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Judean Onomastic Hermeneutics in Context

  • Jeffrey L. Cooley (a1)

The term Volksetymologie has frequently been applied to the etiological passages of the Hebrew Bible and occasionally to such passages in Mesopotamian literature that explain the origin of the name of a person, place, or thing. Originating in mid- nineteenth century German Sprachwissenschaft, the term generally assumes that the authors of such passages were possessed of a considerable philological ignorance and naïveté. These etymological narratives are thus regularly brushed aside as childish though charming. Alternatively, they are often understood as interesting aesthetic devices, related to paronomasia and punning.

It is becoming increasingly evident, however, that the activity of parsing a name is linked to broader interpretive methods employed by scribes in the ancient Near East. Indeed, our developing understanding of intellectual practices in Mesopotamia and among the Bible’s tradents has demonstrated that Babylonian and Judean scribes could employ rather sophisticated hermeneutics. This fact has significance for our evaluation of biblical etymological passages in many ways including, for example, the methods employed by ancient authors to interpret names within narratives and their motivation for doing so.

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I am thankful for the insights and critiques offered by Daniel Fleming, professor of Hebraic and Judaic Studies at New York University, and my colleague David Vanderhooft, associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Boston College, as well as the faculty and student members of the Boston College Biblical Studies Colloquium. As well, I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers’ questions and suggestions that have helped refine my argument. Any mistakes are, of course, my own.

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1 I intend to explore the phenomenon of etymology in the Hebrew Bible in light of Judean scribalism more fully in my book, Names and Knowledge in Ancient Near Eastern Narrative: A Study in Etymology and Epistemology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

2 Förstemann, E., “Ueber deutsche volksetymologie,” Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung 1 (1852) 125. Translations from the German are my own.

3 “Die erste ist die älteste und niedrigste, die dritte die neuste und hoechste stufe” (Förstemann, “Ueber deutsche volksetymologie,” 2).

4 Förstemann, “Ueber deutsche volksetymologie,” 3.

5 Palmer, A. Smyth, Folk-Etymology: A Dictionary of Verbal Corruptions or Words Perverted in Form or Meaning, By False Derivation or Mistaken Analogy (London: George Bell and Sons, 1882).

6 Ibid., vii.

7 Ibid., xiv.

8 Casanowicz, Immanuel M., Paronomasia in the Old Testament (Boston: Norwood Press, 1894) 11; see also 17 (on which, in note 40, he cites Förstemann), 40, and 72 n. 115. Benziger, J., Hebräische Archäologie (Grundrisse der Theologischen Wissenschaften 2/1; Freiburg, i. B.: Mohr/ Siebeck, 1894) 128 (translations are my own); see also 151 in which he describes the etymologies of Cain (Gen 4:1), Seth (Gen 4:25), Isaac (Gen 21:6), Jacob (Gen 25:26), and those of his sons (Gen 29:32–30:24) as “genuine folk-etymologies” (ächte Volksetymologien). For another early use, see Hirschfeld, H., “Remarks on the Etymology of Šabbāth,” JRAS (1896) 353–59, esp. 359.

9 Gunkel, Hermann, Genesis (HAT 1/1; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1901) 37, 87, 114, 301, 303, 319, 328.

10 English translation from Gunkel, Hermann, Genesis (trans. Biddle, Mark E.; Macon: Mercer University Press, 1997) xixxx.

11 Gunkel, Genesis (German), 87.

12 Ibid., e.g., 37, 87, 144, 301, 303, 319, 328.

13 Ibid., xiv.

14 For a brief history and evaluation of folk-etymology in biblical studies, see Marks, Herbert, “Biblical Naming and Poetic Etymology,” JBL 114 (1995) 2142, esp. 22–24, which I have found particularly helpful.

15 Fichtner, Johannes, “Die etymologische Ätiologie in den Namengebungen der geschichtlichen Bücher des Alten Testaments,” VT 6 (1956) 372–96; Long, Burke O., The Problem of Etiological Narrative in the Old Testament (BZAW 108; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1968); Golka, Freidemann W., “The Aetiologies in the Old Testament: Part 1,” VT 26 (1976) 410–28, and “The Aetiologies in the Old Testament: Part 2,” VT 27 (1977) 36–47.

