#51. Is the origin of the name Rebeun “Yahweh has seen” or “he will love me”? (Gen 29:32 vs Gen 29:32)
#52. Is the origin of the name Issachar “for I have hired you” or “God has granted me my reward”? (Gen 30:16 vs Gen 30:18)
#53. Is the origin of the name Zebulun “my man will bring me presents” or “God has given me a precious gift”? (Gen 30:20 vs Gen 30:20)
#54. Is the origin of the name Joseph “may Yahweh add” OR “God has removed”? (Gen 30:24 vs Gen 30:23)

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More fun with duplicate etymologies (see also: #37, #41, #44)!

In the ancient word, people told (and created) stories about the origins of names and what those names meant. There are numerous stories of this sort told in the Bible’s various different textual traditions. Not surprisingly all of the names of the children of Jacob, the eponymous twelve tribes of ancient Israel, were given fanciful etymologies where the meaning of each name was playfully related to a particular story or the circumstance of their birth. Here are some duplicate etymologies that we find cut-and-pasted together in Genesis 29:31-30:24.

The name Reuben—which literally translates “Look, a son”—is so named according to one tradition because “Yahweh saw, looked at” (ra’a be-) Leah’s sufferings, and according to another tradition because Jacob “will love me” (ye’ehabani).

Likewise, the meaning and origin of Issachar’s name according to J is “for I have hired you” (sakor sekartika), which is a direct reference to the mandrake story; and according to E’s textual tradition it is “God has granted me my reward” (sekari), which is derived from Leah’s reward for having provided her husband with a concubine.

Zebulun’s double etymology is given as “my man will bring me presents” (yizbeleni) from J, and “God has given me a precious gift” (zebadani zebed) from E.

Finally, there is Joseph’s duplicate etymology: J’s “may Yahweh add” (yosep) and E’s “God has removed” (’asap). To give the reader some idea about what is going on with the Hebrew in these etymologies, in the case of Joseph’s etymology, J has traced the name back to the root ysp, meaning “add,” and thus we get “may Yahweh add” (yosep) as an explanation of the name Yosep. E, on the other hand, traces the name back to the root ’sp, meaning “to take away,” and thus God “has removed” (’asap) becomes the explanation for Yosep.

Such fanciful stories were created to explain the meaning of an ancestral patriarch’s name. In all probability, or at least my fanciful contribution, the name Yoseph derives from yšb, “resident,” as a resident in a foreign land—a prominent theme of the Elohist’s Joseph. Furthermore, we again notice the Elohist’s emphasis on divine revelation since all of this tradition’s etymologies are traced to an action by God. This is a common feature of the Elohist, and we will see examples of it in the forthcoming stories about Jacob.

2 thoughts on “#51. Is the origin of the name Rebeun “Yahweh has seen” or “he will love me”? (Gen 29:32 vs Gen 29:32)
#52. Is the origin of the name Issachar “for I have hired you” or “God has granted me my reward”? (Gen 30:16 vs Gen 30:18)
#53. Is the origin of the name Zebulun “my man will bring me presents” or “God has given me a precious gift”? (Gen 30:20 vs Gen 30:20)
#54. Is the origin of the name Joseph “may Yahweh add” OR “God has removed”? (Gen 30:24 vs Gen 30:23)

  1. I just found out about this site recently, and I find it all fascinating. As a formerly religous person, I was taught that the Bible was completely harmonious and there were no contradictions in it at all (although I always thought the whole “you will not be punished for the sins of your fathers” thing was suspicious).

    I’m not quite sure how Gen 30:25 supports the meaning of Joseph’s name being “God has removed”. Perhaps it is just a matter of me not knowing the ancient Hebrew. My translation says:

    And it followed that when Rachel had given birth to Joseph, Jacob immediately said to La′ban: “Send me away that I may go to my place and to my country.”

    Could you elaborate a little more on this?

    1. Ninja,

      Welcome. Thanks for drawing my attention to this. The etymology “God has taken away/removed” is not in verse 25. My mistake. It’s in verse 23. I’ll fix this in the post’s title. Yes, unfortunately and quite lamentable, many modern religious groups toot axioms such as ‘the Bible contains no contradictions,’ while nevertheless being completely ignorant of the Bible’s many different, and often competing, texts and their authors and the historical and literary contexts from which they wrote. Studying the Bible leads one to see these things. Most lamentable, such stances are neglect of these matters, abusive and disingenuous to the texts, and attempt to affirm 21st century belief systems on the authority invoked in the word “Bible” itself, with little regard to the actual texts. These individuals display no desire to actually know these ancient texts, authors, audiences, and historical and literary worlds. So welcome aboard. Sorry for my rant; it’s been one of those days. That said, I would not use these fanciful etymologies to argue against the unfounded claims of modern fanatics. There are better and much more demonstrable examples here.

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