Pre-Israelite Name Origins


CanaaniteWhat’s in a name? A reader writes that he’d like the meanings behind some of the more famous pre-Israelite names (prior to the settling of Judah, where they became known as Jews). So here are a few etymologies of one-name Old Testament characters to mull over.

Bathsheba (Bat-sheba) was the wife of Uriah . She had a disastrous affair with King David. Bat in Hebrew: daughter. Sheba:seven or to swear an oath. So Bat-sheba: Daughter of an Oath.

Be-ersheba is a name that has an interesting etymology. It is the name of the well at which Hagar met the Angel of God for the second time, also where Jacob, Isaac and Elijah met God. It is a compound of two elements: the word to make plain + the word for swear. So the biblical meaning: Well of the Oath.

What about David=Dovid, Dawid, meaning : love, well-beloved or dear? The name is disputed because the root DWD can mean other things. That boy shepherd became the most powerful and beloved second king of Israel, was of the tribe of Judah and forbear of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He was the youngest of seven or eight (1Sam16:10-13) and (1Chr 2:15). Of course, historically, Jews did not hve permanent family surnames. Patronymics were used, as David ben , son of… or Miriam bat , daughter of … The name “David” occurs over one thousand times in the Hebrew Bible. Arabic and Persian versions are Daud (Da-ood). Finnish for David=Taavetti.

One of my favorites is the name of Isaac=Yitzhaq. He was the son and heir of Abraham, father of Jacob=Ya -acov, and Esau. The name means “He will laugh” (Gen 17:17). He was born miraculously when his mother Sarah was 90. (She laughed at hearing she would conceive (Gen 18:10-12). This name has the double spelling, Yitschaq, corresponding to the two forms in which appears the root meaning “to laugh”. It can also mean “to jest, play, dance, etc. One authority says the name can also more properly mean “one laughs” or “he laughs”. When Father Abraham was to slay him, Isaac did not complain. Rabbinic legends surround the birth of Isaac. Born at noon with the sun brightly overhead, miracles occurred around him: sick were restored to health, deaf recovered their hearing. He was the longest lived of the three patriarchs. In the Old Testament Isaac is called “the gift” of God to Abraham (Josh 24:3).

The major prophet Isaiah worked predominately in Jerusalem during the reigns of kings Uzziah -Hezekiah (740-680 b.c.) His name is made of two parts, the first being a form of the Tetragrammaton YHVH, or the actual name of God in the Hebrew Bible. The second part, “yasha” or “yesha” means : saved or delivered spiritually by one who is an independent person . Hence, Isaiah: YHVH is Salvation.

What about Joseph=Yosef, the wearer of the coat of many colors, eleventh of the twelve sons of Jacob=Yaacov, and Rachel , father of Ephraim and Manasseh? His name means: “God Will Increase”. In Egyptian the letters would spell out “Sa-Ra”, the one appointed by God. There is some argument about his name also meaning “He Speaks” or “Creator of Life”, but it is impossible to be sure of the exact Egyptian spelling of the name.

Okay, let’s tackle Maher-shalal-hash-baz. This is a name that the prophet Isaiah was commanded to write on a tablet and give to his son (8:1,3), to denote the sudden attack on Damascus and Syria by the Assyrian army. It has been interpreted as meaning “plunder speedeth; spoil hasteneth”, or something like “hurrying to the spoil, he has made haste to the plunder.” The name is also mentioned in 2Ne 18:1,3.

Moses = Moshe. The Levite prophet and patriarch discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter in a basket among reeds of the Nile, means “one who draws out” or “draw out”, certainly referring to that event. See Exodus 2:10 “And she named him Moses, and said, “Because I drew him out of the water.” “ His history begins in Exodus and ends in Deuteronomy (Second Law). Possibly derived from the Egyptian word for water=mo, and the verb to save out of water= uses – can be: child of the water.

Noah = Noe or Noyach (means: rest) He was, of course, the savior of his family from the great flood account in Genesis. His father, Lamech ,named him such because he would bring “rest from toil on the land which God had cursed…” (Gen 5:29). His Hebrew name, when connected with Hebrew numerology, known as Gematria (where each letter of the Hebrew alphabet possesses a numerical equivalent), foretells his greatness as one of God’s patriarchs. In Latter-day Saint theology, Noah was regarded as the archangel Gabriel, his heavenly equivalent. The Islamic Quran contains 43 references to Noah and claims he lived 1000 years, but the Bible has him living only 950. It is said he was 600 when the Flood came. “In his five hundredth year Noah had three sons, Shem (means: name or fame), Ham, and Japheth. Shem, the eldest, became the progenitor of the Semitic race, Ham saw his father, Noah’s nakedness and was cursed. His seed began the Hamitic or North African race. Then Japheth fathered the European and Asian races.

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