Palestine Calling
by
W. M. Christie

Chapter XXVIII

Some Bible Names


With Hebrew once again becoming a living language, much of the phraseology comes to the Bible student with a freshness that was lacking to the last generation. We see the humour of situations, we appreciate the puns (the prophets were great punsters), and occasionally the nicknames give us fresh light or even a hearty laugh. Let us gather up a few of these last and see what they have to say for themselves.

When we turn to Judges 18:30, we find that the English A.V. reads Manasseh, while the R.V. has Moses. We turn to the Hebrew Bible, and we find that the three letters on the printed line are the name of the Lawgiver, but there is "hung up" toward the top of the line the letter "n," which silently changes the word into Manasseh. But the names most definitely give us the genealogy from Moses. Why the change then, and why only half-made? The Jews tell us that it was made to save the credit of Moses. The world should not be allowed to know that his grandson was an idolatrous priest. Besides, Manasseh, the king, was so notoriously guilty of idolatry, that this sin too might very well be laid at his door. This small change of a letter illustrates to us several points of interest connected with the older Judaism. They tell us that a sin committed with good intention is more meritorious than a righteous act with bad intention. Then we have here an illustration of the carelessness of the old rabbinical Jews in the matter of chronology, which has led them to declare "there is no 'before' nor 'after' in the Torah," and finally the half measure in merely hanging up the letter tells us of the jealousy of guarding the sacred text.

In Judges 12:7 we read that Jephthah "was buried in the cities of Gilead." Jewish commentators seek to justify the plural form by relating in virtue of his not having applied to the High Priest Phineas for absolution of his rash vow, he was smitten with leprosy, and as he passed from city to city various members of his body dropped off, and each was buried where it fell. Long years ago we doubted this, and suggested that we should read a place name "Ari" in place of "cities." A month or two later, Dr. Ewing, of Tiberias, in his researches actually found an ancient site of that name in the neighbourhood of Edrei, in Transjordania. It meets the demands of the text, and brushes away all apocryphal interpretation.

Then we have in 2 Samuel (2:8; 4:4; 11:21) the names Ishbosheth, Mephibosheth, and Jerubbesheth. From other places in Scripture we learn that these names were Ish-baal, etc. Now Baal originally meant "master" or "lord," and in this sense it has come to be used again to-day, the Jew calling "the master of the house," "baal-habbeth." In early times it was a synonym for Jehovah or Jahveh, but after Israel suffered for the worship of the Phoenician god--Baal--the scribe did not wish to defile the sacred page with this "abomination," and quietly wrote down "bosheth," which means "shame," but none of these men ever had that item in their names.

In 1 Kings 16:15, we have a king named Zimri, whom we find to be the sixth in descent from Saul (1 Chron. 8:33-36). Was this really a nick-name? It might have been a pet name given in the home, "my pipe," "my chirper." Or was it given, as with Nero, when his kingdom was going to pieces during the seven days of drunken kingship? At all events, there seems to be a bit of irony in its association with this man.

We are on more certain ground with the two rivals for the throne who came after him (1 Kings 16:22). Omri and Tibni. These are clearly nicknames. On one occasion when speaking to an Arabic congregation on the contest we remarked, "Just think of the meaning of the names in view of the outcome." A quiet smile passed over the congregation, for both in Hebrew and in the sister Arabic, that of the successful candidate, Omri, means "the man of the sheaf," while his opponent, Tibni, quite naturally fits the designation "man of straw."

A very interesting case is that of Ahab's Phoenician spouse, Jezebel. In Hebrew it is written I-zebhel, and it means "the island" or "the coast land of dung." No father ever called his daughter by such a name. Our own opinion is that her proper name was Esheth-Baal, or "woman of Baal," a form quite in harmony with Phoenician ideas, and that the Israelites, who had reason to hate her, gave her this designation from the land or island whence she came. Tyre was an island too, till Alexander, in 332 B.C., joined it to the mainland by a causeway. A like change has been made in the name Beelzebub, "the lord of flies," being transformed into "Beelzebul," "the lord of dung."

Turning to the New Testament, we have several interesting cases. In Matthew 10:3, there is named among the apostles Lebbæus, whose surname was Thaddæus, while he is named in Luke 6:16, Judas, the brother of James, his own proper name. The other two names were evidently "pet" designations, given by his mother, who called him sometimes "my heart" and at other times "my breast." There being another Judas (Iscariot) among the twelve, these would be still used to secure the necessary distinction.

We have mentioned Judas Iscariot (Matt. 10:4). His surname in Hebrew would be "Ish Kerioth" or "the man of Kerioth." In John 12:4 we understand Iscariot as belonging to his father Simon also, and in that case it would have passed from father to son. Then we learn that the designation "Ish" in a name was an indication of importance, and that the bearer was a leading man in his district. In short, it was the equivalent of the French "de" or the German "von." Accordingly, Judas may be recognised as the possessor of a kind of hereditary nobility, the only one of the twelve that had pretentions to such dignity. And this is quite in harmony with his seeking for a building plot at Jerusalem, in order to possess there too "a town house." But, oh, the irony of the whole situation! We know the ground, and the evidences of genuineness have been preserved. He was going to build right on the slope of Gehinnom!

Then there is Barabbas. Some of the early versions give "Jesus Barabbas" as his name in Matthew 27:16-17, but the common designation has most to tell us. It really means "father's boy," and that would almost indicate a spoiled child, and might lead us to infer that as the beginning of his going wrong. He was stubborn and wayward, and the "pet name" stuck to him through life. We remember a Scots congregation being rather tickled when we ventured to give the Lowland equivalent as "daddie's laddie," but it caught on, and our hearers appreciated the exposition of the man and his life on these lines.

In connection with the word "bar," we may note that some have found a difficulty in Nathanael appearing in one list of the apostles, while his place is taken by Bartholomew elsewhere. All is clear when we remember that he was Nathanael, the son of Ptolemaios (Ptolemy), while the father's name might indicate some hereditary sympathy for Greco-Egyptian culture.

We have elsewhere ("A Famous Three") mentioned the nameless beggar, Blind Bartimaeus, as the son of a Greek father and a Hebrew mother, the son of a mixed marriage, and probably himself a proselyte, and so doubly despised (B. Yeb. 47 a-b). What a fine opportunity there was of punning upon the name Timæus, in origin associated with the Greek word for "honour," but easily played with as "Bar-tame," the "son of uncleanness." When we read that they "rebuked him, that he should hold his peace" (Luke 18:39), we have even in the words the echo of that ugly name. Still it is surely of interest that, on the self-same day, Christ saved the poor, nameless, half-Jew, unclean beggar, and the respectable, rich, renegade, clean (Zacchæus) Israelite.

Having already touched on things Scottish, we may mention that Elkanah's two wives (1 Sam. 1:2), Hannah and Peninnah, might be affectionately called Jennie and Peggie by our people.

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