Conditional Presence: The Meaning of the Name YHWH in the Bible

  • Hillel Ben-Sasson
Part of the Jewish Thought and Philosophy book series (JTP)


This chapter discusses the meaning of YHWH in the Bible, with specific attention devoted to the two theophanies which tie God’s revelation to a proclamation of His name: one in Exodus 3 and the other in Exodus 32–34. Combining philological, literary, and comparative tools, the chapter reads these theophanies as asserting that the Name encapsulates an essential tension of religious covenantal relationships—the yearning for proximate divine presence versus its intrinsic danger. In contrast to most readings which tend to highlight one specific side of this tension, I argue that God’s name in the Bible integrates both by promising an ongoing divine presence, while reflecting a concern regarding God’s indeterminate character as He who always becomes and changes.

Furthermore, the chapter underscores how the Bible interprets YHWH’s descriptive content as disclosing the possibility of using this very name as an indicative-designating means to address God. In so doing, the Bible functions as an origin of this unique combination of descriptive and indicative positions, which would later continue to develop within the Jewish tradition.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hillel Ben-Sasson
    • 1
  1. 1.Jewish Theological SeminaryNew YorkUSA

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