The Teki'ah is a sustained blast on the trumpet and the Teru'ah a wavering blast (RH 33b). There is an obvious structural resemblance between the Teki'ah Teru'ah Teki'ah pattern of trumpet blasts and the words Ehyeh asher Ehyeh of Exodus 3:14a, and likewise between the single Teki'ah trumpet blasts and the single Ehyeh of 3:14b. However, the sounding of a Teki'ah over the burnt offering is most obviously explained by Numbers 10:10 where the commandment to do so is given. Numbers 10:10 also appears to explain the purpose of the Teki'ah, which was to serve as a "reminder" for the Israelites of when they were "before YHWH", which presumably refers to when they were assembled before the Presence of YHWH. Prior to being given this commandment, the Israelites had last been assembled before the Presence of YHWH during the very first Tamid service at the Tabernacle (Leviticus 9:23), on which occasion "fire came forth from before YHWH and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces" (Leviticus 9:24). So the combination of Num.10:10 and Lev.9:23-24 could between them account for the act of prostration in response to the sound of the single Teki'ah blasts during the Tamid service.

However, prior to the theophany of Leviticus 9:23-24 the Israelites had most notably been assembled before the Presence of God at Sinai, some nine months earlier. The giving of the 10 Commandments (more correctly "Ten Words") at Sinai is recorded in Exodus Chapter 20. It may only be a coincidence that the Chapter and verse in Numbers 10:10 bear a strong numerical relation to the number of Commandments given at this most remarkable of theophanies and to the Chapter in which it is described. On the other hand it may be an intentional link being made between the blowing of the trumpet over the sacrifice during the Tamid service and the sound of the shofar at Sinai, which the text appears to suggest was the sound of the voice of God as experienced by all of the Israelites except Moses (see Exodus 19:13-20:18, especially in a literal word-for-word translation).

The sounding of the Teki'ah trumpet blasts during the Tamid service could therefore have been intended to serve the dual purpose of reminding the Israelites of the theophany during the first Tamid service at the Tabernacle, and of reminding them of the theophany at Sinai, which would seem to make perfectly good sense. But to fully explore the possibility of a link between the single Teki'ah blasts during the Tamid service and the name Ehyeh there is one other question we must ask. Is there any biblical evidence to suggest that prior to the commencement of the Tamid services the Israelites had prostrated themselves upon hearing the name Ehyeh pronounced?

There are only three occasions on which the Israelites are recorded as having collectively prostrated themselves in the interval between the revelation at the Burning Bush and the first Tamid service (Leviticus Ch.9). These are described in Exodus 4:31, 12:27 and 33:10. Of these it is only Exodus 4:31 we need to consider in connection with the name Ehyeh, because this verse describes the very moment when the Israelites first believed that Moses had been sent to them by God, and they had become convinced of this by the words and signs that God had given to Moses at the Burning Bush. The foremost word he was commanded to say to the Israelites was the name Ehyeh, and so it is not unreasonable to suggest that the Israelites prostrated themselves on that occasion principally in response to hearing Moses pronounce the name Ehyeh.

It is therefore quite reasonable to suggest that the sounding of the single Teki'ah trumpet blasts during the Tamid service in the Tabernacle was intended to bring to mind both theophanies at Sinai and the first Tamid service, and to signify and remind the Israelites of the first and only public pronunciation of the name Ehyeh. That is, however, a speculative connection, and one that does not yet allow us to confidently associate Exodus 3:14 with the Tamid service, not until we have considered the Teki'ah Teru'ah Teki'ah pattern of trumpet blasts immediately preceding the single Teki'ah blasts, and the possibility that they signify the words Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.

All observant Jews will be familiar with the Teki'ah Teru'ah Teki'ah pattern of blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and many will be aware of the reason for it being blown in this way, which is given in Tractate RH 16a and 32a. However, the reason for the pattern of blowing that is presented in Tractate RH is appropriate specifically to Rosh Hashanah, and so it cannot be assumed to have the same significance as the identical pattern of blowing that occurs during the Tamid service. There is no Gemara in Tamid Ch.7, and so there is no way of knowing how the sages of the Talmud would have understood the Teki'ah Teru'ah Teki'ah pattern of blasts during the Tamid service. However, we can make some headway in this enquiry by considering the following sequence of events.

