The distribution of personal names in the Land of Israel and Transjordan during the Iron II Period.

Author:Golub, Mitka


Lists, including lists of personal names, are known from ancient times, and are called onomastica. Two notable examples are the onomasticon of Amenemope, which is dated to the end of the twentieth dynasty in the late twelfth century (all dates are B.C.E. unless otherwise stated) (Simpson 2001: 605) and the onomasticon of Eusebius, which is dated to the early fourth century C.E. (Taylor 2003: 1-5).

The Mandelkern concordance, first published in 1896, includes a list of all biblical personalities and place names, arranged alphabetically (Mandelkern 1972: 1349-1532). A brief explanation appears at the beginning of each entry, followed by all the biblical references to the specific name.

The first two modern studies of Hebrew names are the monographs of Gray (1896) and Noth (1928). At the end of each monograph there is a list of names sorted according to the Hebrew alphabet (Gray 1896: 331-38; Noth 1928: 233-60). However, these lists were created more than eighty years ago and are missing many personal names from extra-biblical sources, such as ancient inscriptions and seals, which have been discovered since their appearance (Fowler 1988: 17).

Onomastic study examines Hebrew names in the wider context of the West Semitic world (Tadmor and Ahitu 1982: 31). The following review is limited to material presented in books and does not include journal articles: Huffmon (1965), Gelb (1980), and Streck (2000) have studied the Amorite names from Mari and other sites; Hess (1993), the Amarna personal names; Grondahl (1967), the Ugaritic names from Ras Shamra; Goldmann (1935), Stark (1971), and Hillers and Cussini (1996), the Palmyrene names from Palmyra; and Benz (1972), the Phoenician and Punic names.

Researchers of Hebrew names have considered various subgroups of names, such as theophoric names and biblical and/or extra-biblical names. They have emphasized different aspects, such as god names as theophoric elements and linguistic characteristics. Tigay studied pre-exilic personal names in order to understand the place of polytheism in the history of Israelite religion, since ancient names often reflect religious beliefs and the gods that were worshiped. Tigay collected and studied only theophoric names and only those from epigraphic artifacts, provenanced and unprovenanced. He found a very limited use of names with theophoric elements other than Yahweh (Tigay 1986: 11-17, 47-89).

Fowler collected and studied theophoric Hebrew names too. However, the names in her study are from both biblical and extra-biblical sources and cover a longer period of time: from the pre-Monarchical period to the post-Exilic period. She classified the biblical names (but not the extra-biblical ones) according to time period: pre-Monarchical, the United Monarchy, the Divided Monarchy, and Exilic and post-Exilic periods. She defined an additional period, represented by 1 Chronicles 23-27, as post-Exilic in content, although presented by the Chronicler as belonging to the Davidic period (Fowler 1988: 31). All the names, biblical and extra-biblical, are further classified according to their theophoric elements (prefixed or suffixed) and grammatical forms, e.g., nominal or verbal, imperatives, participles, and prepositions (ibid.: 333-64).

In the same year that Fowler's work appeared, Zadok published a study of pre-Hellenistic Israelite names. He concentrated on the linguistic structure of the names as well as on prosopography and collected all the names--biblical and extra-biblical, theophoric and non-theophoric--in cuneiform and alphabetic script (Zadok 1988: 1-2, 397-465). Zadok classified the names according to time period just as Fowler did--with one exception: The pre-Monarchical period is further divided into two periods: that of the Patriarchs (wandering and settlement) and that of the Judges (ibid.: 15-18).

Layton (1990) studied the archaic features of Canaanite personal names in the Bible. Andersen and Hess demonstrated the importance of personal names for the analysis of the authorship and composition of the Bible. Comparing the evolution of suffix elements of Yahweh (yhw, yh, yw) isolated in names from biblical texts to those from epigraphic texts, they found that names provide information about the likely origins of some of the historical texts of the Bible (Andersen and Hess 2007: 1-14).

Hess surveyed recent studies of Israelite personal names and pre-exilic Israelite religion (Hess 2007: 301-6). He also checked samplings of personal names from different periods and places within the Iron Age and found differences in the religious onomasticon between Israel and Judah. When compared with the neighboring states, these differences in naming practices are even more dramatic (ibid.: 306-10).

