[b-hebrew] The Name "Joseph"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Dec 31 10:14:55 EST 2007


The name “Joseph” has the following odd meaning:  “gathered, added”.  Why 
did his mother Rachel give her firstborn son such an odd name?  Rachel knew 
that her sister Leah had given Leah’s fourth son the magnificent name “Judah”, 
which as previously discussed means “praise YHWH”.  Why didn’t Rachel try to 
come up with an even more magnificent name for Rachel’s own son?
 
One of the key issues for us to keep in mind here is to try to figure out why 
Rachel gives her son the odd name “Joseph”, which means “gathered, added”.
 
Here is the text where Rachel gives her son the name “Joseph”: 
 
“And she conceived, and bore a son, and said:  'God hath taken away 
[gathered/)SP] my reproach.'  And she called his name Joseph [YWSP], saying:  'The LORD 
[YHWH] add [YSP] to me another son.'”  Genesis 30: 23-24
 
The three key words here, in order of their appearance above, are:
 
(1)  aleph samekh peh/)SP = “gather” (or “collect” or “assemble”).  
Occasionally, this word can mean “taken away” or “remove”, in the sense of “
gathered and taken away” or “gathered and removed”.  Yet the fundamental meaning is 
“gather”.
 
(2)  yod vav samekh peh/YWSP = “Joseph”
 
(3)  yod-samekh-peh/YSP = “add”
 
All three of these words feature samekh-peh/SP as their last two letters, 
which are true consonants.  Aleph, yod and vav can be vowel-type sounds, and as 
such can be mixed and matched for punning purposes.  Yet having said that, it 
is clear that the last two words are a much closer linguistic match than the 
first word.  The words “Joseph”/YWSP and “add”/YSP are about as close as two 
Hebrew words can be and still have different spellings, with a different number 
of letters.  This suggests that the primary meaning of the name “Joseph” is 
likely “added”.
 
Once again, note that the name “Joseph” is an explicit pun on two words, not 
just on one word.  For each name we have looked at -- “Reuben”, “Simeon”, “
Levi”, “Judah” and now “Joseph” -- that has been the case.  Each name is a 
pun on at least two words, and is never a simple pun on a single word.
 
So the name “Joseph” means “gathered, added”.  Why such a circumspect name? 
 What not a glorious name, like “Judah”/”praise YHWH”?
 
Is Rachel choosing a carefully designed name here, that is carefully crafted 
to give her blood son Joseph the best shot at being named to be the leader of 
the next generation of monotheists?  Or is Rachel fumbling in the dark, 
choosing an inauspicious name for no apparent reason?
 
As we will come to see, “Joseph” is the best name that Rachel could have 
given to her son under the circumstances.  First and foremost, this name was 
cleverly designed by Rachel to give her beloved son a shot at being named the le
ader of the next generation of the new monotheists.  Rachel well knew the story 
of Ishmael’s sad fate.  Rachel was trying her best to distinguish Rachel’s son
’s situation from Ishmael’s situation.  Alas, that would not prove to be 
possible.
 
In later posts, we will examine three levels of meaning of “Joseph”, based 
on the two explicit puns on that name in the text.  As always, the first level 
relates to the immediate circumstances of this son’s birth.  The second level 
will then, as has usually been the case before, reflect the most important 
action in this son’s life.  But uniquely with the name “Joseph”, there will be a 
critical third level of meaning:  Rachel’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to 
distinguish her son’s situation from that of exiled Ishmael.
 
If we can understand the name “Joseph”, we can thereby understand much of 
the Patriarchal narratives.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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