[b-hebrew] Names (was: variant pronunciation)

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Mon Apr 19 16:26:40 EDT 2004


Dear Noam,

1. Of course (some of) the biblical authors employed humor and word play.
Have a look at Gary Rendsburg's article in Puns and Pundits - Word Play in
teh Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Literature (ed. S.B. Noegel,
Bethesda: CDL, 2000). In some places its obvious - like the name of Ruth's
sister-in-law Orpah or her husband and his brother, Mahlon and Kilion
("Sickness and Death"). In other places it's more subtle.

2. The rabbis of the Talmud, having less of a sense of humor, often assumed
a "hidden meaning" in names, even when there is no evidence for it in the
Bible itself. Your examle of Nimrod is a good one. NO WHERE in the Bible
does it say that Nomrod was "evil" or "rebelious". All it says is that he
was a mighty hunter "before YHWH" and that he built and ruled a series of
cities in Shinar and Assur. First, the rabbis made him into the rebelious
king who built the Tower of Babel. Then, they equated him with the king of
Babylon who, legend has it, threw Abraham into a fiery furnace (this story
does not appear in the Bible either. Then, they equated him with "Amraphel
king of Shinar", whom Abraham defeated in Gen. 14. By doing all of this,
they make him into Abraham's nemesis, who is as evil and rebelious as
Abraham is rightous and loyal. Of course, it is Abraham who comes out on
top. This is how midrash works. But please don't confuse talmudic midrash
with the actual text of the Bible, written hundreds of years earlier in a
different cultural context by people with different needs. (My own view on
Nimrod can be found in my article, "Nimrod the Mighty, King of Kish, King of
Sumer and Akkad", Vetus Testementum 52 (2002), 350-366.)

3. Such midrashim were composed as the rabbis' way of getting THEIR
message(s) accross. However I don't think that the rabbis intended them to
be taken literally, and certainly not as far as changing the meaning of the
actual biblical text. "Sanherib", for example (or "Sennacherib"), is the
closest the Hebrew-speakers could get to the way the Assyrians pronounced
Sin-Ahhe-Erriba (is that spelled correctly). The rabbis certainly could see
the Hebrew root XRB, meaning both "destruction" and "sword". But that is not
what the three different authors of Kings, Isaiah and Chronicles intended.
The Balaam Inscription from tell Deir Alah proves that his name was EXACTLY
what the Bible says it was - no room for literary creativeness there.
Unfortunately, we don't have inscriptions in NW Semitic script that mention
most biblical characters.

4. Yes, the Bible is monotheistic, and as such does not recognize the actual
existance of "other gods". But the Bible is far from monolithic. It was
written by different people over hundreds of years. Many parts of the Bible
DO "deal" with other gods, treating them as delusions that must be dealt
with.

Yigal

----- Original Message -----
From: "Noam Eitan" <noameitan at yahoo.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Monday, April 19, 2004 1:56 AM
Subject: [b-hebrew] Re: variant pronunciation


