Friday, November 9, 2012
Random facts about names in the bible
I learned most of this from the semester course on Old Testament studies by Yale professor Christine Hayes.
Moses: is an Egyptian name. It’s the same as the last part of Rameses and Tuthmosis. Tuthmosis means “son of Tuth (the god Thoth)”; Rameses means “son of Ra (the god Ra)”. Moses just means “son of”; it's Rameses without the Ra. Meses = Moses. The etymology given in Exodus 2:10 is made up.
In the story of Ruth, the two sons who died are named ‘sickness’ and ‘death’ - Mahlon and Chilion. They die near the beginning of the tale. Orpah means “nape of the neck” which reflects how the character turns away from her family. These names are clearly literary devices and not names of actual people.
El and Yah names
Early on, bible names tend to contain “el”. El is a Canaanite god that the early biblical characters worshipped. Later, the Yahwists (who gave primacy to Yahweh) gained dominance, and names including “Yah” or some derivative such as "Jo" began appearing.
El names: Abel, Rachel, Michael, etc.
Yah names: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joseph, Jonah, etc.
Many names contain both yah and el, such as El-i-jah, Jo-el
We also see el in place names.
Babel means “Gateway of god”. Babylon = Babel.
Bethel means “House of god”. The “el” refers to god, same as Babel and Babylon.
Philistine = Palestine.
The “Red Sea” is a mistranslation. It is and always has been the “Reed Sea.” Nothing to do with the colour red. Moses and the Israelites are said to have crossed the Reed Sea. We don’t know where it is exactly. Some historians think it refers to a reedy, marshy swamp which prevented the Egyptian chariots from pursuing.
Conclusion: It's interesting to learn more about biblical names, since they infuse European culture. Many Christians would be reluctant to accept what historians state about some biblical names.