16 See, for example, Alt, Albrecht, “Josua,” in Werden und Wesen des Alten Testaments (ed. Volz, P. et al.; BZAW 66; Berlin: Töpelmann, 1936) 1329; Noth, Martin, Das Buch Josua (2nd ed; HAT 7; Tübingen: Mohr, 1953).

17 Albright, William F., “The Israelite Conquest of Canaan in the Light of Archaeology,” BASOR 74 (1939) 1123; nonetheless, Albright used the term quite frequently (as a GoogleScholar search including “Albright” and “popular etymology” reveals). In any case, Allen Ross would later develop Albright’s mnemonic model in his unpublished dissertation, “Paronomasia and Popular Etymology in the Naming Narratives of the Old Testament” (PhD diss., University of Cambridge, 1981).

18 Childs, Brevard, “The Etiological Tale Re-Examined,” VT 24 (1974) 387–97, at 393.

19 Childs, “The Etiological Tale Re-Examined,” 395–97. His critique is only valid insofar as we understand Israel’s thought as “historical” in contrast to the “mythopoetic” thought of its neighbors in the ancient Near East. For a recent critique of this perspective, see Cooley, Jeffrey L., Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East: The Reflexes of Celestial Science in Ancient Mesopotamian, Ugaritic, and Israelite Narrative (HACL 5; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013) 1316.

20 Barr, James, The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961); “Etymology and the Old Testament,” in Language and Meaning: Studies in Hebrew Language and Biblical Exegesis: Papers Read at the Joint British-Dutch Old Testament Conference Held at London, 1973 (OtSt 19; Leiden: Brill, 1974) 1–28; “The Symbolism of Names in the Old Testament,” BJRL 52 (1969/1970) 11–29.

21 Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language, 109.

22 Barr, “Etymology and the Old Testament,” 24.

23 Ibid., 26.

24 Strus, Andrzej, Nomen-omen: La stylistique sonore des noms propres dans le Pentateuque (AnBib 80; Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1978) 46.

25 Strus, Nomen-omen, 48.

26 Ibid., 56.

27 Garsiel, Moshe, Biblical Names: A Literary Study of Midrashic Derivations and Puns (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 1991).

28 Garsiel, Biblical Names, 14.

29 Ibid., 18–19.

30 Marks, “Biblical Naming,” 23–24.

31 Ibid., 24. Marks’s evaluation strikes me as a literary variant of mid-twentieth century biblical theologians’ caricature of Israelite versus heathen culture: other cultures of the ancient Near East believed names were “magical”—but the Hebrew Bible’s authors subvert that anti-rationalist view.

32 See, as well, Hess, Richard S., Studies in the Personal Names of Genesis 111 (AOAT 234; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1993; repr., Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2011). Though not important for his primary thesis, Hess occasionally uses “folk etymology,” a term whose larger socio-linguistic significance he does not evaluate, though he seems to equate it with “(explicit) wordplay” (see 5, 109 for “folk-etymology,” and 67, 123, 131 for “explicit wordplay”). Like Albright and Ross, Hess states that the personal names themselves (particularly those in Genesis 1–4 and 6–9) function as mnemonic devices (157). It is worth noting a couple of Hess’s essentially undeveloped comments, namely that “the personal names of the narratives provide an ‘onomastic commentary’ parallel to the events within the narratives,” and that “it is insufficient to suggest that personal names merely refer to their name bearers. The etymology and wordplay of the personal names serve to carry the narrative forward and to provide important clues as to its theme and direction” (158).

33 Sayce, A. H., Introduction to the Science of Language (2 vols.; London: C. Kegan Paul, 1880) 2:246. This is the earliest reference to the term “popular etymology” as an equivalent to Volksetymologie cited in the OED. The earliest use of “folk-etymology” cited by the OED is in Stephens, George, Prof. S. Bugge’s Studies on Northern Mythology Shortly Examined (London: Williams and Northgate, 1883) 2829.

