It is a transliteration of the Hebrew word הַלְּלוּיָהּ (Modern halleluya, Tiberian halləlûyāh), which is composed of two elements: הַלְּלוּ (second-person imperative masculine plural form of the Hebrew verb hallal: an exhortation to "praise" addressed to several people) and יָהּ (the names of God Jah or Yah).
Most well-known English versions of the Hebrew Bible translate the Hebrew "Hallelujah" (as at Psalm 150:1) as two Hebrew words, generally rendered as "Praise (ye)" and "the LORD", but the second word is given as "Yah" in the Lexham English Bible and Young's Literal Translation, "Jah" in the New World Translation, "Jehovah" in the American Standard Version, and "Hashem" in the Orthodox Jewish Bible. Instead of a translation, the transliteration "Hallelujah" is used by JPS Tanakh, International Standard Version, Darby Translation, God's Word Translation, Holman Christian Standard Bible, and The Message, with the spelling "Halleluyah" appearing in the Complete Jewish Bible. The Greek-influenced form "Alleluia" appears in Wycliffe's Bible, the Knox Version and the New Jerusalem Bible.
In the great song of praise to God for his triumph over the Whore of Babylon in chapter 19 of the New Testament book of Revelation, the Greek word ἀλληλούϊα (allēluia), a transliteration of the same Hebrew word, appears four times, as an expression of praise rather than an exhortation to praise. In English translations this is mostly rendered as "Hallelujah", but as "Alleluia" in several translations, while a few have "Praise the Lord", "Praise God", "Praise our God", or "Thanks to our God".
הַלְּלוּיָהּ is found 24 times in the Book of Psalms, and the Greek transliteration ἀλληλούϊα appears in the Septuagint version of these Psalms, in Tobit 13:17 and 3 Maccabees 7:13 and four times in Revelation 19. The word is used in Judaism as part of the Hallel prayers, and in Christian prayer, where since the earliest times it is used in various ways in liturgies, especially those of the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, both of which use the form "alleluia".
In the Bible
The term is used 24 times in the Hebrew Bible (mainly in the book of Psalms, e.g. 111–117, 145–150, where it starts and concludes a number of Psalms) and four times in Greek transliteration in the Christian Book of Revelation.
In the Hebrew Bible hallelujah is actually a two-word phrase, not one word. The first part, hallelu, is the second-person imperative masculine plural form of the Hebrew verb hallal. However, "hallelujah" means more than simply "praise Jah" or "praise Yah", as the word hallel in Hebrew means a joyous praise in song, to boast in God. Hallel could also refer to someone who acts madly or foolishly.
The second part, Yah, is a shortened form of YHWH, the name for the Creator. The name ceased to be pronounced in Second Temple Judaism, by the 3rd century BC due to religious beliefs. The correct pronunciation is not known, however, it is sometimes rendered by Christians as "Yahweh" or "Jehovah". The Septuagint translates Yah as Kyrios (the LORD), because of the Jewish custom of replacing the sacred name with "Adonai", meaning "the Lord".
In Psalm 150:6 the Hebrew reads kol han'shamah t'hallel yah; It appears in the Hebrew Bible as הללו-יה and הללו יה. In Psalm 148:1 the Hebrew says "הללו יה hallelu yah". It then says "hallelu eth-YHWH" as if using "yah" and "YHWH" interchangeably. The word "Yah" appears by itself as a divine name in poetry about 49 times in the Hebrew Bible (including hallelu yah), such as in Psalm 68:4–5 "who rides upon the skies by his name Yah" and Exodus 15:2 "Yah is my strength and song". It also often appears at the end of Israelite theophoric names such as Isaiah "yeshayah(u), Yahweh is salvation" and Jeremiah "yirmeyah(u), Yahweh is exalted".
The Greek transliteration, ἀλληλούϊα (allēlouia) appears in Revelation 19:1–6, the great song of praise to God for his triumph over the Whore of Babylon. It is this usage that Charles Jennens extracted for the Hallelujah Chorus in Handel's Messiah.
Usage by Jews
The word "hallelujah" is sung as part of the Hallel Psalms (interspersed between Psalms 113–150).
