Sunday, 18 December 2011

O Adonaï

As a youngster, the version of this antiphon found in the Advent carol ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’, always intrigued me. What was this strange word, sung as ‘add-on-ay-eye’? It was several years before I discovered the answer to this question, buried in the foreword of my Revised Standard Version of the Bible. There it was explained why in the Old Testament, the word ‘Lord’ was frequently printed in all capital letters (in ‘caps & small caps’ to be precise), and occasionally in the expression ‘Lord God’ the word ‘God’ was capitalized instead. This tradition, still followed in many of today’s Bibles, dates back many centuries, or even millennia.

When printed in capitals in this way the word ‘LORD’ represents the occurrence in the Bible of the name of God. In the original Hebrew this is indicated by four consonants (written Hebrew having no letters for the vowels), and variously represented in our own alphabet, perhaps most commonly by the letters I, H, V, and H. But in ancient times this name had already come to be considered too holy to actually speak, and instead the Hebrew word for ‘Lord’ was spoken aloud. And that Hebrew word is Adonaï.

This then, is the meaning of the verse of the carol, and the meaning of the Advent antiphon. Each of the antiphons is addressed to Jesus: and in addressing Jesus as Adonaï we implicitly declare our belief in his divinity: that the baby born in Bethlehem is indeed the incarnation of the eternal God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, declaring to him his existence and his very name, the divine ‘I AM’. And the salvation that came to the Hebrew slaves, the downtrodden people in Egypt, that salvation is offered to all God’s people right now.

O come, O come, Adonaï!

Posted by Simon Kershaw on Sunday, 18 December 2011 at 3:13pm GMT | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: just thinking
Comments

In USA churches (almost exclusively in TEC), I have sung "O Come, O Come, Emanuel" numerous times -- but had never sung a verse with "Adonai" in it. I want to thank Mr. Kershaw for his reflection.
I've always heard "Adonai" pronounced by my fellow Jews in synagogues and elsewhere as "Ah-doh-nigh".
The Tetragrammaton (YHVH) is considered so holy, and has been so for so long, that these days, I would speculate, no Jew knows how to properly pronounce it -- or even thinks of trying. The name is so holy that for we mere humans, imperfect as we are, to even pronounce it would profane God. In ancient times, as I understand it, to know the name of something was to control it, so that may be another reason Jews stopped pronouncing it, another reason to not profane God. So, whenever the Tetragrammaton appears in the Torah or in the prayers, we substitute "Adonai". Some orthodox Jews go even further, and substitute "HaShem" (meaning, "the Name") instead.
An interesting side note, if I may. Originally, there were no written vowels in Hebrew. Eventually, vowel markings were invented/adopted. These markings appear below the Hebrew letters, or sometimes, on top of them. They are NEVER used in the Torah, the sacred scroll containing the Five Books of Moses. When it came to the name of God in the prayers and elsewhere, in order not to lead people astray, the vowel markings for "Adonai" were fixed to God's name, thus reminding the reader. Some non-Jewish people took the Tetragrammaton "YHVH", added to it the vowel markings for "Adonai" being shown ("ah-oh-aye") -- and came up with "Jehovah", which is a neologism, and a conflated word, not used by Jews, and unrecognized by Jews.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Sunday, 18 December 2011 at 7:42pm GMT

A timely reminder, Simon, of the old English Tradition of The Great 'O's. I hope there are still a few Daily Mass churches in the Communion where these attributions of the titles of Jesus are still acclaimed during this final week of Advent.

Jesus as Wisdom; Lord; Root of Jess; Key of David; Rising Sun; King of the Nations; and Emmanuel; is re-affirmed by the Church before the Great Feast of Christ's Incarnation. Even so, Come Lord Jesus!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 19 December 2011 at 10:05am GMT

Thanks Peter for adding a bit more of the history of the Tetragrammaton that I omitted for reasons of space and coherence.

As for the hymn, there are two commonly-used translations into English. One tradition is the translation of John Mason Neale, the great 19th-century hymnwriter and translator. This version found its way, after several revisions, into the hymnbook 'Hymns Ancient and Modern' and thence into wide usage across the Anglican Communion and elsewhere. A new translation was made by Thomas Lacey for the 1906 'English Hymnal', edited by Percy Dearmer and with music edited by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Possibly the refusal of copyright permission by the proprietors of HA&M meant that a different translation was required.