34 Smith, George, The Chaldean Account of Genesis (London: Sampson Low and Co.: 1880) 83, 167–68. Smith does not use the phrase, however, in the first edition dated to 1876.

35 Hommel, Fritz, Geschichte Babyloniens und Assyriens (Berlin: G. Grote, 1885) 188 n. 2, 270 n. 2, 300–301, 577 n. 2.

36 Sayce, A. H., Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians (London: Williams and Northgate, 1887) 5758, 156–57, 168–69, 228, 232, 235, 236, 374; see also 202, where he mentions a Hebrew “false etymology.” Jastrow, Morris, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (Boston: Ginn & Company, 1897) 121, 589 n. 3; see also 116 n. 1, in which “etymology” appears in scare quotes.

37 CAD A2, 326, 418, 474; CAD D, 95; CAD H, 165, 185; CAD I/J, 118, 274, 302; CAD K, 14, 134; CAD M2, 176, CAD Š1, 169; CAD Š3, 128.

38 CAD M1, 365 (“popular interpretation”); CAD M2 (“‘etymologize’” in scare quotes; see below); CAD Ṣ, 112 (“theological explanation”); CAD T, 228 (“later etymologized”).

39 CAD U/W, 372.

40 Sayce, Lectures, 417.

41 Ibid., 338.

42 Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, 89, 513, 629, 689 (“theological”); 115 (“literary”); 445, 456, 494, 557 (“scholastic”).

43 Ibid., 150, 153, 465.

44 Ibid., 447 [italics in original].

45 Sayce, Lectures, 106–7, 110, 117, 195, 374; Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, 173, including n. 3. Jastrow even mentioned the idea that in antiquity, “every nomen, as constituting the essence of an object, was always and above all an omen,” as a “plausible” explanation for such scribal practices, though he ultimately rejected this thought and offered his own rational interpretation for the name in question, one that does not concede to intellectual infelicities.

46 There are, to be sure, uses of the term without any particular value judgment. Andrew George, for example, repeatedly uses the term “folk-etymology” in his discussion of the name of Babylon (Babylonian Topographical Texts [OLA 40; Leuven: Peeters, 1992] 253–55); similarly, see 465 where he discusses the writing of the name of the city of Arbail. It is worth noting that George seems to prefer the term “speculative etymology” (or similar) in his The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic (2 vols.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). See, e.g., Babylonian Gilgamesh, 1:88, 140, 452; 2:851; see also, “academic etymological speculation,” in Babylonian Gilgamesh, 1:511. George does utilize “folk-etymologies” (Babylonian Gilgamesh, 1:453), but only in reference to LKA 75 15, a text which truly does offer a “popular etymology” according to Förstemann’s socio-linguistic standards.

47 Johns, C. H. W., “Some Secondary Formations among Assyrian Proper Names,” AJSL 18 (1902) 149–66, at 149.

48 Johns, “Some Secondary Formations,” 152.

49 Prince, J. Dyneley, “Delitzsch’s ‘Sumerisches Glossar,’” AJSL 31 (1915) 160–67, at 162. See also the sarcastic use of “etymology,” as indicated by scare quotes in Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, 116 n. 1, and CAD M2, 223.

50 Bottéro, Jean, “Les noms de Marduk, l’ecriture et la ‘logique’ en Mesopotamie ancienne,” in Essays on the Ancient Near East in Memory of Jacob Joel Finkelstein (ed. Ellis, Maria De Jong; Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences 19; Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1977) 528; Livingstone, Alasdair, Mystical and Mythological Explanatory Works of Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986). See also, Livingstone, Alasdair, Court Poetry and Literary Miscellanea (SAA 3; Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 1989).