Moses erected the Tabernacle on the first day of the first month (Nisan) of the second year after the Exodus (Exodus 40:1-2, 17-18). The Tabernacle and the priests were consecrated on the same day (Exodus 40:9-16), and the first Tamid service occurred seven days later (Leviticus 9:1-6). The commandment to blow the trumpet over the sacrifice was apparently given after this first service took place, but certainly before the twentieth day of the second month of the same year (Numbers 10:10-12). Rosh Hashanah was first celebrated five months later, in the month of Tishri.  oses was surely responsible for establishing the liturgies for both the Tamid service and for Rosh Hashanah, and so he would presumably have established the pattern of blowing the trumpet during the Tamid service and the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The question, therefore, is this. Is it more likely that the Teki'ah Teru'ah Teki'ah pattern of trumpet blasts would have been first established for the daily Tamid service and subsequently adopted for the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, or that the pattern of blasts was first established for the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and secondarily incorporated into the Tamid service seven months after that service had been established, assuming there is any link between the two at all?

My answer is that given the importance of the Tabernacle and the Tamid service to Moses and the Israelites, and the fact that this service was established seven months before the first Rosh Hashanah, and that they were both established by Moses, it is far more likely that the Teki'ah Teru'ah Teki'ah pattern of trumpet blasts was established specifically for the liturgy of the Tamid service, and that the significance it has in this service is therefore specific to it. If this is the case, then a second question must be asked. What could this pattern of trumpet blasts have signified in the Tamid service at that time in Israel's history? They must surely have signified something because there are no meaningless features in the Tamid service, as Tractate Tamid amply testifies.

Numbers 10:3 might appear to supply an answer to this question, because it is there commanded that the Teki'ah blasts were to be sounded in order to assemble the Israelites before Moses at the Tent of Meeting. The Tent of Meeting is generally understood to be synonymous with the Tabernacle and so this might appear to suggest that this was the original intent of the Teki'ah Teru'ah Teki'ah blasts during the Tamid service. Against this possibility is Numbers 10:7, which in fact rules it out entirely, because it is there commanded that a Teru'ah blast must not be sounded to gather the congregation. Moreover, it would make no sense to sound trumpet blasts in order to gather the congregation when the Tamid service was already at its climax, and so this possibility can be conclusively ruled out.

On the other hand, if the words of Exodus 3:14a are as important as they appear to have been to Moses, and if they are as theologically and religiously meaningful as I am proposing in this paper and as so many have so long suspected, then I would suggest that it would be very appropriate to have these words remembered every day during the Tamid services, and to have them so remembered in perpetuity. Moreover, because these words are apparently uniquely holy, it is also reasonable to suppose that they would not have been uttered at all after the Exodus from Egypt, not even by Aaron in the Tabernacle. It would therefore have been necessary to represent them symbolically if they were to be publicly remembered in the Tabernacle, for example in the form of trumpet blasts sounded by priests officiating at the Tamid service. I therefore consider it to be more than merely possible that the Teki'ah Teru'ah Teki'ah trumpet blasts sounded during the Tamid service represent the words Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh. I think it is very likely.

Moreover, if we return briefly to the significance of the number 10, it is suggested in the Talmud (RH 32a) that the sets of 10 blowings of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah represent the 10 Commandments and the 10 utterances by which God created the cosmos. The latter is a reference to Genesis Ch.1, and specifically to the occurrence of the verb amar (to say) as applied to God during the creation narrative. However, the word amar is applied to God 11 times in Genesis Chapter 1, and it is also applied to Him 11 times during the account of the destruction – the narrative of the Flood in Genesis 6:1-9:17, which association would certainly be very appropriate if it were intentional.  On the other hand the word amar is applied to God on 10 occasions in the narrative of the Fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:1-3:24) – specifically as employed by Him and in reference to Himself - and it is applied to God 10 times in His exchange with Moses at the Burning Bush - specifically as employed by Him and in reference to Himself. This association between humanity's first sinners on the one hand and the commissioning of Israel's redeemer on the other would again be very appropriate if it was intentional. I make the point of counting only those occurrences of amar that are specifically employed by God and in reference to Himself because in the story of Adam and Eve both the serpent and Eve quote God as 'saying' something, but it is not God to whom the word amar is directly applied on those occasions. Likewise in His exchange with Moses at the Burning Bush, God commands Moses to say (amar) certain things on His behalf, which thus become instances of Moses 'saying' (amar) something and not of God so doing. By this count, the second amar in Exodus 3:15 and in 3:16 are excluded, because it is Moses who is to do the 'saying' on those occasions, but the amar of 3:17 is included, because although it is Moses who is to speak this occurrence of amar, he is to do so as a direct quotation of God's words and so it is spoken by God and in reference to Himself.  'amar' is also the final word of Exodus 20:1, and so is the word that immediately precedes the speaking by God of what are amongst the most influential words ever spoken; the "10 Words" with which He would seal His covenant with Israel.

