“Hallelujah” in Hebrew Thought
Everyone knows the word “Hallelujah”. But what does this word really mean in the Hebrew original?
There is probably not a single person alive who isn’t familiar with the word “Hallelujah”. We’ve all heard this word repeated time and again in various contexts. Hallelujah is a Hebrew loan word, incorporated into the English language from Hebrew. But what does this word mean in Hebrew?
The word “Hallelujah” (הללויה) is actually a compound word (two individual Hebrew words put together): “Hallelu” (הללו) and “Yah” (יה). “Hallelu” is an exhortation to a group of people to praise someone or something. The old English translation of “Praise, ye” is, therefore, a very accurate translation.
“Yah” (יה) is a version of “YHVH” (יהוה) – an English transliteration of the covenant name of Israel’s God. Jewish belief holds that this name is too holy to be pronounced at all. In fact, no one really knows how to pronounce it correctly. Ancient Hebrew did not use vowels, but only consonants. In translating “YHVH,”, both Jewish and Christian translators substituted the word “Lord” – a rough translation of another Hebrew name for God (אֲדונָי) – Adonai. To signify that “YHVH” was the original Hebrew word used in the text – it was printed in “all capitals,” (LORD and not simply “Lord”) in English translations.
For many centuries, Jewish people have traditionally referred to this most holy name of God by using the Hebrew word, “HaShem” (literally, “The Name”). Occasionally, they would substitute even the longer Hebrew phrases for God’s covenant name, such as “HaKadosh Baruch Chu” (Holy One, Blessed be He).
Today’s modern Christ followers are divided over the appropriateness of the English translation (LORD). Some prefer to pronounce the actual covenant name of God (forbidden to be spoken in Judaism) believing that this makes their faith more authentic and original. Others continue with the more traditional Jewish/Christian ways of expressing their devotion.
In the New Testament Hallelujah is found as part of the song of the heavenly host (Revelation 19:1). The word is preserved as a liturgical interjection by the Christian church generally.
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