51 Das sumerische Zahlwort “5” lautet /ia/. p a ist das sumerische Wort für “Ast”; die gängige akkadische Entsprechung dazu lautet artu, “Ast”. Der Schreiber hatte also das Wort jartu in die Bestandteile ia- und artu zerlegt. Für die Silbe /ia/ schrieb er das Zahlzeichen 5, das im Sumerischen í a gelesen wird. Den zweiten Bestandteil des Wortes, artu, deutete er als das akkadische Wort für “Ast” und schrieb dieses Wort mit dem entsprechenden sumerischen Wortzeichen PA. Die Schreibung 5-PA = ía-artu(PA) liefert also neben der Lautung des Wortes auch die Information: das gemeinte Objekt kann als “5-Ast” bezeichnet werden. Angespielt ist hier wohl sicher auf das Geäst einer Koralle. Eine solche Erklärung des Wortes jartu ist in modernem wissenschaftlichem Sinne freilich keine Etymologie, sondern nur Volksetymologie. Etymologie ist es gleichwohl im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes: den griechisches ἔτυμος bedeutet zunächst nur “dem Wesen der Sache entsprechend”, “wahr”. Und mit der hier vorgestellten Orthographie versuchte der gelehrte Schreiberin der Tat zu zeigen, daß das Wesen der “Koralle” im Wort für “Koralle” enthalten sei. (Maul, Stefan M., “Das Wort im Worte. Orthographie und Etymologie als hermeneutische Verfahren babylonischer Gelehrter,” in Commentaries/Kommentare (ed. Most, G. W.; Aporemata 4; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999) 118, at 6–7.

52 Selz, Gebhard J., “‘Babilismus’ und die Gottheit dNindagar,” in Ex Mesopotamia et Syria Lux: Festschrift für Manfried Dietrich zu seinem 65. Geburtstag (ed. Loretz, Oswald et al.; AOAT 281; Münster: Ugarit Verlag, 2002) 247–84. See also Selz, Gebhard J., “Remarks on the Empirical Foundation and Scholastic Traditions of Early Mesopotamian Acquisition of Knowledge,” in The Empirical Dimension of Ancient Near Eastern Studies/Die empirische Dimension altorientalischer Forschungen (ed. Selz, Gebhard J.; WOO 6; Wien: Lit, 2011) 4970.

53 Selz, “Remarks on the Empirical Foundation and Scholastic Traditions,” 54.

54 Ibid., 54 n. 23.

55 Förstemann, “Ueber deutsche volksetymologie,” 2; see discussion above.

56 Volksetymologien do seem to still perturb some semiticists, particularly when modern lexicographers are duped by them; see Kogan, Leonid, “Popular Etymology in the Semitic Languages,” Studia Semitica 3 (2003) 120–40. For Eigenbegrifflichkeit, see Landsberger, Benno, “Die Eigenbegrifflichkeit der babylonischen Welt,” Islamica 2 (1926) 355–72; also, Landsberger, Benno, The Conceptual Autonomy of the Babylonian World (trans. Jacobsen, Thorkild et al.; MANE 1/4; Malibu: Undena Publications, 1976).

57 Frahm, Eckhart, Babylonian and Assyrian Text Commentaries: Origins of Interpretation (GMTR 5; Münster: Ugarit Verlag, 2011); van de Mieroop, Marc, Philosophy before the Greeks (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015).

58 Frahm, Babylonian and Assyrian Text Commentaries, 37–41. Though he offers this binary heuristic, Frahm recognizes that, even though the ancient scholars were clearly aware of these two approaches, the line separating them is often ill-defined in practice. For the problem of these categories when applied to Mesopotamian documents, see Gabbay, Uri, “Deciphering Cuneiform Texts through Ancient and Modern Conceptions of Literal Meaning,” in Le sens littéral des Écritures (ed. Venard, Olivier-Thomas; Paris: Cerf, 2009) 161–69.

59 Frahm, Babylonian and Assyrian Text Commentaries, 70; for his discussion of etymology and etymography, as well as gematria, see 70–79.

