Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Theophoric Semitic Names and YHWH

I'm no Bible scholar but here are some of amateurish musings about Biblical names (as usual I would love your criticism/ supporting details):

The fun part of Semitic names is that they tend to be composite words

Fun fact: Hannibal was a Semitic Carthaginian. His name Khen-Baal means "Grace of Baal". This is similar to the name Yeru-Baal which was what the pissed off Baal worshipers called Gideon.

Now how does this affect us non-Baal worshiping Jews.

Well you see the Tanach is replete with names like this (they're called theophoric names by the way. hat tip: On The Main Line)

Take last week's parsha (Shelach) many of the spies or their fathers had names




Ami-El (Nation of El)


and the names of the "princes" in parshat Nasso

Netan-El (Gave El)

Eli-Av (My El is Father "Great")

Tzuri-Shaddai (Shaddai is my rock)

Shde-Ur (Shaddai is Light)

All these names consist of either Shaddai which as far as I know was limited to the Hebrew God and the name El which was also the name of the head of the Canaanite pantheon. It might be that the Hebrews originally worshiped the Canaanit El who then became YHWH (Bible Critics) or maybe they always worshiped a distinct God form the Canaanites but adopted Canaanite God-terminology (TMS). We'll probably never know

Fine this is all well and good. What I find interesting is this:

A more common Biblical name type is conspicuously rare (at least I think it's rare) in the Pentateuch i.e. The X-Yah name or the Yeho-X name. These names are combination of YHWH with other words. So for example Eli-Yahu means "my God is YH(WH)" (which is very apt because Elijah wanted to do away with Baal and make the only God YHWH) I have heard that Yosef is a shortened of Yeho-sef (as he indeed appears in Psalms) and Yocheved is a Yeho-Cheved but still it is interesting that the YHWH is very rarely used in Pentateuchal names. Also the suffix YA NEVER appears in the Pentateuch. (I think)

Now one could argue that the name of YHWH was only revealed to Moshe so it took a while to catch on. But still its interesting that it took so long for the name to catch on. Also let's say YHWH was a later invention (say by a J author acc. to Bible critics) then why did J not project his YHWH worship onto the Pentateuchal narrative? It must be (though I'm not sure) that the Pentateuchal history was either

A. Real to a certain extent or
B. Started by people who weren't big YHWH fans(but then whats the deal with YEHO-SEF)
C. I'm misunderstanding the whole theophoric names things.

(Actually Yeho-Shua is also a YHWH name interesting that Moshe changed it from Hoshea perhaps the point was to give him a new name reflecting the new revealed name of YHWH)

The first "X-YA" name I can think of (as opposed to YEHO-X) in the Tanach offhand is:

וַיִּשְׁלַח בְּיַד נָתָן הַנָּבִיא וַיִּקְרָא אֶת־ שְׁמֹו יְדִידְיָהּ בַּעֲבוּר יְהוָֽה׃ 2Sam 12:25 And he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and he called his name Jedidiah, because of the LORD.   

If I'm correct that this is the first name of this variety in the Tanach (and I'm probably wrong) Then it's very interesting that the verse says explicitly that Yedid-Ya (Friend of YHWH) was named after YHWH!

Also check out this On The Main Line post and also this one



The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

> Hannibal was a Semitic Carthaginian

No, he was the leader of the A-team!

IMHO you're reading too much into names. Also, you have to understand the larger global picture of the historical period you're speaking about. The name "El" is actually quite generic. It's Semetic for "power" or "strength" (look at what Lavan threatens Yaakov Avinu with: el yadi: the strength of my hand) and therefore most nations in the area, not just us and the Canaanites used it. Other names are very specific in terms of usage and which attribute of God is being referenced at the time. Look through the Malbim's commentary on Chumash and he details this exhaustively.

Finally, we don't know that "Yah" wasn't used as part of a name, although you yourself pointed out several instances of its appearance in chumash. It just wasn't the predominent suffix in that time period.

Shilton HaSechel said...

>The name "El" is actually quite generic.

It's too much of a coincidence that the only nation who actually had a God called El (as oppose to just the generic term El = a god) were the Canaanites/Ugarites who were the close neighbors of the Hebrews. Once again there are two possibilities either it was an adoption of the God of Canaan El OR it was an adoption of the WORD El from the Canaanites.

A similar phenomenon can be seen in the Arab world where Jews and Christians used the word Allah to refer to their respective Gods (don't remember the source for that)

>and therefore most nations in the area, not just us and the Canaanites used it.

I've never heard of Eastern Semites (i.e. Akkad, Bablyon etc.) using that specific term to refer to a specific God but please correct me if I'm wrong.

>It just wasn't the predominant suffix in that time period.

Agreed it might just be an arbitrary change in trends unrelated to which God was being worshiped. But it is still a little weird that YHWH in theophoric names is rather rare in the Pentateuch.

Shalmo said...

There is the rabbinical opinion on the two faces of YHWH, an older YHWH and a younger YHWH. This is because there are passages in the Tanakh appear dualistic; where YHWH refers to YHWH in the third person

Amos 4:11: I have wrought destruction among you, as when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, You have become like a brand plucked from burning. Yet you have not turned back to me – declares YHWH.