Bearing in mind that the text of Exodus 19:13-20:18 appears to suggest that the sound of the shofar was the sound of the voice of God as experienced by the Israelites at Sinai, it would seem to be very appropriate to blow this instrument 10 times when acknowledging His Kingship over Israel, and when remembering humanity's primal sin of succumbing to the temptation to do that which they know to be contrary to His will, and when remembering that God sent a redeemer to Israel when they were slaves in Egypt, and when remembering the occasion of that redeemer (Moses) being commissioned, and when remembering the Law that He gave through that redeemer to enable humanity's redemption, and perhaps even when celebrating the memory of Him actually speaking directly to the Israelites at Sinai when He sealed His covenant with them. I am not suggesting that this is how the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah should be understood, because that has long since been established in Jewish tradition. I am only suggesting that the way in which it is blown could reasonably bring all of these themes to mind. It is therefore entirely justifiable to suggest a connection between the Teki'ah Teru'ah Teki'ah pattern of trumpet blasts during the Tamid service and the words of Exodus 3:14, and to suggest a connection between the Teki'ah Teru'ah Teki'ah pattern of trumpet blasts in the Temple and the pattern of shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah. Of course, all of the connections I have pointed out might be accidental, but if they are then they would collectively amount to what I would consider to be a very considerable and very striking coincidence.

Returning specifically to the subject of Exodus 3:14 and the Tamid service, I must say that looking at it as objectively as I can, it really does seem to me that all lines of enquiry in relation to the blowing of the trumpets during the Tamid service do lead eventually to Sinai, to Moses and to the revelation at the Burning Bush, and so I believe that a real link exists between the two.

There is much more that could be said on this subject, but I think no definite conclusion can be reached one way or the other because the records are insufficient to allow us to be so conclusive. In the final analysis I can only say that I feel sure Moses would have wanted these words to be remembered every day and by every Jew everywhere, and that he would have wanted them to be remembered splendidly, and I strongly suspect that he would have forbidden them being spoken aloud anywhere, and so to have them publicly remembered by the sounding of silver trumpets at the climax of the Tamid service would seem to be an ideal way to accomplish that remembrance. This would also explain why the words of Exodus 3:14 have been all but forgotten in contemporary Judaism, because the Tamid service ceased when the Temple was destroyed on the 17th of Tammuz in the year 70 CE, and so the great majority of Jews have had little reason to wonder what the trumpet blasts in this service might signify.
 [41] Exodus, The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, Commentary by Nahum Sarna, (NY: The Jewish Publication Society, 1991), p.17, n.13.

 [42] Propp p.225.

 [43] Sarna N., Exploring Exodus, The Origins of Biblical Israel, (NY: Schocken Books Inc., 1996), p.52.

 [44] Tigay J., Exodus, in Berlin A. and Zvi Brettler M. (eds.), The Jewish Study Bible, p.111.

 [45] Propp, p.224-226.
 [46] Propp, p.181.

 [47] Consider, for example, the interpretations of Maimonides and Buber. The problem with the question, as Maimonides saw it, was stated as follows:
"Either the Israelites knew the name, or they had never heard it. If the name was known to them, they would perceive in it no argument in favour of the mission of Moses, his knowledge and their knowledge of the Divine name being the same. If, on the other hand, they had never heard it mentioned, and if the knowledge of it was to prove the mission of Moses, what evidence would they have that this was really the name of God?"(Maimonides, Guide, Part 1, Ch. 63/LXIII)

Maimonides solved this problem by interpreting the question of Exodus 3:13 as a request by Moses for proof of the existence of God, and interpreted Exodus 3:14 as a summary statement of this proof. I have already analysed Maimonides' interpretation under the heading Medieval Jewish Thought, and I have there explained my reasons for rejecting it. Buber, by contrast, understood the question of 3:13 to mean, "What finds expression in or lies concealed behind the name?" He also finds the answer to this question in Exodus 3:14, although in entirely different terms to Maimonides, and I have likewise explained my reasons for rejecting his interpretation under the heading Modern Jewish Philosophy.

The reason Maimonides and Buber misunderstood the question of Exodus 3:13 is that they were conforming it to their interpretations of Exodus 3:14-15, in which the only name revealed was in Exodus 3:15, and in which Exodus 3:14 plays only a supporting role.

The answer to Maimonides' question in the above extract, by the way, is that Moses would have needed to understand the meaning of the name Ehyeh before he could approach the Israelites with it, and with this meaning he could have brought to the Israelites a whole new understanding of God.

 [48] See e.g. Propp, p.181. 