60 Frahm (Babylonian and Assyrian Text Commentaries, 70 n. 337) borrows this concept from Assmann, Jan, “Etymographie: Zeichen im Jenseits der Sprache,” in Hieroglyphen: Stationen einer anderen abendländischen Grammatologie (eds. Assmann, Aleida and Assmann, Jan; Munich: Fink, 2003) 3763. See also, Maul’s understanding of the orthography of the Akkadian iartu (5-PA), discussed earlier. See also my understanding of the peculiar orthography of תואיגשׁ in Ps 19:13 (Cooley, Jeffrey L., “Psalm 19: A Sabbath Song,” VT 64 [2014] 177–95, esp. 192–93).

61 Nonetheless, there remain some terminological tensions. Nurullin, in explaining one of the several orthographies for the name Gilgamesh, describes it as deriving from “a kind of popular (or rather, learned) ‘Sumerianizing’ etymology” (Nurullin, Rim, “The Name of Gilgameš in the Light of Line 47 of the First Tablet of the Standard Babylonian Gilgameš Epic,” Babel und Bibel 6 [2012] 209–24, at 220]). Similarly, Rubio, also discussing one of the Sumerian writings of the name Gilgamesh (bil2-ga-mes, which could be translated as “the old one is a young man”), suggests that if “it were a pun, it would simply be a learned folk etymology, an example of the phenomenon Selz (2002) has called ‘Babilism’” (Rubio, Gonzalo, “Reading Sumerian Names II: Gilgameš,” JCS 64 [2012] 316, at 8 [italics added]).

62 van de Mieroop, Philosophy before the Greeks, 77–84.

63 Ibid., 79.

64 Ibid., 143–55.

65 Ibid., 155.

66 Selz, “Remarks on the Empirical Foundation and Scholastic Traditions,” 64. For the sociology of knowledge concepts of “cultures of knowledge” frequently noted by Selz, see also Veldhuis, Niek, “The Theory of Knowledge and the Practice of Celestial Divination,” in Divination and the Interpretation of Signs in the Ancient World (ed. Amar Annus; OIS 6; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010) 7791.

67 For the term “epistemic culture,” see Cetina, Karin Knorr, Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999) esp. 111.

68 There is a third use of signs in cuneiform called the determinative, in which a sign is placed in front of a word to indicate that word’s conceptual category; thus, the DINGIR sign is regularly placed in front of the names of deities.

69 Borger, Rykle, Mesopotamische Zeichenlexikon (2nd ed.; AOAT 305; Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2010) no. 10., 248–50.

70 For text and commentary, see Livingstone, Mystical and Mythological Explanatory Works, 54–61. For gištukul.saĝ.50 and its explication, see 54–55, lines 13–16.

71 For the Babylonian hermeneutics and primarily later Jewish exegesis, see Tigay, Jeffrey H., “An Early Technique of Aggadic Exegesis,” in History, Historiography and Interpretation: Studies in Biblical and Cuneiform Literatures (ed. Tadmor, Hayim and Weinfeld, Moshe; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1983) 169–89.

72 Pearce, Laurie and Wunsch, Cornelia, Documents of Judean Exiles and West Semites in Babylonia in the Collection of David Sofer (CUSAS 28; Bethesda, MD: CDL Press, 2014). Though I consider the period and place of the Babylonian exile as most probable, there are, of course, other avenues. For the use of Assyro-Babylonian cuneiform within the boundaries of ancient Judah, see Horowitz, Wayne, Oshima, Takayoshi, and Sanders, Seth, Cuneiform in Canaan: Cuneiform Sources from the Land of Israel in Ancient Times (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2006) and Aster, Shaun Zelig, “Transmission of Neo-Assyrian Claims of Empire to Judah in the Late Eighth Century B.C.E.HUCA 78 (2007) 144.

73 The question might be asked as to why I am pressing the comparison with Mesopotamian rather than Greek scribes, since the latter, too, were contemporaneously productive in the middle of the first millennium B.C.E. (for similar ancient scholarly etymological speculation in Egypt, see Assmann, “Etymographie”). Van Seters, for example, has made a fairly convincing argument that Judean historiographical practices bear important, probably genetic, similarities to those employed by contemporaneous Greek writers, such as Hesiod and Herodotus (e.g., Seters, John Van, Prologue to History: The Yahwist as Historian in Genesis [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1992]). Indeed, the etymologizing of traditional names is one of the methods these authors employ to derive knowledge of the past (e.g., Odyssey 19.406–9; Iliad 1.403–4; Hesiod, Theogony 144–45; Herodotus, Histories 4.155).