Notice how the sentence ends with YHWH making the declaration and yet this YHWH is saying I unleashed so and so upon you as when God or the other YHWH destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. What’s going on here? Did one YHWH speak in Amos and then another YHWH destroy Sodom and Gomorrah?

the redacted texts feature at least two deities speaking to the people. All deities in the Ancient Near East existed in pantheons or families of gods. We read where Yahweh is the "God of gods," and there is archaeological evidence that Yahweh had a wife, Asherah (link the Asherah video). We have other names for the Hebrew deity, like Elohim (which is plural) and Adoni, which likely come from other sons of El in canaanite religion. We also have the problem of that these texts were edited by several different later authors (link latest note on corruption of Torah). The last author tried to rid the final product of inconsistencies based on the latest theological conclusions about the deity the Hebrews came to believe. It appears as if the redactor was trying to unite the two YHWH into one deity.

It seems El the head canaanite god and YHWH the national god of Israel were combined into one god. Margaret Baker has some good scholarship on how the Tanakh is a set of redactions on older polytheistic works combined together. Look her up

Tamir said...

Shalmo: There is the rabbinical opinion ...

Who's ? Where ?

Shalmo: Amos 4:11: I have wrought destruction among you, as when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, You have become like a brand plucked from burning. Yet you have not turned back to me – declares YHWH

Notice how

This would be more convincing if the original said:"Kemo sheHafach Elohim Et Sedom ve'Et Amorah"(כמו שהפך אלהים את סדום ואת עמורה). Unfortunately, it says:"keMahapekhat Elohim Et Sedom ve'Et Amorah"(כמהפכת אלהים את סדום ואת עמורה).

Mahapekhat Elohim[ Et Sedom ve'Et Amora] could, as easily, be understood as a figure of speech( as used also in Isaiah 13:19, and Jeremiah 50:40) meaning "Divine destruction" or "Godly( in extent, magnitude or source) destruction"[ "as of Sodom and Gomorrah"], without resorting to a two-god hypothesis.

Shalmo: ... and there is archaeological evidence that Yahweh had a wife, Asherah

A little conclusive: shouldn't that read "... may have had ..." ?

Shalmo: (link the Asherah video)
(link latest note on corruption of Torah)

Where ?

Shalmo: ...Look her[ Margaret Baker] up

who is she ?

Shilton HaSechel said...

>Shalmo: and there is archaeological evidence that Yahweh had a wife, Asherah

That is a very interesting question how to interpret the clear statement "YHWH and his Ashera". Now Bible critics always jump to say that its a stage in the evolution from polytheism to monotheism and that may be so.

see here

and the books The Hebrew Goddess, and Did God Have a Wife

But on the other hand the Ashera could also be a cult object as the Torah calls for the "chopping down of Ashera" obviously a reference to some sort of pole.

see here

and here

Also there is always the question of Orthodoxy. Was Ashera+YHWH worship mainstream?

See here for Kauffman (rather outdated interpretation) and criticism on his approach

Either way we clearly see that some sort of polytheism existed in Ancient Israel. Not that surprising if you read Tanach. The question remains was the polytheism an aberration or the original

Tamir said...

Shilton HaSechel: That is a very interesting question how to interpret the clear statement "YHWH and his Ashera".

If the "clear statement" is the one quoted here:
האשרה במקרא ובמקורות אפיגרפיים עבריים
הכתובות מכונתילת עג'רוד
...ב] רכת אתכם ליהוה שמרן ולאשרתה
... ] ליהוה התמן ולאשרתה [
... ] ברכתך ליהוה תמן ולאשרתה יברך וישמרך ויהי עם אדני [
...י] תנו ליהוה תימן ולאשרת[ה

הכתובות מח'רבת אל-קום
ברך אריהו ליהוה נצרי ולאשרתה הושע לה לדניהו
, it's not that clear that "ליהוה שמרן ולאשרתה" means "[to] YHWH and[to] his Ashera". As it is, without the help of historians' - and archaeologists' - assertions, it's hard to be sure what either texts, that I quoted, really say or mean.

Anyhow, Shabbat Shalom, and thanks for all the links.

Shilton HaSechel said...

I agree its not exactly written so clear cut but


Most probably means "his Ashera"

The article you bring (thanks for the link)says that in Hebrew a proper noun cannot have a "possessive suffix" this is indeed true in Biblical Hebrew and if I remember correctly in Arabic also. This is an extremely convincing argument (although I'm not familiar with the grammar in all Semitic dialects) against identifying "his ashera" as the name of a God. I will be posting about the topic ASAP.

E-Man said...


Would actually mean HER ashera.

His asheira would have a vav at the end.

Shilton HaSechel said...


What you say would be true of Biblical Hebrew but one has to realize that there were many dialects besides the Classic Biblical one which we are familiar with.

This (Ashrat'hu)would be grammatically correct in Arabic (and I think possibly Aramaic) which is similarly a Semitic language and can serve as a model for dialects that we are not familiar with.

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