 [49] Berlin A. and Zvi Brettler M., The Jewish Study Bible, p.111. 

 [50] Note that in Propp's version of this sentence there is a typographical error, with the root hyh written incorrectly as hyyhyh is the unpointed third masculine singular Qal perfect, which when pointed is written hayah and is translated "he was".  As well as being the third masculine singular Qal perfect of the verb, hayah is also known as the verb root of hayah.  The verb root is the form under which it is listed in the lexicon in Hebrew script, and so according to the Hebrew alphabet (ref. Strong's 1961; BDB 224a). 

 [51] Abba R., The Divine Name YHWH, 1961, JBL 80, p.320-28. Quoted extract from p.324. Bold type my own. 

 [52] You may be struck by the scarcity of both the perfect and imperfect forms of hayah that translate as "I am".  This is due to the fact that in biblical Hebrew the English word 'am' is most often implied rather than supplied. 

 [53] A stative verb is one that describes a condition or state of existence.  All of the verses cited in the preceding paragraph employ hayah in this stative sense. 

 [54] De Vaux R., The Revelation of the Divine Name YHWH, in: Durham J. and Porter J. (eds.), Proclamation and Presence: Old Testament Essays in Honour of Gwynne Henton Davies, (London: SCM Press, 1970), p.48-75.  Quoted extract from p.66.  Parentheses and bold type my own. 

 [55] See e.g. Rosenzweig, Scripture and Translation, p.191.
 [56] Propp, p.205.

 [57] That is to say, God created all that is not Him, and before He created there was only Him. I have made this point in two different ways and in successive lines because I particularly want to impress it upon all who are rationally contemplating God to any extent. There is no more fundamental and crucial an understanding of God than that before He created, He was All-That-Is, the totality of Existence.

 [58] For an authoritative statement of the Jewish understanding of the perfect unity of God, see Maimonides' Guide, Ch.51 (LI), where he puts it as follows: "Belief in unity cannot mean essentially anything but the belief in one single homogenous uncompounded essence; not in a plurality of ideas but in a single idea. Whichever way you look at it, and however you examine it, you must find it to be one, not dividing itself in any manner or for any reason into two ideas. No plurality must be discoverable in it either in fact or in thought" (Quoted from: Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, An Abridged Edition with Introduction and Commentary by Julius Guttmann, Translated from the Arabic by Chaim Rabin, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1995, p.67-68). 

Pines translates the same passage as follows: "For there is no oneness at all except in believing that there is one simple essence in which there is no complexity or multiplication of notions, but one notion only; so that from whatever angle you regard it and from whatever point of view you consider it, you will find that it is one, not divided in any way and by any cause into two notions; and you will not find therein any multiplicity either in the thing as it is outside of the mind or as it is in the mind" (Pines S., Vol. I, University of Chicago press, 1963, p.113). 

Alternatively, Friedlander's translation of this passage is available online at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp061.htm, p.69.

 [59] For an authoritative Jewish statement of this understanding, see: Maimonides M. Guide, Ch.53 (LIII), where he put it thus: "if by wisdom we understand the consciousness of self… the subject and the object of that consciousness are undoubtedly identical [as regards God]: for according to our opinion He is not composed of an element that apprehends and another that does not apprehend". Available online at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp063.htm , p.74.

Pines translates the same extract as follows: "For we wished to signify by "knowledge" the apprehension of one's own essence. Now the essence that apprehends is undoubtedly the same as the essence that is apprehended. For in our opinion He is not composed of two things, the thing that apprehends and another thing that does not apprehend." (Pines, Vol. I, p.122). 

 [60] See Diagram: The Creative Activity of God in Part II of this website, and endnote 61, to further clarify this point. 

 [61] See Diagram: The Creative Activity of God in Part II of this website for an illustration of this point. The beginning of God's creating was an act of will, not of mind. The formation of the perfectly formless beginning of Creation was an act of mind, which became active in response to the perception in God of the beginning of His Creation. In the beginning, Creation was in the condition of perfectly formless potential (Genesis 1:1-2), anticipating the formative imprint of God's word (Genesis 1:3-27), which can only have been spoken after He had become aware, as illustrated in the Diagram and explained in the following passages.

