Dr. Alice C. Linsley
Names and titles of biblical persons have various etymologies. Some names of individuals refer to places or regions (toponyms) with which the persons are associated. Some examples include Elam (Gen. 10; Ezek. 32:24), Seir (Gen. 36; Is. 21:11; Ezek. 25:8 and 35:10), Uz (Gen. 10, 36:28), and Timna (Gen. 36:12; Josh. 15:10).
Some names are royal titles, some are Horus names, and some identify ancestors, both paternal and maternal.
As with Jewish names today, most biblical names fall into these categories:
Occupation: One of Abraham's nephews was named Tahash, meaning tanner.
Physical appearance: Adam means "Red Human", formed from red earth.
Economic and/or social status
Plant and animal (totems): The name Shobal (Gen. 36) refers to a young lion.
Allegiance or affiliation
When reading the Bible, it helps to be aware of names and titles. Some of the early Hebrew held royal titles such as Enoch
and Lamech. Enoch refers to one who succeeds as the ruler's proper heir. Lamech is related to the word Melek, meaning king. La-melech
appears on several thousand Egyptian and Hebrew seals (Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 95). Achimelech
means “brother of a king". The royal titles Enoch and Lamech are found in the king lists
of Genesis 4 (the line of Cain) and Genesis 5 (the line of Seth).
These early rulers were Hebrew and among them we find high-ranking persons with Horus names. Hur is an example. According to Midrash, Hur was Moses’ brother-in-law, the husband of Miriam. Hur’s grandson was one of the builders of the Tabernacle. I Chronicles 4:4 lists Hur as the "father of Bethlehem", an early Horite Hebrew settlement.
A chief of the tribe of Asher holds the Horus name Harnepher (1 Chronicles 7:36).
Another Horus name is Na-Hor, the name of Abraham's older brother. Nahor ruled over his father's territory in Paddan Aram when Terah died. In ancient Akkadian, Na is a modal prefix
indicating service to, affirmation, or affiliation. Na-Hor indicates that this man was a devotee of HR, which in ancient Egyptian refers to the Most-High God
HR also refers to the Son of God who the Greeks called Horus. His Horus name suggests that Nahor was a Horite Hebrew
. A prayer addressed to Horus says, "For you are he who oversees the gods, there is no god who oversees you!" (Ancient Pyramid Texts, Utterance 573)
A Horite priest (Sangu sa huru
- priest of Horus) is mentioned among five priests in an Assyrian document (SAAB 9 127) from the city of Assur. The document is dated to 639 B.C. The Horite priest is named Qibit-Assur.
Words for Priests
Some names indicate that the person was a priest. Examples include Terah and Korah. Terah/Tera is a very ancient word for priest. This image found by Flinders Petrie shows a Sethite Hebrew priest
. He is a priest (tera) devoted to God (Neter/Netjer).
The word Korah
refers to a priest who shaved his body as an act of ritual purification before his time of service at the temple or shrine. One of Esau's sons was named Korah (Gen. 36:5), as was Moses' brother who challenged his leadership (Num. 16).
Korah's descendants are praised in 1 Chronicles 26, where they are grouped with the gatekeepers of Obed-Edom. Obed-Edom is a connection to Ruth, who named her first-born son Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse, the father of David. This picks up the Messianic thread, pointing us back to the early Hebrew expectation of the Son of God who was coming into the world.
Another word for priest is the Hebrew ‘Kohen’, equivalent to the Arabic Khouri or Kahin and the Persian Kaahen or Kaahenaat which is translated "timeless being". Kahenat means priest in the Ethiopian Church.
Other ancient words for priests include harwa, sem, wabau, kalu (lamentation priest), hekau, and šangû. The Akkadian term šangû is the likely origin of the Latin word saguis and the English word sanguine, both referring to blood. The šangû probably offered animal sacrifice at royal sanctuaries.
According to Umberto Cassuto, the name Lamech is related to the Akkadian word lumakku
, meaning “priest” (Commentary on Genesis
, Vol. 1, p. 233). It also is related to the Hebrew word melek
, meaning “king”. Further, Lamech is related to the Akkadian words maklu
(burnt offering) and malku
(ruler-priest). The Lamech of Genesis 4 was a Hebrew ruler-priest.
A patronymic is a personal name based on the given name of one's father or a famous male ancestor. These names are identified by the word bar, meaning son or male descendant. In Numbers 13, Caleb is designated Kalev ben Jephunneh. 1 Chronicles 2:19 refers to Hur ben Kalev. Patronymics are common in the Hebrew Bible.
In some cases, high ranking women are also identified with a famous male ancestor. One example is Bath-Sheba, Solomon's mother. She was of the royal house of Sheba. This is why one of the entrance pillars of the Temple commemorates Jachin, a name associated with the clan of Sheba.
Patronymics are also found in the New Testament. An example is the name Bartholomew, the Aramaic patronymic Bar-Talmai.
A matronymic is a personal name based on the given name of one's mother, grandmother, or any female ancestor. Matronymics are not as common among the Hebrew as patronymics, but they do appear in the cases of Hebrew women of social influence, prestige, and wealth. An example is found with the Virgin Mary's full name: "Miriam Daughter of Joachim, Son of Pntjr". Some editions of the Talmud name Jesus as the son of a Roman soldier named Pantera, discrediting his miraculous conception as the Son of God. However, Pntjr refers to Joachim's mother, the maternal great grandmother of Jesus Messiah.
From pre-dynastic times among the Nilotic Hebrew, ntjr
designated God or the divine. The name Pntjr is Pa-Netjer, the name of Joachim’s mother. She must have been of high social status for a matronymic to be employed. That Panetjer is a matronymic is evident from a limestone stela
(1539-1291 B.C.) at the Brooklyn Museum bearing the names of Pekhty-nisu and his wife Panetjer. It is certain that Mary’s ancestors were high ranking ruler-priests because even those who hated her admit this in Sanhedrin 106a which claims: “She who was the descendant of princes and governors played the harlot with carpenters.”
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