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

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Fri Apr 23 03:14:11 EDT 2004

Dear Yigal:

I suspect your answer #2 below is more important than you originally thought.

For example, I was taught that the false god Molech was given the points he has in Tanakh to deride him, but in Biblical times the name may have been pronounced as Melech or Malech. Similarly I suspect the Philistine god Dagon was connected with harvest, hence his name, not fish.

In the book of Ruth, the meanings of the sons’ names is very likely rabbinical, not original. Machlon may have been connected with softness or gentleness, while Kilion with completeness in the sense of perfection, and Orpah very likely connected with firmness or strength, turning her back on Naomi having nothing to do with the name.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Yigal Levin" <leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il>
> 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
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