Though it is difficult to characterize Greek etymologizing as a whole, what we do not see (at least as far as I am aware) is the visual/graphic component in Greek etymologizing that I am presenting here (for early Greek etymologizing as a facet of hermeneutics, see Sluiter, Ineke, “The Greek Tradition,” in The Emergence of Semantics in Four Linguistic Traditions: Hebrew, Sanskrit, Greek, Arabic [ed. van Bekkum, Wout, et al.; Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1997] 147224). There are many potential reasons for this. The most obvious is the fact that the classical Greeks were keenly aware that the alphabetic writing system they utilized to document their own language did not originate with Greek speakers (Herodotus, Histories 5.58; see also, Hekataios of Miletos [Jacoby, FrGrH 1 #20]), and thus there was no potential for an etymological relationship between a word’s verbalization and its graphic crafting in the manner we see in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Indeed, the classical speculation regarding the origins of Greek writing is embedded in historiographical narratives that are ethnological in nature and do not feature the gods in the creative process. (Later Greek and Latin historians were more willing to consider divine involvement in the invention of writing; see, e.g., the mythographer Hyginus, Fabulae 277, as well as Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca 1.16.1.)

The classical ontological separation between writing and language is underscored in The Cratylus, the Socratic dialog composed by Plato regarding the etymological interpretation of names. The participants in the dialog all emphasize the verbalization of names rather than their writing; see Cratylus 424 in which the discussion hinges on the potential of sounds and pronunciation. For discussions and commentary on The Cratylus, see Baxter, Timothy M. S., The Cratylus: Plato’s Critique of Naming (PhA 58; Leiden: Brill, 1992); Reeve, C. D. C., Cratylus: Translated with Introduction & Notes (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1998); Barney, Rachel, Names and Nature in Plato’s Cratylus (New York: Routledge, 2001); and for a refreshingly radical take, see Sedley, David, Plato’s Cratylus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Related to the lack of examples of Greek graphic etymologizing, no doubt, is the wildly different sociological status that the Greek-language scribe possessed vis-à-vis his Near Eastern counterpart. The latter in the first millennium were part of the administrative, political, and religious elite. In marked contrast, the former were often slaves and servants, and were not the creators or intellectual tradents of the texts they copied. As Carr has noted, Greek literate education of the mid-first millennium B.C.E. “served to form an aristocratic elite of Greek citizens, defined in part by their ability to orally perform the cultural tradition” (Carr, David M., Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005] 106107). That is to say, the visual inspection of the Greek text was to a large degree separated from its idealized (oral) performance and interpretation among its elite consumers. Writing, at least in the Platonic presentation of the Socratic perspective, was a counter-productive aide mémoire, rather than the mark of an erudite sophisticate (cf., Plato, Phaedrus 274c–275c).

74 For a recent discussion of the perfect, including current bibliography, see Mattlock, Michael, “The Perfect (qatal),” in “Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?” A Grammatical Tribute to Stephen A. Kaufman (ed. Dallaire, Hélène, Noonan, Benjamin J., and Noonan, Jennifer E.; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2017) 127–37 (esp. 131–32 for temporal overlap with the preterite). Noth understood the prefixing form in personal names to indicate a wish or desire (in contrast to names that employ the suffixing form; see Noth, Martin, Die israelitschen Personennamen im Rahmen der gemeinsemitischen Namengebung [BWANT III/10; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1928] 195213). This is contra Rechenmacher who argues that the prefixing conjugation in names refers to past events (i.e., ultimately conforming to many of the Bible’s etymologizing interpretations of them), though he does not entirely reject the idea that some of them might express a wish or even habitual action (Rechenmacher, Hans, Personennamen als theologische Aussagen: Die syntaktischen und semantischen Strukturen der satzhaften theophoren Personennamen in der hebräischen Bibel [ATSAT 50; St. Ottilien: EOS Verlag, 1997] 4753).

