What is Hallelujah?

*This post was originally published bilingually in English as well as Korean back in 2017. Now the post is separated in each language. For the Korean version, see this

If you are a Christian, you would probably be familiar with the term “Hallelujah.” As you know, it means “praise the Lord” or something. But if you didn’t have a chance to get involved with any Seminary education, you may not know this word in Hebrew. Well, actually I think you don’t have to know this word in Hebrew. Thus, I dedicate this post to “Surplus-Christians,” who would bother to search for certain surplus pieces of knowledge, spending a lot of time, even though those ares not particularly useful in their lives. (it’s a joke :-)) 

Let’s look at the shape of the Hebrew word, Hallelujah.

Image-1.jpg

A few things are pretty obvious.

  1. Hebrew is read from right to left.
  2. Hallelujah is a combination of Hallelu and Jah
  3. Letters in black are consonant, and symbols in red are vowels. Originally, Hebrew only had consonants. (and it still does). But most published Hebrew texts of the Hebrew Bible offer vowels.
  4. The latter part, jah, has ya sound, because j, in some writing systems, is pronounced like y.

What is the meaning of the word?

  1. Hallelu in Hallelujah is the piel, imperative, 2nd person, masculine plural form of the word Halal.
  2. The term piel usually indicates “add force” to the word’s meaning. But some Hebrew words do not appear in their basic forms but appear only some other forms, such as Halal. Thus, Hallelu does not mean “praise more strongly.” It just means “praise.”
  3. Jah (or ya) in Hallelujah can be understood as a short form of YHWH (or Yahweh), the proper name of the God of Israel. Therefore, Hallelu-Jah means “praise Yahweh.”

Let’s go one step further.

  1. As indicated, Hallelujah is the 2nd person imperative form. Literally, the word means “you-men, praise Yahweh.”
  2. Of course, men here means men and women, not men only, as in English.
  3. In many androcentric or patriarchal societies, it is a pretty common phenomenon that “mankind” often represents all humans whereas the opposite case never happens; that is,” womankind” never means humans. Even nowadays, there are English-speaking people who still use men or mankind instead of “men and women” or “humankind.”
  4. Unfortunately, one thing that the linguistic component of the word Hallelujah shows is that the Hebrew Bible is rooted in androcentrism or patriarchal cultural soil.
  5. For many people in the 21st century, androcentrism is an obsolete idea.

Let’s go a little deeper

  1. I know there are people who think that Christians must embrace even the cultural elements in the Bible because God allowed those elements to be preserved in the Bible. (for more about God’s word, click here)
  2. When we are stuck in a situation where two or more ideas are conflicting, what should we do as Christians? There is no perfectly correct answer. It is not always right to follow the trend of our cultures, nor is it right to obey everything that is written in the Bible. We Christians have been killing certain groups of people, discriminating them, excluding them, or identifying them as inferior, dirty, or unclean based on their understandings of the Bible.
  3. Through numerous mistakes in our history, we’ve reached the conclusion, nonetheless, that every individual has his or her rights to live happily without being killed, discriminated, or excluded for no good reason. I believe that respecting one’s life and his or her dignity is more like God’s will than obeying everything written in the Bible.
  4. In the same vein, I think Christians should wisely follow cultural trends that try to overcome the flaws of our patriarchal/androcentric cultures.
  5. Of course, there are lots of lessons in the Bible that you must obey.
IMG_0401

Since we came this far, let’s just go one step further. What in the world is Alleleluia?

Hallelujah is, as shown above, is a Hebrew word. Alleluia is a Latinized version of the Greek transliteration of Hallelujah.

  1. Greek, of course, reads from left to right.
  2. Here, the first symbol in red that resembles the single quotation mark is the smooth breathing, and it has /h/ sound.
  3. In῎Αλληλουια, this smooth breathing meets the letter A and makes /h/ sound in ῎Αλληλουια.
  4. As this Greek transliteration is Latinized, Hallelujah becomes Alleluia because, unfortunately, Latin does not have breathing symbols. In other words,῎Αλληλουια loses the breathing symbol.

THE END

p.s. For Seminarians: As you know, the Hebrew word Hallelu can be pronounced Hal-Lu because the Shewa under the first Lamed seems silent. But it is not. In normal situations, it is, indeed, a silent Shewa, but in this case, the Shewa is located between two repeated Lameds. This case seemed to have propelled the ancient Jews to pronounce the two Lameds clearly. As a result, the Shewa revives its sound to separate the sound of the first and the second Lameds, and syllabification changes from Hal-Lu to Ha-Le-Lu.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s