[b-hebrew] The Name "Judah"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Dec 19 10:55:05 EST 2007


1.  The text of Genesis 29: 35 asserts, or at least appears to assert, that 
the name “Judah” is a pun on two words:  “praise”/YDH and YHWH.
 
(a)  “YHWH” is obviously spelled Y-H-W-H.  If one puts in a D/dalet before 
the final H/heh in YHWH, one gets the name “Judah”:  Y-H-W-D-H.  Note that all 
the letters in “YHWH” are in YHWDH/”Judah”, and that all four such letters 
are in the correct order.
 
(b)  The Hebrew verb “to praise” is spelled YDH.  If one adds both an H/heh 
and a W/vav after the yod/Y in YDH/“to praise”, one gets the name “Judah”:  
Y-H-W-D-H.  Note that all the letters in “YDH” are in YHWDH/”Judah”, and 
that all three such letters are in the correct order.
 
(c)  Not only does YHWDH/”Judah” seem to be a logical and natural, if 
brilliant, pun on the two words “YHWH” and YDH/“to praise”, but also the text of 
Genesis 29: 35 appears to explicitly make that very pun:
 
“And she conceived again, and bore a son; and she said: 'This time will I 
praise [YDH] YHWH.'   Therefore she called his name Judah [YHWDH]…..”
 
Note that the text does not say:  “This time will I give praise.”  No, the 
text puts the word YHWH right in there:  “This time will I praise YHWH.”
 
2.  Though the foregoing analysis seems quite convincing to me, it is never 
mentioned in the standard academic lengthy books on Genesis that have been 
published for a general readership.
 
(a)  Gerhard von Rad, in his 440-page book “Genesis” (1961), states at p. 
294:
 
“The word [Levi] may not originally have been Hebrew.  …The same is true of 
the name Judah;  it too is originally a tribal name and has not yet been 
satisfactorily interpreted.”
 
Note that Gerhard von Rad never mentions any puns regarding the name “Judah”.
 
(b)  E.A. Speiser, in his 378-page book “Genesis” (1962), makes no comment 
at all about the name “Judah”.  Page 230 has a brief discussion of the name “
Reuben”, but no discussion of any other names of Jacob’s 12 sons.
 
(c)  Robert Alter, in his 324-page book “Genesis:  Translation and Commentary”
 (1996), views the name “Judah” as solely being a play on one innocuous 
word, “praise”.  Prof. Alter states at p. 157:
 
“The naming [of Judah] plays on ‘odey, ‘sing praise’, and Yehudah, ‘Judah’
.  The verb Leah invokes is one that frequently figures in thanksgiving psalms.
”
 
3.  Note that none of the foregoing scholars says anything like the 
following:  “Although the text of Genesis 29: 35 asserts that “Judah”/YHWDH is a pun 
on two words, “praise”/YDH and YHWH, we should reject that textual assertion.”
 
4.  Why are secular scholars so reluctant to admit that Genesis 29: 35 is 
naturally read as asserting that “Judah”/YHWDH is a pun on two words, “praise”
/YDH and YHWH?
 
We begin to see that the analysis I have been doing of the explicit puns that 
are explicitly set forth by the author of the Patriarchal narratives at the 
end of chapter 29 of Genesis is far more controversial than might appear at 
first glance.
 
5.  The scholarly analysis of these puns on the names of Jacob’s children 
consists of (i) asserting that these puns were made up many, many centuries after 
the fact, and (ii) assuming, without any further analysis, that these puns 
have no particular significance, but rather are simple, enjoyable, fanciful puns 
that keep on repeating, over and over again, that Leah hopes that bearing 
more sons may make her husband Jacob love her.  The classic statement of that 
scholarly view is set forth in Gerhard von Rad’s book at p. 294:
 
“Apparently there is here a very free etymological game in which the narrator 
sparkles, but which we cannot imitate.  We must, however, imagine that not 
the least of the charms of this passage for the ancient reader consisted in the 
renewed suspense about how the next name (long familiar, of course) would be 
interpreted by the narrator.  So these are not, therefore, etymologies in the 
strict sense of the word and do not claim to be.  Rather, they are free 
allusions to which the narrator is inspired by the names and which the hearers 
receive as ingenious.” 
 
6.  But if these puns on these names were made up many centuries after the 
fact, why would the name “Judah”, and no other name, work so beautifully as a 
pun on the words “praise”/YDH and YHWH?  And why do none of the scholars in 
their works for a general readership ever acknowledge such a pun on those two 
words?
 
If the Patriarchal narratives are a myth that was created by multiple authors 
in the mid-1st millennium BCE, with the tribal name “Judah” long pre-dating 
the creation of the myth of the Patriarchal narratives, then why is it that 
only the name “Judah” works as a grand pun, in part, on the word YHWH?  Indeed, 
how could all the names of Jacob’s 12 sons work so well in the puns that we 
are examining on this thread?  And why don’t the secular scholars ever ask 
whether the puns are intended to foreshadow each son’s subsequent actions in his 
later life?
 
If the author of the Patriarchal narratives was the first Hebrew, who lived 
in the mid-2nd millennium BCE, before any Hebrew tribes were in existence (my 
view), then the received text makes perfect sense.  The author of the 
Patriarchal narratives has chosen and/or created these names for the 12 sons of Jacob/“
Israel”, and he has carefully made these choices of names in order to be able 
to do these wondrous puns, which deftly foreshadow each son’s future actions 
in the text.  But if the secular scholars are right and the Hebrew tribes, and 
their names, long pre-date (by many centuries) the composition of the myth of 
the Patriarchal narratives, how then could all these many puns on the names of 
Jacob’s sons work so beautifully?
 
7.  My claim that Genesis 29: 35 explicitly asserts that YDH + YHWH = YHWDH 
is much more controversial than may appear at first glance.  Such claim is 
never discussed by academic scholars in the long books they have published on 
Genesis for general readership.  That’s because such claim, if taken seriously, 
would undermine the scholars’ entire analysis of the Patriarchal narratives.
 
In my view, there is nothing in the text that supports the scholarly 
contention that the Patriarchal narratives are a myth created by multiple southern 
Hebrew authors in the mid-1st millennium BCE.  As just one example of this, a 
fair reading of Genesis 29: 35 cannot be squared with that scholarly view.  It 
cannot be a mere “coincidence” that only the name “Judah” works as a pun, in 
part, on the word YHWH.   
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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