HA&M, originally conceived as the hymn book of the Anglo-Catholic revival, was widely adopted in England. The 'English Hymnal' was conceived by Anglo-Catholics dissatisifed with the texts and music of HA&M and who desired an even more liturgical collection. Thus EH came to be used in the more Anglo-Catholic parishes, whilst HA&M ruled supreme in the middle ground and more evangelical parishes.

Neale's version for HA&M doesn't contain the word Adonaï. Instead he translates it as 'Lord of might'. Lacey, on the other hand, keeps Adonaï -- and that is the version that I grew up with.

As for the pronunciation, my recollection is that in the hymn it tends to be pronounced 'add-on-ay-eye', but in other contexts it is better as 'add-on-ah-ee' -- either way, the final letter 'i' ought to be pronounced separately, as indicated by the diaeresis.

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Monday, 19 December 2011 at 2:21pm GMT

Re the usage of the 'O' antiphons.

These are not intended, of course, for use at the daily eucharist, though they might be considered appropriate then. Rather the 7 verses are the antiphons to be used with the Magnificat at vespers (and thence Evensong) on the last 7 days before the first Vespers or Evensong of Christmas. So they are properly used at Evening Prayer from 17 December to 23 December. (Evening Prayer on the 24th is the first Evening Prayer of Christmas Day.)

Equally, they are not just an 'old English tradition', being shared with other Churches of the West. The English Book of Common Prayer begins the sequence a day earlier on 16 December, to make room for an extra antiphon (O Virgin of Virgins) on the 23rd, but the modern English usage is to abandon that mediaeval tradition for a more primitive and universal observance, and one in which all the antiphons are addressed to Jesus rather than adding one to his mother.

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Monday, 19 December 2011 at 2:28pm GMT

The interesting thing about O Sapientia is that the phrase appears in the Calendar of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Since there is no explanation one must assume that those who compiled the calendar must have expected that those who used it knew what was meant and were still using the Advent Antiphons after all the changes of the previous century. One can further assume that antiphons were in common use across the year (otherwise why indicate where these ones began?) at least in places where such things remained important, such as Cathedrals and University Chapels ('in choirs and places where they sing...').

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Monday, 19 December 2011 at 4:20pm GMT

I'm not sure it is a valid assumption that the antiphons had remained in use. The 'Black Letter' days were restored to the BCP calendar in 1561 -- i.e. the dates in the calendar which appear just as names, but with no liturgical material proper to them (Collect, Epistle and Gospel, or readings for Morning and Evening Prayer). The words 'O Sapientia' were restored as part of that 1561 revision. These dates appear to have been part of the folk memory, many of them representing the dates of local fairs for example, and were inlcuded for that reason. Similarly the Kalendar includes the astronomical comments such as 'Sol in Aquario', 'Sol in Piscibus' against the 10th of each month. But that does not mean that these dates had any ecclesiastical or liturgical significance. They are included because this Kalendar was a convenient place to publish such knowledge so that it was available to the general population. It's interesting that these astronomical dates such as the equinoxes and solstices appear against the 10th of the month rather than the 21st -- because in the 16th century that is indeed when they would fall in the Julian Calendar. The Gregorian Calendar would not be introduced anywhere until 1582.

I suspect that not until the publication in 1906 of the English Hymnal was there a wider observance of the Advent antiphons, along with all the other liturgical material in that hymnbook.

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Monday, 19 December 2011 at 5:00pm GMT

Simon Kershaw on Monday, 19 December 2011 at 2:21pm GMT, thank you for your explanation of the two versions of "O Come, O Come ...". I've run across numerous references to HA&M. The Lacey, less so.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Monday, 19 December 2011 at 5:57pm GMT

@peterpi:

"In USA churches (almost exclusively in TEC), I have sung "O Come, O Come, Emanuel" numerous times -- but had never sung a verse with "Adonai" in it."

This is the usual translation (JM Neale) of "O Adonai":

O come, O come, great Lord [Adonai] of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.


Amen! Come Lord Christ...

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 19 December 2011 at 8:44pm GMT
Post a comment









Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.