 [62] The concept of non-existence (aka. non-being) has attracted the attention of philosophers ever since Parmenides first addressed it some 2,500 years ago. According to Parmenides, all that can be said of non-existence is that it is not, and that it therefore cannot constitute a valid subject of philosophical enquiry. To illustrate the issue under consideration there is only one example that any reader of this paper need consider, and that is the irreconcilability of the Christian and Jewish understandings of God. The Christian idea of God is that He is three persons of one essence and the Jewish idea is that He is one Person of one essence. Both of these ideas are undeniably in the realm of existence but both cannot be true. For most readers of this site, I would expect that either one or the other of them is accepted as true and the other as false. It would be absurd to suggest that the one that is false is in the realm of non-existence. Try telling that to two billion Christians. Therefore, ideas can be in the realm of existence and be content-rich but have no basis in reality.

However, the concept of non-existence is unique in that although it is in the realm of existence, it is absolutely devoid of conceptual content. Indeed, it is the only concept in the entire realm of existence that is absolutely devoid of content. If you think about non-existence, and in so doing your mind comes to rest on any idea, that idea is in the realm of existence, like the concept of non-existence itself. So the concept of non-existence is in the realm of existence, but it has no basis in reality and is absolutely devoid of conceptual content.

The best way I can think of to illustrate the concept of non-existence is with the following exercise. Open the documents folder on your computer. Create a new folder and entitle it 'non-existence'. Now send the document to your desktop as a shortcut. Now delete the 'non-existence' folder in your documents and close down your documents. You are now left with a short-cut on your desktop entitled 'non-existence', which when you click on it does not open onto anything, not even a blank page. That is precisely what non-existence is, a concept entirely devoid of content. Therefore, I believe it is just as Parmenides said, nearly 2,500 years ago, that 'non-existence' cannot constitute a valid subject of philosophical enquiry, and that all that can be said of it is that there is no such thing.
 [63] Although I am here proposing 'There Is' as the first thought in the mind of God, these precise words are not essential to my case. What is essential is to recognise that God must have articulated His coming to awareness in some way, and that there are only a small number of plausible ways in which He could have done so, but that whatever the actual way was, the response evoked in the mind of God would be the same, as should be clear from the following passage. A glance at the Diagram will also help to clarify the point I am making.

 [64] See Diagram: The Creative Activity of God in Part II of this website for an illustration of this point.

 [65] Many readers will be aware that Christianity professes belief in one God. Some readers may find this profession confusing, and perhaps even misleading, suggesting as it does a belief in only one Personal God. It is important to understand that this is not what Christians believe and so I will briefly clarify their position.

The one God of Christian profession does not refer to one Personal God, as it does in Judaism and Islam. The one God of Christian profession refers instead to the Divine essence, which Christian thinkers must acknowledge to be numerically one if they are to make any claim to monotheistic belief (See e.g. Aquinas, Summa 1, 13, 8, where he states, "this name "God" is imposed to signify the Divine nature". In Christian thought, Divine 'nature' is synonymous with Divine 'essence'. Available online at: http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/FP/FP013.html#FPQ13OUTP1). There are instead in Christianity three Divine persons, each of whom is necessarily professed to be identical to the same Divine essence because the Divine essence is necessarily acknowledged by Christian thinkers to be numerically one, perfectly simple and indivisible (see e.g. Aquinas, Summa 1, 39, 1, where he states, "Thence it follows that in God essence is not really distinct from person". Available at: http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/FP/FP039.html#FPQ39OUTP1). Each of the three persons is thus necessarily professed to be God (see The Athanasian Creed, vs. 15-16, available online at: http://www.creeds.net/ancient/Quicumque.html), and, despite the obvious objection arising out of the indiscernibility of identicals, each of the three is also necessarily professed to be absolutely distinct from the other two.

Although blatantly incoherent even at this modest level of description, such a populous scheme of divinity should by any normal and universally acceptable standard of rational analysis yield a total count of three personal gods.  However, Christian thinkers do not feel bound by any such rational standard, and so they flatly deny the existence of three personal gods while at the same time insisting upon the existence of three distinct Divine persons each of whom is God. They do so because to do otherwise would be to confirm Christianity as a polytheistic and hence pagan religion, and presumably because mule-headed denial of the obvious is the course they find most acceptable when faced with the distressingly insoluble incoherence of their own beliefs.

None of the three Divine persons (or gods) in the Christian trinity correspond to the Personal God of Jewish belief.  They do not do so individually, and they do not do so collectively. The Christian profession of belief in one God is in fact an intellectual acknowledgement of the rationally established existential condition of the Divine essence, and is not at all a statement of belief in the existence of a Personal God, which I suspect few Christians are aware of as they recite by rote the opening words of their creeds.

For an excellent and highly readable summary of the most important Christian beliefs, and the Jewish attempts to refute them, I would recommend Daniel Lasker's Jewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity In The Middle Ages, published by The Litmann Library of Jewish Civilisation 2007.


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