Usage by Christians
For most Christians, "Hallelujah" is considered a joyful word of praise to God, rather than an injunction to praise him. "The Alleluia" refers to a traditional chant, combining the word with verses from the Psalms or other scripture. In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, and in many older Protestant denominations, the Alleluia, along with the Gloria in excelsis Deo, is not spoken or sung in liturgy during the season of Lent, instead being replaced by a Lenten acclamation, while in Eastern Churches, Alleluia is chanted throughout Lent at the beginning of the Matins service, replacing the Theos Kyrios, which is considered more joyful. At the Easter service and throughout the Pentecostarion, Christos anesti is used in the place where Hallelujah is chanted in the western rite.
In contemporary worship among many Protestants, expressions of "Hallelujah" and "Praise the Lord" are acceptable spontaneous expressions of joy, thanksgiving and praise towards God, requiring no specific prompting or call or direction from those leading times of praise and singing.
In the Book of Revelation Chapter 19 we read " After this I heard what sounded like the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying: Alleluia! Salvation, glory and might belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments..... A voice coming from the throne said: "Praise our God, all you his servants, and you who revere him, small and great." Then I heard something like the sound of a great multitude or the sound of rushing water or mighty peals of thunder, as they said: Alleluia! The Lord has established his reign, our God, the almighty. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory..."
Usage in informal language
- Alleluia, liturgical chant
- Alhamdulillah (Al-ḥamdu lillaah) (Arabic: الحمد لله), similar Arabic phrase used by Muslims and by Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians
- Subhan Allah (Subḥaanallaah) (Arabic: سبحان الله), Arabic phrase used by Muslims
- Hallelujah Chorus
- Page H. Kelley, Biblical Hebrew, an Introductory Grammar, page 169. Ethics & Public Policy Center, 1959. ISBN 978-0-8028-0598-0.
- Hallelujah, also spelled Alleluia, Encyclopædia Britannica
- Brown-Driver-Briggs (Hebrew and English Lexicon, page 238)
- page 403, note on line 1 of Psalm 113, Alter, Robert (2007). The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-06226-7.
- Woods, F. H. (1902). "Hallelujah". In James Hastings. A Dictionary of the Bible. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 287.
- Scott Nash, "Hallelujah" in Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (Mercer University Press 1990 ISBN 978-0-86554373-7), p. 355
- Variants of "Hallelujah" in this context are "Hallelujah (praise the Lord)" in the Amplified Bible and "Halleluyah" in Complete Jewish Bible
- King James Version and its recent revisions, the 21st Century King James Version and the New King James Version, the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Knox Version, the New Jerusalem Bible, the Phillips New Testament, Wycliffe's Bible, and Young's Literal Translation.
- Contemporary English Version, New Living Translation (LORD)
- Good News Translation
- Worldwide English (New Testament)
- New Life Version
- Alter, Robert (2007). The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-06226-7.
- Andrew McGowan, "Alleluia" in The New Scm Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (Hymns Ancient & Modern 2002 ISBN 978-0-33402883-3), p. 6
- George Fohrer. Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament, under הלל. Walter de Gruyter, 1973. ISBN 978-3-11-004572-7.
- Joseph Samuel C.F. Frey, A Hebrew, Latin, and English dictionary, 1815, entry for הלל on page 254
- Harris, Stephen L. Understanding the Bible: a reader's introduction, 2nd ed. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. page 21.
- All quotes from the Hebrew are taken from Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, EDITIO FUNDITUS RENOVATA, cooperantibus H. P. Ruger et J. Ziegler ediderunt K. Elliger et W. Rudolph, Textum Masoreticum curavit H. P. Ruger MASORAM ELABORAVIT G. E. WEIL, Editio quinta emendata opera A. Schenker, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.
- "Do You Know God by Name?" watchtower.org. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
- David E. Garland, Psalms, Volume 5 of The Expositor's Bible Commentary, page 62.
- At Pipe Organ Pizza, a pipeline for prayers, Milwaukee Journal, July 12, 1981
- Hallelujah definition in Macmillan Dictionary
- The dictionary definition of hallelujah at Wiktionary