Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Names in Scripture

The following  is taken from a posting by Richard Fellows.

I thought it had some good ideas to ponder.

New names are given to people in all cultures and in all centuries, but the frequency and style of naming does vary. The practice is common among Buddhists, Bahais, and Muslims, for example, as well as popes and monks. In ancient Egypt Amenhotep IV became "Akhenaten", Nefertiti became"Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti" and Tutankhaton became "Tutankhamen", all receiving new names for religious reasons.

The Jewish practice of giving new names is shown in the Bible. In the OT we have several examples of individuals who received a new name. Abram-Abraham, Sarai-Sarah, Jacob-Israel, Joseph-Zaphenathpaneah (Gen41:44-45), Hoshea-Joshua, Gideon-Jerubba'al, Eliakim-Jehoiakim (2 Kings23:34), Mattaniah-Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17), Solomon-Jedidiah (2 Sam 12:25),Naomi-Mara (Ruth 1:20), and Daniel and his three friends in the King’s court.

For our purposes it matters little how historic these examples are: they teach us about renaming in the Jewish tradition. Those who have commented on OT renaming are unanimous that the giving of a name was the prerogative of a superior (1) and in such cases it signified the appointment of the person named to some specific position,function, relationship or destiny.

(2)Eissfeldt writes: The naming of places and persons, and so too their renaming, is a privilege of high importance, not only in the Old Testament, but at all times and in all areas. Here we are concerned with a right which expresses the authority which the one who gives the name or who renames exerts over the one who is named or renamed. The way in which this right is revealed may differ: it may in one instance indicate conquest, and even exploitation of the one named or renamed, it may carry with it protection and patronage. ... the latter is undoubtedly the case in the word of Yahweh to Israel in Isa. 43:1 'Fear not! I have redeemed you, named you with your name, you are mine.' (Hebrew translation)

(1)Eissfeldt "Renaming in the Old Testament" in Words and Meanings p 70;
(2)The New Bible Dictionary p 862.The vocabulary of the Bible p 278; The New Bible Dictionary p 862; TheInterpreters Bible p 779 n 45; Lane, The Gospel According to Mark p 134; The JPS Torah Commentary on Genesis p124.

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