75 For this most recently, see Norin, Stig, Personennamen und Religion im alten Israel: untersucht mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Namen auf El und Ba‘al (ConBOT 60; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013).

76 A Babylonian scribe might do something similar, of course, but instead of specifying which לא he understood to be denoted by the generic term, would instead choose from the multiple possible Akkadian values of a Sumerian logogram.

77 Frahm, Babylonian and Assyrian Text Commentaries, 60–62. See also Hrůša, Ivan, Die akkadische Synonymenliste malku = šarru (AOAT 50; Münster, Ugarit-Verlag, 2010).

78 Gelb, Ignace J., A Study of Writing (rev. ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963) 122–53.

79 See, e.g., Levenson, Jon D., Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012) 83.

80 For a discussion of the passage and its history of interpretation, see Levenson, Jon D., The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993) 114–24; and, more recently, Inheriting Abraham, 66–112.

81 One could even point to the name of the place provided in 22:2, אֶרֶץ הַמּרִֹיָּה, which the reader is clearly meant to parse as מַרְ(אֵה) יְה(וָה), “appearance of Yahweh”; thus, the name amounts to an example of notarikon.

82 Or, “On a mountain Yahweh appears.” See also Levenson, “And Abraham named that site Adonai-yireh, whence the present saying, ‘On the mount of the LORD he is seen/appears,’” (Inheriting Abraham, 82).

83 Cassuto, Umberto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus (trans. Israel Abrahams; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1967) 206; see also Sarna, Nahum, Exodus: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991) 96.

84 Cornelis Houtman in his 1996 Exodus commentary remarks, in a footnote, that סכ is a “pun” on סנ, but does little to elaborate (Exodus [4 vols.; trans. Sierd Woudstra; HCOT; Kampen: Kok Publishing, 1996] 2:391 n. 64).

85 Renz, Johannes and Röllig, Wolfgang, Handbuch der althebräischen Epigraphik (3 vols.; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1995) II/2: 158–59, 176–77. For post-exilic Aramaic scripts, see Cross, Frank Moore, “The Development of the Jewish Scripts,” in Leaves from an Epigrapher’s Notebook: Collected Papers in Hebrew and West Semitic Palaeography and Epigraphy (HSS 51; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2003) 343 (7, figure 1.1, line 1 = “classical Aramaic cursive of the late Persian Empire, ca. 400”; line 3 = 4Q530 “dating to 100–50 B.C.E”). See also Yardeni, whose charts do a good job of indicating individual stroke marks, which show in certain instances that the kaph and nun were not merely similar in appearance, but were also actually crafted very similarly by the scribes (Yardeni, Ada, The Book of Hebrew Script: History, Palaeography, Script Styles, Calligraphy & Design [Jerusalem: Carta, 2002], 165 [chart 1, 4QSamb = late 3rd century, B.C.E. ], 175 [chart 5, the War Scroll = early Herodian], 177 [chart 7, Hodayot = late Herodian], 181 [chart 9, 4Q212/Enochg = Herodian], 183 [chart 10, Wadi Murabba‘at Genesis = post-Herodian], 191 [chart 13, Wadi Murabba‘at 30 = post-Herodian]).

86 By far, the best discussion of the history of interpretation of this passage by both ancient and modern commentators is Houtman, Cornelis, “‘Yahweh is my Banner’–—‘A ‘Hand’ on the ‘Throne’ of Yh’: Exodus xvii 15b, 16a and their Interpretation,” in New Avenues in the Study of the Old Testament: A Collection of Old Testament Studies Published on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Oudtestamentisch Werkgezelschap and the Retirement of Prof. Dr. M. J. Mulder (ed. Woude, A. S. van der; OtSt 25; Leiden: Brill, 1989) 110–20.

