Albert G. Mackey on the Ineffable Name, Part 1

The Ineffable Name Part 1
Provided by the Oklahoma Chapter and Council Education E-Newsletter (
Extracted from the
According to Mackey Column in the November 2022 Issue

Albert Mackey
Albert Mackey
(Public Domain)

The following appears as Chapter XXIV on pp. 176-197 of the 1869 edition of “The Symbolism of Freemasonry” by Albert G. Mackey.

Another important symbol is the Ineffable Name, with which the series of ritualistic symbols will be concluded.

The Tetragrammaton, or Ineffable Word,—the Incommunicable Name,—is a symbol—for rightly-considered it is nothing more than a symbol—that has more than any other (except, perhaps, the symbols connected with sun-worship), pervaded the rites of antiquity. I know, indeed, of no system of ancient initiation in which it has not some prominent form and place.

But as it was, perhaps, the earliest symbol which was corrupted by the spurious Freemasonry of the pagans, in their secession from the primitive system of the patriarchs and ancient priesthood, it will be most expedient for the thorough discussion of the subject which is proposed in the present paper, that we should begin the investigation with an inquiry into the nature of the symbol among the Israelites.

That name of God, which we, at a venture, pronounce Jehovah,—although whether this is, or is not, the true pronunciation can now never be authoritatively settled,—was ever held by the Jews in the most profound veneration. They derived its origin from the immediate inspiration of the Almighty, who communicated it to Moses as his especial appellation, to be used only by his chosen people; and this communication was made at the Burning Bush, when he said to him, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this [Jehovah] is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.” And at a subsequent period he still more emphatically declared this to be his peculiar name: “I am Jehovah; and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of El Shaddai; but by my name Jehovah was I not known unto them.”

It will be perceived that I have not here followed precisely the somewhat unsatisfactory version of King Jamesʼs Bible, which, by translating or anglicizing one name, and not the other, leaves the whole passage less intelligible and impressive than it should be. I have retained the original Hebrew for both names. El Shaddai, “the Almighty One,” was the name by which he had been heretofore known to the preceding patriarchs; in its meaning it was analogous to Elohim, who is described in the first chapter of Genesis as creating the world. But his name of Jehovah was now for the first time to be communicated to his people.

Ushered to their notice with all the solemnity and religious consecration of these scenes and events, this name of God became invested among the Israelites with the profoundest veneration and awe. To add to this mysticism, the Cabalists, by the change of a single letter, read the passage, “This is my name forever,” or, as it is in the original, Zeh shemi lʼolam, זה שמי לעלם as if written Zeh shemi lʼalam, זה שמי לאלם that is to say, “This is my name to be concealed.”

This interpretation, although founded on a blunder, and in all probability an intentional one, soon became a precept, and has been strictly obeyed to this day. The word Jehovah is never pronounced by a pious Jew, who, whenever he meets with it in Scripture, substitutes for it the word Adonai or Lord—a practice which has been followed by the translators of the common English version of the Bible with almost Jewish scrupulosity, the word “Jehovah” in the original being invariably translated by the word “Lord.” The pronunciation of the word, being thus abandoned, became ultimately lost, as, by the peculiar construction of the Hebrew language, which is entirely without vowels, the letters, being all consonants, can give no possible indication, to one who has not heard it before, of the true pronunciation of any given word.

To make this subject plainer to the reader who is unacquainted with the Hebrew, I will venture to furnish an explanation which will, perhaps, be intelligible.

The Hebrew alphabet consists entirely of consonants, the vowel sounds having always been inserted orally, and never marked in writing until the “vowel points,” as they are called, were invented by the Masorites, some six centuries after the Christian era. As the vowel sounds were originally supplied by the reader, while reading, from a knowledge which he had previously received, by means of oral instruction, of the proper pronunciation of the word, he was necessarily unable to pronounce any word which had never before been uttered in his presence. As we know that Dr. is to be pronounced Doctor, and Mr. Mister, because we have always heard those peculiar combinations of letters thus enunciated, and not because the letters themselves give any such sound; so the Jew knew from instruction and constant practice, and not from the power of the letters, how the consonants in the different words in daily use were to be vocalized. But as the four letters which compose the word Jehovah, as we now call it, were never pronounced in his presence, but were made to represent another word, Adonai, which was substituted for it, and as the combination of these four consonants would give no more indication for any sort of enunciation than the combinations Dr. or Mr. give in our language, the Jew, being ignorant of what vocal sounds were to be supplied, was unable to pronounce the word, so that its true pronunciation was in time lost to the masses of the people.

There was one person, however, who, it is said, was in possession of the proper sound of the letters and the true pronunciation of the word. This was the high priest, who, receiving it from his predecessor, preserved the recollection of the sound by pronouncing it three times, once a year, on the day of the atonement, when he entered the holy of holies of the tabernacle or the temple.

If the traditions of Masonry on this subject are correct, the kings, after the establishment of the monarchy, must have participated in this privilege; for Solomon is said to have been in possession of the word, and to have communicated it to his two colleagues at the building of the temple.

This is the word which, from the number of its letters, was called the “tetragrammaton,” or four-lettered name, and, from its sacred inviolability, the “ineffable” or unutterable name.

The Cabalists and Talmudists have enveloped it in a host of mystical superstitions, most of which are as absurd as they are incredible, but all of them tending to show the great veneration that has always been paid to it. Thus they say that it is possessed of unlimited powers, and that he who pronounces it shakes heaven and earth, and inspires the very angels with terror and astonishment.

The Rabbins called it “shem hamphorash,” that is to say, “the name that is declaratory,” and they say that David found it engraved on a stone while digging into the earth.

The full text of the 1869 edition of Mackey’s “The Symbolism of Freemasonry” may be found at:

Mackey’s Symbolism of Freemasonry