Home Forums BIBLE STUDY People of the Bible Patriarch names….

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  • #8632

    admin
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    Anyone else find it strange that most of the patriarchs had names which were also descriptions of what they did?

    For example, Abraham means father of many. Sarah means seed. Adam means earth or ground. Eve means source of life.

    Are these coincidence or are the names not meant to be authentic, but descriptive. If descriptive, does they mean they are factual stories or parables?

  • #9194

    Chet
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    I think in many cases these names existed independently of the stories that they seem to be a part of, but the Biblical writers changed the definitions of the names to make them meaningful to events in the characters’ lives. One of the clearest examples of this is with the name of the city of Babylon. The writer of Genesis uses a folk etymology for the Hebrew transliteration of Babylon, בבל, with the Hebrew word בלל which means ‘to confuse,’ in order to connect the name of the city to the event where God confused the languages of mankind and divided of the nations. The author redefines the name Babylon to make it support this story.

    So now lets look at the names of the patriarchs with this model in mind. First of all, Adam is not actually a proper name in Genesis. The Hebrew is האדם and literally means “the man” or “the human.” Although its hard to be sure what the exact origin of this word is, it is probably related to the originally ruddy complexion of man’s skin. The Biblical authors seem to have created a folk etymology of אדם where this word is either related to a Hebrew word for the ground (אדמה, Genesis 2:7) or a Hebrew word for an image or likeness (דמות, Genesis 1:26). Of course, it is also possible that these are not intended to show an etymological significance but are merely poetic rhymes.
    It seems to me that the name Eve חוה in Genesis 3:20 was given because it was an attribute of the character.

    While the name Abraham does look like it could mean ‘father of many’, in my opinion its just a variant of the name Abram or Abiram, meaning ‘exalted father.’ This is evidenced by the fact that the change from Sarai שרי to the variant Sarah שרה (both names mean princess) is given no coherent explanation. It seems that once again the redactor(s) / author(s) of Genesis created a folk etymology for the name Abraham that aligned with a significant event in Abraham’s life.

    Like we see with the names of Eve and Sarah, not all of the patriarch names will fit into the model that I propose. Some names, like Eve and possibly Sarai / Sarah and Abram / Abraham, might have been given precisely because of the nature of the character.

    • This reply was modified 8 months, 2 weeks ago by  Chet.
    • #9506

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      I think it’s entirely possible that the names of the people in the story eventually changed as the stories were passed down. I would imagine it would also make the stories easier to tell and remember also.

      My gut (I say gut because I’ve not yet dug into the subject much) tells me that the names of the people were not as critical as the story itself. Being an oral culture of stories it seems reasonable that Chet’s analysis is pretty accurate. I would also say that if the stories were merely fabricated they might also use descriptive folk names.

      I’m not suggesting they were all made up, just pointing out that if I were making up stories in a culture that valued names like the Semitic culture did then I’d make the story read a lot like genesis.

  • #9498

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    A comprehensive and well composed analysis Chet, it was helpful.

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