87 There are, of course, a few scholars who do not ascribe to either of these explanations; e.g., Cassuto, Book of Exodus, 206; Houtman, “Yahweh is my Banner,” 116–20; Tanner, Hans Andreas, Amalek. Der Feind Israels und der Feind Jahwes: Eine Studie zu den Amalektexten im Alten Testament (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2005) 5762, at 58.

88 Thus, e.g., Beer, Georg, Exodus (HAT 3; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1939) 92; Childs, Brevard S., The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974) 311–12; Dozeman, Commentary on Exodus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) 392, 397–98.

89 Sarna, Exodus, 250 n. 18; Propp, William C., Exodus 1–18: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 2; New York: Random House, 1998) 620.

90 Durham, John I., Exodus (WBC 3; Waco: Word Books, 1987) 237; Sarna, Exodus, 96; Propp, Exodus 1–18, 620.

91 Fichtner, “Die etymologische Ätiologie”; Long, The Problem of Etiological Narrative; Childs, The Book of Exodus, 311–12.

92 See, e.g., Houtman, “Yahweh is my Banner,” 118.

93 In these two places, it is above the עיקר. In only one place is Yahweh’s throne said to be neither in Jerusalem nor in the sky: in Jeremiah’s oracle against Elam, where Yahweh states he will set up his own throne, demolishing the native dynasties (Jer 49:38).

94 Cassuto, Book of Exodus, 206; Sarna, Exodus 96.

95 Such philologically-grounded problem solving should not surprise us, since, for example, this is the normal explanation of the counterfactual native exegesis of לעברי in Judg 6:32. Though it should mean something like “may Baal plead (for me),” or “may Baal prove himself great” (see HALOT, 434 for bibliography ); לעברי is interpreted by the biblical author as ירֶָב בּוֹ הַבַּעַל (“let Baal contend with him”). See also 2 Sam 11:21, which records the name as תשׁברי.

96 For recent discussions, see Davies, Philip R., Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1998); Carr, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart; van der Toorn, Karel, Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007); Sanders, Seth L., The Invention of Hebrew (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009).

97 Some, such as Fishbane, even maintain that there is evidence for several scribal sub-cultures in the biblical material (Fishbane, Michael, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985] 2388).

98 For these, see Puech, Emile, “Les Écoles dans l’Israëls preëxilique: données épigraphiques,” in Congress Volume: Jerusalem 1986 (ed. Emerton, J. A.; VTSup 40; Leiden: Brill, 1988) 189203, at 201–2; more recently, Rollston, Christopher A., Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel: Epigraphic Evidence from the Iron Age (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010) 91113. See also van der Toorn, Scribal Culture, 8. See also Fishbane, who argues for standardized hermeneutical conventions (Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation, esp. 525–43).

99 For a thorough discussion of Judean scribes as a so-called “knowledge culture,” see Cooley, Jeffrey L., “Judean Scribalism, Documentary Epistemology, and the Name לארשׂי,” in “The Scaffolding of Our Thoughts”: Essays on Assyriology and the History of Science in Honor of Francesca Rochberg (ed. Crisostomo, C. Jay, Escobar, Eduardo A., Tanaka, Terri, and Veldhuis, Niek; Leiden: Brill, 2018) 207–52.

100 In the later Second Temple period, הוהי תארי will come to be equated with הרות, thus coopting sapiential claims of intellectual authority (e.g., Ps 19:8–10, in which הוהי תארי is used as one of several synonyms to הוהי תרות). See Grund, Alexandra, “Die Himmel erzählen die Herrlichkeit Gottes”: Psalm 19 im Kontext der nachexilischen Toraweisheit (WMANT 103; Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 2004) 220–22, 247–48, 338–52.

* I am thankful for the insights and critiques offered by Daniel Fleming, professor of Hebraic and Judaic Studies at New York University, and my colleague David Vanderhooft, associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Boston College, as well as the faculty and student members of the Boston College Biblical Studies Colloquium. As well, I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers’ questions and suggestions that have helped refine my argument. Any mistakes are, of course, my own.

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Harvard Theological Review
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