>
> >That's why "Sharru-kin" is spelled "Sargon" in the Bible -
>
> the Hebrew scribe recorded what he heard the Assyrians say
>
>  I believe every word in the Hebrew Bible is there to promote a
Yahwist-cult-agenda. There is no evidence its writers were even able to
grasp the concept of unbiased reporting of the "truth", i.e., historical
facts; they were trying to assert "THE" (Yahwist) truth. There is plenty of
evidence they weren't even able to entertain alternative viewpoints - when
such are mentioned it is in derision. I feel this applies as well to foreign
names in the Bible. Am I the only one to suspect that the Bible routinely
distorts foreign name to reflect their significance in events relating to
the people of Israel, or in derision? For example, in the case of Sanherib,
the form of the name used in the Bible contains the root for the word that
means destruction (Het-Resh-Bet). This can apply either to what Sanherib did
to Jerusalem, or what will happen to him (as a curse or prophesy). I also
suspect that some, if not all of the Philistine cities' names are distortion
for the purpose of derisio
>  n or a
>  curse (some contain roots related to various forms of loss; the rest -
the point is lost on us.) I suspect the Bible approximates foreign names the
way children do, approximating a foreign name to the nearest sounding words
in their own language, often in a way the expresses the subject's
attributes,  often in mockery. This touches on the question of whether there
is humor in the Bible - I'd like to quote from this web-site:
>
> http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/economic/friedman/bibhumor.htm
>
>
>
> "The Talmud believes that some names in the Hebrew Bible are not real
names. For example, the Talmud has a tradition that the names of the spies
are not their real names but they were named in the Bible after their (bad)
deeds (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 34a). Also, there is an argument in the
Talmud over whether Nimrod's real name was Amraphel or vice versa. One
opinion is that his real name was Amraphel but he was called Nimrod because
he led the whole world in rebellion against God (Eruvin 53a). The Hebrew
word for rebel is morod which sounds like Nimrod.
>
> Thus, it is quite possible that many other names in the Hebrew Bible are
not real but describe attributes of the individual. Radday (1990) takes this
view and claims that the Bible often distorts an individual's name in order
to ridicule it. The Talmud and Midrash occasionally take the approach that
the Biblical name is not real as noted above, but more often work with the
assumption that the name is real but quite fitting. Indeed, in
Talmudic/Midrashic literature, a very common device is to show how someone
truly deserved his/her name because of some action performed.
>
> For example, Balaam signifies balah am (he destroyed the people), i.e.,
Balaam's advice (Numbers 22) resulted in the plague that killed thousands of
Israelites (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 105a). The Talmud states that
Ahasuerus signified the fact that everyone who knew him said ach la-rosho
(woe for my head) (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 11a). Delilah's (Judges 16)
name, was very befitting according to the Talmud, and "even if her name
would not have been called Delilah, it would have been appropriate to call
her Delilah. She weakened (dildalah) Samson's strength, weakened his heart
and weakened his deeds" (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 9b). The Hebrew word
dildul which sounds like Delilah means to weaken or deplete. The Talmud
asks: "Why was he called Korach? Because he created baldness [i.e.,
defoliation] in Israel" (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 109b). The name Korach
(Numbers 16) is very similar to the Hebrew word karchah which means
baldness. This is just a very small sample
>  of the
>  Talmudic approach with respect to names.
>
> In the Five Books of Moses:
>
> The verse (Genesis 14:2) states: "They waged a war against Berah king of
Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinav king of Admah, and Shemever
king of Zeboiim and the king of Bela." Berah sounds like ben rah which means
evil son in Hebrew. Birsha sounds like ben rashah which means wicked son.
Shinav sounds like soneh av which means he hates his Father (in Heaven)
 Midrash Genesis Rabbah 42:5 and Midrash Tanchuma 8). It is possible that
these names are real names but it is also possible that their names have
been distorted in order to disparage the kings--evil kings who ruled over
wicked kingdoms.
>
> In Genesis 31:42, Jacob refers to the "God of Abraham and the Dread
(Pachad) of Isaac." Later on (Genesis 31:53), Jacob swears by the "Dread of
his father Isaac." Referring to God as a "Dread" is quite unusual. It is not
inconceivable that Isaac after being bound and almost sacrificed, had a
tremendous fear of God and therefore referred to Him as his Dread.
>
> Shechem, the son of Chamor, raped Dinah, the daughter of Jacob (see
Genesis 34). Chamor means donkey in Hebrew. Was Shechem's father's real name
Chamor or is the Bible purposely corrupting the name in order to make fun of
Shechem? It is not inconceivable that the Bible is telling us that Shechem
was a son-of-a-jackass.
>
> In the Writings:
>
> Orpah, the daughter-in-law of Naomi, turned her back on her mother-in-law
and left her after her husband died. Ruth, on the other hand, stayed with
her mother-in-law and traveled with her back to Israel (Ruth 1). The word
oreph means the nape of the neck. One Midrash states that she was called
Orpah because she turned the nape of her neck (i.e., turned her back) on her
mother-in-law (Midrash Ruth Rabbah 2:9). "
>
>  Noam Eitan, Brooklyn, NY
>
>
>
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