"I Yam What I Yam"
The Theology of Popeye - Part 3
Okay, so here’s Moses hearing the voice in burning bush saying, “I yam what I yam, that’s what I yam. Well, in Hebrew it’s more like “YHWH,” which without those little niqqud (diacritical vowel marks), which of course aren’t there when someone speaks, is virtually unpronounceable for us who weren’t around to hear the voice. Scholars, making a hopefully educated guess come up with “Ya-way.”
Even though I know this, I still fixate on why did Popeye say this? Popeye is not G-d?
Or is he?
Whenever I hear those words, I can’t help but think of Popeye. But surely, Popeye is not G-d?
We’ll come back to that question a latter time. For now let’s look at story of a weaselly Moses (Exodus 3) trying to weasel the name of the Voice in burning bush. The Voice won’t have it. Moses says, “When the Israelites ask me what is the name of this god of our fathers, what should should I say?”
Sneaky, sneaky. In the ancient world to know the name of a person was akin to having power over them. There name was who they were. This for example is why Adam names the animals in the Eden.
So, Moses asks for the divine name. Can’t you just imagine Moses’ thinking about the power it would give him? He might have very well been thinking, “I can control G-d. Wow! What power I will have.”
Can’t help but think that’s what we often try to do with all our praying and naming “Jesus’ Name.” “G-d you got to do what we ask. We’re in control. We know your name.” Sounds like superstitious magic to me.
The Voice will have none of it. The divine simply replies, “I am, I am” (Ya-way). If we were drawing this as a cartoon, we’d have Moses shaking his head and pointing at the burning bush saying, “Sure you ARE, but what’s your name?” And the voice in burning bush would reply, “Moses, can you get any denser?”
Moses, being the Pharaoh"s adopted son and a Hebrew to boot would surely not be that dense. In the ancient world, the name for G-d revolves around the very primitive, “Ya”1 (the Hebrew variation.) This was the G-d of Abraham. Moses would have know that. He’s playing a game with G-d.
To be fair to Moses, maybe he just didn’t want to go the Israelites, let alone the Pharaoh, and say, “Ya spoke to me.” They’d all be saying, “Yeah sure. Better get a grip on it Moses. Heatstroke.”
Don’t worry, we will getting back to Popeye. Just hang in a bit longer.
G-d’s answer was a play on words in Hebrew, which ultimately boils down to, “No way, Moses. Get over it. You don’t get to say my name out loud! The word that G-d gave is a tetragrammaton – four Hebrew letters [יהוה (yud-hey-vav-hey), transliterated into English as YHWH). YA-way, which sounds pretty darn close to the Hebrew verb “to be.” In other words, “I be,” or to quote Popeye, “I am what I am, and that’s what I am.” And that tells you everything you need to know about me. Period! Or to put it all tenses of the verb “to be,” “I am, I always have been, I always will be.2" “Okay Moses, stop the game playing and get on with what I want you to do.”
Which at last brings us back to Popeye and my question, is Popeye G-d when he says, “I yam what I yam, and that’s what I yam”?
[Next time: “Is Popeye G-d?]
1. Spiritual scholars suggest that this name was originally in the Semitic languages, “Yahu.” When ever you come across a name or place, either in the scriptures or today, that has “Ja” or “Ya” in the word, you have a link back to the ancient pre-Israelite divinity. “Eli-jah,” for example means “halleleu-yah” (praise Ya).
2. The word appears over 6,800 times in the first scriptures, and is so holy that a devout Jew, even to this day, will not pronounce when it appears in the text. Most often it is read as “Adonai,” meaning, “Lord.” To say it is to take the Lord’s name in vain. Something I am afraid that we Christians do quite frequently. This is why I have used "G-d."
This is why the Jews stone Jesus when he said, “I tell you, before Abraham was, I AM (John 8:58).”
© Frank A. Mills 2018