Tetragrammaton Ring 3D print model
The tetragrammaton in Phoenician (12th century BCE to 150 BCE), Paleo-Hebrew (10th century BCE to 135 CE), and square Hebrew (3rd century BCE to present) scripts
The tetragrammaton (tɛtrəˈɡræmətɒn; from Greek Τετραγράμματον, meaning [consisting of] four letters), יהוה in Hebrew and YHWH in Latin script, is the four-letter biblical name of the God of Israel. The books of the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible (with the exception of Esther, and Song of Songs) contain this Hebrew name. Religiously observant Jews and those who follow Talmudic Jewish traditions do not pronounce יהוה, nor do they read aloud transliterated forms such as Yahweh; instead the word is substituted with a different term, whether used to address or to refer to the God of Israel. Common substitutions for Hebrew forms are hakadosh baruch hu (The Holy One, Blessed Be He), Adonai (The Lord), or HaShem (The Name).
The letters YHWH are consonantal semi-vowels. In unpointed Biblical Hebrew, most vowels are not written and the rest are written only ambiguously, as certain consonants can double as vowel markers (similar to the Latin use of V to indicate both U and V). These are referred to as matres lectionis (mothers of reading). Therefore, it is, in general, difficult to deduce how a word is pronounced only from its spelling, and the tetragrammaton is a particular example: two of its letters can serve as vowels, and two are vocalic place-holders, which are not pronounced. Thus the first-century Jewish historian and philosopher Josephus said that the sacred name of God consists of four vowels.
The original consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible was, several centuries later, provided with vowel marks by the Masoretes to assist reading. In places that the consonants of the text to be read (the qere) differed from the consonants of the written text (the ketiv), they wrote the qere in the margin as a note showing what was to be read. In such a case the vowels of the qere were written on the ketiv. For a few frequent words, the marginal note was omitted: these are called qere perpetuum.
One of the frequent cases was the tetragrammaton, which according to later Jewish practices should not be pronounced but read as Adonai (My Lord), or, if the previous or next word already was Adonai, as Elohim (God). The combination produces יְהֹוָה and יֱהֹוה respectively, non-words that would spell Yehovah and Yehovih respectively.
The oldest complete or nearly complete manuscripts of the Masoretic Text with Tiberian vocalisation, such as the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, both of the 10th or 11th century, mostly write יְהוָה (yhwah), with no pointing on the first h. It could be because the o diacritic point plays no useful role in distinguishing between Adonai and Elohim and so is redundant, or it could point to the qere being Shema, which is Aramaic for the Name.