B. Of course, Hebrew writing is not pictographic, but scholars propose that it developed out of or began as a pictographic alphabet and continued into the time of the Torah and Psalms, after which it was replaced by the Assyrian / Ashurite script. The letters had meanings, like a yod meant an "arm" as it does in Hebrew today, and was drawn as such. A chart with the letters' meanings is here:
Some writers propose that these pictoral letter meanings served as occasional root sounds and building blocks of other Hebrew words etymologically. So a word with a yod in it could, per this theory, be related to or associated with a hand or arm in some sense, or else with some other association with the letter yod's meaning. However, this is the kind of theory (B. above) I would like to question and ask your opinion about.
Andre Roosma explains his claim about this in his essay "The Writien language of Abraham, Moses, and David"
He describes the evolution of Paleo-Hebrew and Middle-Hebrew as they existed before the current Ashurite one, and notes how some considered it even important to keep YHWH in this pre-Ashurite script:
...at about 1000BC (that’s just after the transition from the bronze to the iron age), we observe the further division of this alphabet script into a number of different branches, such as Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew (in Judaism this is called Ketav ‘Ivri; a ‘semi-vocal’ script and not a pure consonant script as is sometimes taught; like Proto-Semitic it knew the three vowels: i[ee], u[oo] and a). This apparently arose around the time ofKing Solomon (Qeijafa ostracon inscription).
The Paleo Hebrewscript remained in usage till the [first c. AD] for writing the glorious Name of God amidst later Hebrew square script or Greek script, as in the early editions of the Septuagint. That late version is also observable in the 11Q1Paleo Leviticus scroll (dated about 0-50 AD)
the oldest West-Semitic script was syllabic and ideographic in origin
Next, Roosma explains his theory of the letters' meanings as building blocks for Hebrew:
All over the world, vocabulary is formed mainly by a few simple principles. We see borrowing, imitation of sounds and shifts in meaning... But the most important and most frequent form of new word formation is by joining two or more already existing words or by adding a pre- or suffix to an existing word: agglutination.
(Footote: I use the term agglutination broadly here, including synthesis, compounding, pre- and suffixing.)
The rest of this document is in fact a test of the hypothesis that most words in the old West-Semitic that were not borrowings or onomatopoeia, were originally – in their original meaning – formed by this agglutination principle, from a very limited set of basic notions. Even pre- and suffixes and grammatical additions originated for a large part from this basic set of notions.
Early on I discovered [in Hebrew] similar notions in words that had letters in common. When I saw the pictures of the old West-Semitic script, I saw pictures of objects representing these basic notions.
When studying old Semitic languages and the old Semitic script, one cannot avoid the observation that the character s represent objects of early every day life. ... Each of the depicted objects rep resented one of the basic notions that served as the building blocks of the early Proto-Semitic language.
Nehemiah Gordon sets out to debunk this theory in his essay "Ridiculous Word Pictures":
Take even the simplest example and you can see the word-pictures don’t work. Aleph-Bet [AV-father] = bull of the house > strong one of the house > father. Makes sense, right?
The only problem is switch around the letters and you get Bet-Aleph [BA] = arrive, enter. Is that the bull entering the house?
https://www.qodesh.co.za/pages/the-pale ... w-delusion
I see at least two responses to Gordon's question: One is that there was some reason why the ancient speakers associated bulls and houses with entering something.
Another answer is that root sounds don't always work, even in cases of known root sounds in English. Consider "a" as a prefix. It can mean "not", or it can mean the beginning or end of something. But there are plenty of words beginning with a that don't use it as a prefix in meaning- acorn, atom, ant, aunt, apple, etc. So even if these kinds of "root sounds" like yod implying a hand/arm exist, there can be very many cases where they don't apply.
Next, Gordon writes:
The biggest problem with the word-pictures is they are entirely arbitrary. You can make them say whatever you want them to say.
I doubt you can really get them to mean anything. I think there are many times when you run up against cases where you can't find a meaningful connection. I think "AB", produced by Gordon, is a good example, since I couldn't see a meaning there either. The same problem exists in English - there are lots of words that start with letters matching known root syllables in English where no actual connection exists ("apple" and "aunt" being two).
Then Gordon writes:
Originally, the Hebrew letters were pictures that represented sounds, not ideas. The Hebrew letters were pictures of one simple thing.
However, in the development of alphabets, didn't in the "original" stage the letter pictures actually represent sounds and ideas? Wouldn't the drawing of an arm actually refer to an arm and also potentially serve as a phonetic tool? That is how I understand cuneiform to work for example in the case of the Babylonians and Sumerians.
By the way, I am not citing Gordon here to reject his criticisms out of hand. I am actually looking for good criticisms of the kind of theory that Roosma made above.
C. Aside from the pictoral evolution of the letters' meanings, Jewish writers have seen in the letters of Hebrew words meanings in a mystical, symbolic, inner sense.
One easy example is the use of Acronyms in Jewish tradition for Hebrew words and names.
A user named writes on the Snopes debunking forum:
I think there are some legitimate Hebrew acronyms that are not acrostics... I'm taking acronym to be initial letters pronounced and used as a word. Hebrew as written traditionally has no vowels--you're supposed to know what they are and pronounce accordingly. So all acronyms are pronounceable.
Tanakh stands for Torah (Law), Neviyim (Prophets), Ketuvim (Writings). It's the term used for the Jewish Bible. I can't find a reference for how old it is, but I'm pretty sure its pre-20th century.
Rashi stands for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, a biblical scholar who lived 1040-1105.
Rambam stands for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, aka Maimonides, 1135-1204.
Ramban stands for Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, aka Nachmanides, 1195-1270.
Rashi, at least, signed his commentaries with the acronym. And all the names were in widespread use among scholars for centuries.
http://msgboard.snopes.com/cgi-bin/ulti ... 5;t=000087
Chava mentioned acrostics in his comment above. An Acrostic means:
An acrostic is a poem (or other form of writing) in which the first letter (or syllable, or word) of each line (or paragraph, or other recurring feature in the text) spells out a word, message or the alphabet.
D. YHWH, the name of God or tetragrammaton ("4 letters") has major spiritual significance in Judaism.
There was this discussion on the Snopes forum:
During the period of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Name of God was pronounced only during the Yom Kippur service by the high priest, who was in the Holy of Holies chamber and otherwise drowned out by the rest of the service. The "true" pronunciation was known only to the inner circle of priests.
Alchemy on 31 May, 2001 09:59 AM:
I think the Gnostic Jews believe that finding the true name of God will lead to . . . well, something good, I imagine.
http://msgboard.snopes.com/cgi-bin/ulti ... 5;t=000087
Have you heard the theory that finding God's "true name" brings blessings?
I heard it in the movie "Pi".
E. This leads to my main question, whether in the past have writers connected the letters in the name YHWH to the letters' meanings?
Based on the chart, the meanings of the letters in YHWH were Arm, Behold, Nail, Behold
Gordon actually addresses this in his debunking article, calling it the "most ludicrous word picture", adding:
Vav actually means “hook”, but “hook” does not fit the theology of those creating word-pictures, so messianics imbue it with the meaning “nail”.
However, the Jewish Encyclopedia entry on Waw begins:
Sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The name possibly means "nail" or "hook, " and the shape of the letter in the Phenician alphabet bears some resemblance to a hook.
So this idea that vav refers to a nail is not just the views of messianics seeing such meanings in the letters.