[b-hebrew] The Name "Judah"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Dec 18 11:11:16 EST 2007

We now turn our attention to the name “Judah”.  When we looked at the names 
of the three older sons -- Reuben, Simeon and Levi -- we saw that (i) the puns 
on these names always involved at least two different words, not just one 
word, and (ii) in addition to being a pun on how the mother hoped the son’s birth 
would immediately affect the mother’s relationship to her husband Jacob, the 
puns in those three cases each foreshadowed the most important aspect of the 
son’s future life.  That is to say, the names “Reuben”, “Simeon” and “Levi” 
each foretells what those three sons will do later in life (which in those 
three cases earn them a terrible ultimate curse by their father Jacob).
We will now apply the same approach to the name “Judah”, and see how the 
grand name “Judah” foreshadows that this is the son who will receive his father 
Jacob’s grandest blessing.  Here is the text: 
“And she conceived again, and bore a son; and she said: 'This time will I 
praise the LORD [YHWH].'   Therefore she called his name Judah…..”  Genesis 29: 
  וַתַּהַר עוֹד וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתֹּאמֶר הַפַּעַם 
אוֹדֶה אֶת-יְהוָה--עַל-כֵּן קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ, יְהוּדָה; 
וַתַּעֲמֹד, מִלֶּדֶת
The word “praise” as a verb in Hebrew is:  yadah/yod-dalet-heh/YDH.  [Or, 
this word could be translated as the verbal phrase “sing praise”, or even “
throw praise” or “extend praise”.  Here, this word appears in the form 
YHWH is:  yod-heh-vav-heh/YHWH
“Judah” is:  yod-heh-vav-dalet-heh/YHWDH
To me, it seems obvious that (i) the name “Judah” is a pun on the phrase “
praise YHWH”, namely a deft combination of the two key words “praise”/YDH and 
YHWH, and that (ii) the name “Judah” accordingly means “praise YHWH”.
The puns on these two words work to form the name “Judah” in two possible 
ways.  First, the root word “praise” can be used (instead of the particular 
form in which this word appears at Genesis 29: 35).  On that view, a 3-letter 
word (“praise”/YDH) and a 4-letter word (YHWH) are deftly, and explicitly, 
combined to form a new 5-letter name:  YHWDH/“Judah”.  All letters in both of 
these two underlying words are in the name “Judah”, and are in the right order.  
Note that Leah does not merely say “praise” (or “sing praise”).  No, Leah 
specifically says, significantly enough, “praise YHWH”.  You need both of 
those two key words, “praise”/YDH and YHWH, not just “praise”/YDH alone, to form 
the name “Judah”.
Alternatively, we could start with the form in which the word for “praise” 
appears at Genesis 29: 35, which is aleph-vav-dalet-heh/AWDH.  For punning 
purposes, the aleph/A drops out, because (i) it is not a true Hebrew consonant, as 
we have noted before for punning purposes, (ii) it does not appear in the 
root word “praise”, and (iii) it does not appear in the only other use of this 
word “praise” in the Patriarchal narratives (at Genesis 49: 8, which is 
important as discussed below, and where there is no aleph, but there is again a vav; 
 the name “Judah” has no aleph, but it does have a vav).  The remaining 
three letters in this form of the word “praise” are WDH, which are the last three 
letters in “Judah”/YHWDH.  As before, all four letters in YHWH are there, in 
order, with a dalet/D having been inserted before the final heh/H in order to 
make the pun with the word “praise”.
Either way you look at it, “Judah” is a brilliant pun on two words:  “praise 
For reasons I cannot fathom, scholars seem insistent on asserting that each 
of these sons’ names (i) is a pun on only a single word, and (ii) has no 
relationship to anything in the text except the immediate circumstances of each son’
s birth.  If that were the case, these names would have little importance.  
But as we keep on seeing, that definitely is not the case.  Each of these sons’ 
names in fact (a) is an explicit pun on at least two separate words, as 
expressly set forth in the line of text that explains the son’s name, and (b) a 
critical part of the pun is to foretell the son’s future.
As with the names “Reuben”, “Simeon” and “Levi” that we have examined, (i) 
the immediate, explicit puns relate to the particular circumstances of the son
’s birth, that is how his mother hopes his birth will help her situation with 
her husband Jacob, but (ii) the more profound meaning of the puns on multiple 
words is to foretell what the most important aspect of the son’s life will 
turn out to be.  Here, Leah hopes that by having borne four sons in quick 
succession to Jacob, Leah may thereby obtain the great love and affection that Jacob 
seems only to be bestowing on his other main wife, Rachel.  So Leah thinks “
praise YHWH” at Judah’s birth.  Yet more profoundly, the name “Judah” 
foreshadows that Judah will be the one son who is named by Jacob, near the end of the 
Patriarchal narratives, as the leader of the next generation of monotheists.
The word “praise”/yadah/YDH appears 114 times in the Bible, but that word 
appears only twice in the Patriarchal narratives.  We have just seen “praise” 
referenced in the name “Judah”.  The only other use of the word “praise” in 
the Patriarchal narratives also refers specifically to Judah, and appears in 
the sentence that decides Judah’s fate:
Genesis 49: 8:  “‘Judah, thee shall thy brethren praise [YDH];  thy hand 
shall be on the neck of thine enemies;  thy father's sons shall bow down before 
To me it seems quite obvious that (i) the puns on the name “Judah”, and (ii) 
the fact that Judah is ultimately anointed as being the leader of the next 
generation of the new monotheists, go hand in hand.
Of Jacob’s 12 sons, the name “Judah” is by far the grandest name of all.  It 
is all-positive all the way, and it references both “praise”/YDH and YHWH, 
which is as good as it gets.  The son with the most spectacular name is fated 
to be the son who will succeed his father Jacob as the leader of the next 
generation of the new monotheists.  As we will soon see, Jacob’s favorite son 
Joseph, by contrast, has a mediocre name that foreshadows that heroic Joseph will 
not be named the leader.  Judah, with the super-terrific birth name, will 
triumph over Joseph, who has a mediocre birth name.
In my view, if we focus closely on the explicit puns that the author of the 
Patriarchal narratives makes on the names of the 12 sons of Jacob/“Israel”, we 
can see what the author is trying to tell us in the second half of the 
Patriarchal narratives.  It is my opinion that persons who insist on ignoring those 
many puns risk misunderstanding what the text is trying to tell us.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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