Recently, Albertz investigated Hebrew personal names as part of his study of family and household religion in ancient Israel and the Levant (Albertz and Schmitt 2012). In a previous study Albertz observed that names referring to the traditions of Israelite official religion, such as exodus, conquest, kingship, the Sinai, Zion or Bethel traditions, are almost nonexistent in biblical names. Instead the names reflect familial piety (Albertz 1978: 49-77). In his new study, Albertz and Schmitt explored the religious beliefs expressed predominantly in the predicative elements in epigraphically attested Hebrew personal names (biblical names are referred to only for comparison) (Albertz and Schmitt 2012: 505 table 5.2, 507 table 5.6). He collected 675 different personal names that appear 2922 times on ostraca, seals, bullae, and weights from the Iron II period (ibid.: 248-50, 505 table 5.1). For comparative purposes, names from the surrounding cultures--the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Arameans, and Phoenicians--were also collected (ibid.: 506 table 5.3, 509-13 tables 5.8-5.12). Further developing Noth's (1928) categorization of names, he grouped Hebrew names into the following six categories: 1) names of thanksgiving, 2) names of confession, 3) names of praise, 4) equating names, 5) birth names, and 6) secular names (ibid.: 250-54, 534-609, appendices B1-B6). A high rate of correspondence was found between verbs and nouns used in the personal names and verbs and nouns used in the individual prayers in the Bible, especially in Psalms.

Thus, the majority of Hebrew names reflect the religious crises of the family, predominantly the events connected to birth, and the family struggles for survival (ibid.: 482). The strikingly similar relative distributions of Hebrew, Ammonite, Moabite, Aramaic, and Phoenician names among the above six groups suggest that family religion in Israel followed the same basic structure as in the surrounding cultures during the Iron II period (ibid.: 258, 482-83). In addition, the theophoric elements of personal names--a god name or a divine appellative--were also investigated (ibid.: 339-67). In contrast with the predicate statements, different theophoric elements were found among the different Levantine groups and this reflects the varying religious environments of their societies (ibid.: 339-48).

More onomastic material from epigraphic artifacts in the Land of Israel and its neighbors appears in the following publications: Renz's book on ancient Hebrew epigraphy includes a list of all names from epigraphic artifacts (1995b: 53-87). The corpus of West Semitic stamp seals created by Avigad, revised and completed by Sass, includes a list of all seal names (Avigad and Sass 1997: 465-546). The corpus and concordance of ancient Hebrew inscriptions prepared by Davies lists personal names in the inscriptions (1991-2004). The collection of Hebrew inscriptions from the biblical period of the Monarchy, prepared by Dobbs-Allsopp et al., includes a list of all personal names in those inscriptions (2005: 583-622). The collection of ancient inscriptions from the Land of Israel and the kingdoms of Transjordan from the period of the First Temple, prepared by Ahitu, includes a list of all the names in the inscriptions (2008: 474-88, 502-4). The volumes of Donner and Rollig on Canaanite and Aramaic inscriptions include lists of Canaanite and Aramaean names (1964: 45-52, 53-56), and Sivan's book includes an investigation of West Semitic names in Bronze Age sources from Canaan and Syria (1984).


In terms of structure and content, personal names may be sorted into three categories: theophoric names, hypocoristic theophoric names, and other (Ahitu 2008: 474; Avigad and Sass 1997: 23-25; Porten 1982: 39-43). The first category is comprised of sentence names, either nominal or verbal, compounded with a god name or a divine appellative. Examples of god names so employed are Yahweh (yhw/yh/yw), Kemosh, and Qaus. Divine appellatives may indeed refer to a particular god, but we have no way to determine just which of the possible referents is intended. Common examples are 'dn ('lord'), mlk ('king'), and familial nouns like 'b ('father'), 'h ('brother'), 'm ('paternal uncle, kinsman'), and hm ('father-in-law on the mother's side') in which the god was perceived as a part of the family (Ahitu 2008: 474; Porten 1982; 39). El and Baal are both ambiguous. Baal is the name of the Canaanite storm god, but it is also the divine appellative Tord/master' and may refer to Yahweh (Tigay 1986: 14; Ahitu 2008: 328). El is the head of the Canaanite pantheon but is also the divine appellative 'god'. Nominal sentence names express one of the divine characteristics (Gdlyhw, "Yahweh was great"). Verbal sentence names express gratitude or supplication (Ahitu 2008: 474).

The second category of names is comprised of hypocoristic theophoric names. These are abbreviated theophoric names where the theophoric element was dropped (e.g., 'by, an abbreviation of 'byhw or 'by'l), and it is therefore impossible to tell what the theophoric element in a hypocoristic name originally was. The third...

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