Time to Study the Old Testament…Again – Part 8 – The Names

Jeff SpectorJews, Scriptural translation, scripture, women 16 Comments

One thing that has always intrigued me about the English version of the Old Testament were how the names, the Hebrew names, were modified away from a Hebrew pronunciation.  Sometimes the names are close and sometimes not even. The key to pronouncing a Hebrew name or any Hebrew word is that he accent is always syllable .

In some cases, a Greek/Latin pronunciation is used, in others, Middle English.

Here are some examples.

Testament name Language Hebrew Transliteration Other
Jesus Greek Ye-shu-a Joshua
Adam Middle English Ah-dom
Eve Latin Cha-vah
Noah Hebrew No-ach
Enoch Greek Cha-noch
Abram (Abraham) Hebrew Av-ram (Av-ra-hahm)
Cain Hebrew Ka-yin
Sarah Hebrew Sa-rah
Isaac Latin from Greek Yitz-chak
Rebecca Hebrew Riv-kah
Jacob Latin from Greek Ya-ah-kov
Rachel Hebrew Ra-chel
Joseph Latin from Greek Yo-sef
Judah Hebrew Ye-hu-dah
Moses Latin from Greek Mo-sheh
Jethro Hebrew Yit-ro
Aaron Latin from Greek Ah-ha-ron
Eli Hebrew A-lee
Samuel Latin from Greek Schmu-el
Deborah Hebrew Dev-or-ah
Hannah Hebrew Chan-nah
Saul Latin from Greek Sha-ool
Jonathan Hebrew Yon-a-tan
Elijah Hebrew El-e-yah-hoo
Elisha Hebrew El-e-shaw
Isaiah British English Ye-sha-ah-hoo
Jeremiah Latin from Greek Yirm-ya-hoo
Ruth Middle English Root
David Hebrew Dov-eed
Abigail Hebrew Av-i-ga-yil

It seems the furthest one away from the original is EVE. Her Hebrew name is Chavah (yes, like Fiddler on the Roof) and it means “Giving Life.” Because she is the “Mother of all living.” (Gen 3:20). Some have said that Eve was chosen because it is close to EVIL.” And early Christian belief is that the fall brought evil into this world and it was Eve’s fault. And we, as Latter-Day Saints know, nothing could be farther from the truth.

The rest seem nothing more than differences in transliteration from one language to another. However, the other set of names that has always amused me is Elijah and Elisha. People always seem to mix them up because in English pronunciation the names are similar, yet in Hebrew, it is very easy to tell them apart.  Eliyahoo versus Elisha.

Comments 16

  1. Another one (from the New Testament) that has always gotten me is James, whose actual name was Jacob or Jacobus. In the Spanish Bible, he is called Jacobo in every instance except in the book (actually epistle) written by him. In that case, he is called Santiago, which is somehow the Spanish version of the English name James which is an English version of the Hebrew name Jacob (But then why isn’t the son of Isaac in the OT called James?!) 🙂

  2. I’m curious about the name Joel.. has there been much variation to this one as well? Perhaps a better pronunciation would be something similar to Noel?

  3. It is precisely for this reason I love reading the Bible and scriptures in Arabic. Closely related languages Arabic and Hebrew, even in their modern incarnations, bringing out so much more meaning in my view.

  4. Does anyone recall the address by Joseph Smith, where (in speaking about how translation of the Bible often changed its meaning), he got quite worked up about the fact that the name the King James Version rendered as “James” was “Jakob” in a German Bible?

    That name in particular has always fascinated me, with its migration from Ya-ah-kov to the Latin Jacobus to Middle English Jacmus (basically, “Jacbus” said real fast and lazily) to Yames to James.

  5. What I would be interested in learning about as well, would be what were the motivations of the translators in perverting the names? What was their benefit?

  6. It wasn’t a benefit so much as what they were used to. Most of the names are close enough that it was transliteration as much as anything and pronunciation. I suppose if you want to get conspiratorial they could have been trying to “Christianize” the OT.

    After all, I doubt that Jesus Christ was rendered that way in reformed Eygptian…..

  7. #9 DBlock,

    “is Sariah the same as sarah?”

    not exactly. You may remember that as Avram’s name was change to Avraham, Sarah name’s was originally Sarai (Sah-rye). That’s pretty close to Sariah.

  8. are mormons taught the name etymologies? most christians have no idea, eg, that jesus’ name was not jesus or that it is also renedered joshua, apart from the actual yeshua/yeshu [ approximately ]

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