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The Jewish Tetragrammaton: Secrecy, Community, and Prestige among Greek-Writing Jews of the Early Roman Empire

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In his retelling of Exod 3:14-16, Josephus (A.J. 2.275-276) frames the Tetragrammaton as a name that only Jews knew, and he indicates that Jews were not to intone it or disclose it to foreigners. His account illuminates a practice that certain Jews cultivated regarding their non-disclosure of the divine name. The disposition of Jews not to utter their divinity’s name preserved its sanctity and expressed acknowledgement of its ineffable character. But certain Jews, such as Josephus and Philo, also promoted among themselves and outsiders the premise that knowledge of the divine name was a characteristic feature of Jews, a feature of which non-Jews were unaware. Moreover, they framed knowledge of it as being restricted to a subgroup of privileged Jews, who safeguarded its sanctity. In this way, such Jews circulated and bolstered the Tetragrammaton’s reputation for secrecy. Intriguingly, Greek and Latin authors of the Roman Empire appear to corroborate this premise. Even as the divine name underwent increased circulation among non-Jews, such authors still conceived of the Jewish divinity as having a name that Jews did not disclose. Such was the Tetragrammaton’s reputation for secrecy, one which certain Jews actively cultivated and amplified.

Affiliations: 1: Department of History, University of Oregon275 McKenzie Hall, 1288 University of Oregon, Eugene, or


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