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Vanities הבלים

(568 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name In Deuteronomistic religious polemics and related texts, ‘vanities’ ( hebelîm) indicate images of non-Yahwistic deities. It is impossible to establish the identity of the deities involved (Preuss 1971:160–164). Etymologically, hebel is related to words for ‘breath; vapour and nullity’. II. Identity Since it is not clear to which deities the term hebelîm refers, their character cannot be described. It is characteristic of the orthodox form of the Yahwistic religion in ancient Israel to designate ‘other deities’ in a disparaging way. This …


(548 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name The Hebrew noun šilluḥîm, ‘marriage gift’ (1 Kgs. 9.6), has been related etymologically with an alleged Ugaritic goddess Thillaḫuha. She is supposed to be one of the Kosharoth (de Moor 1970:200). II. Identity The Ugaritic myth which relates how the moon-god Yariḫu obtained his bride Nikkal ( KTU 1.24) is concluded by a hymn to the Kosharoth, the goddesses supervising delivery. This hymn is concluded by a list of seven words. This list is interpreted either as a list of seven nouns related to the process of marriage and parturition (Caqout et al. 1974:396–397) or as a list …

Sarah שׂרי

(397 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name The name of the matriarch Sarah śārâ ( Gen. 12–15; Gen. 49.31; Isa. 51.2), alternatively spelled śārāy ( Gen. 11–17), is derived from a noun * śarr- ‘sovereign; prince’, the name meaning ‘princess’ or the like (Zadok 1988:148; pace HALAT 1262). The Book of Tobit relates about another Sarah, daughter of Raguel destined to become the wife of Tobias ( Tob. 2.8–9). Several proposals have been made to connect Sarah with a goddess. II. Identity Sarah has been interpreted as the goddess of Machpelah (Cybele; Meyer 1906:270; Gressmann 1910:5). Gunkel connected the names of the …


(238 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name A deity Yaʿûq was worshipped by pre-Islamic Arabs. The personal names Yaʿăqān ( Num. 33.31, Num. 32; Deut. 10.6; 1 Chr. 1.42) and ʿăqān ( Gen. 36.27) have been interpreted as containing a reference to an animal deity worshipped by the Edomites (Roberston Smith 1912:455–483). II. Identity Islamic traditions refer to the cult of a deity Yaʿûq among the pre-islamic tribe of the Hamdān In the Yemenite village Ḫaiwān (North of Ṣan̂ā), there was a cult-centre. The Qurʾan Sure 71:20–25 and Ibn al-Kalbi’s Book of Idols (Klinke-Rosenberger 1942:35, 61) interpret the deity…

Day יום

(1,251 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name The Hebrew noun yôm, ‘day’, frequently occurs in the OT (2304 times; the Aram. cognate yôm occurs 16 times in Dan and Ezra). The noun has a common Semitic background and is not derived from a verb (von Soden, Bergman & Saebø 1982:561–562). At some instances in the OT ‘day’ is personified. This use of ‘day’ indicating a malevolent being construed as acting in history has some parallels in Mesopotamian texts. In Ugaritic, ym, to be distinguished from ym, ‘Sea’, is attested as a deity in the Baal-epic and occurs in a syllabic god-list. In the Old Aramaic Sefire-treaty ywm occurs as a dei…

Amalek עמלק

(304 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name In the Old Testament, the tribe of Amalek is one of Israel’s enemies of old ( Exod. 17.8–16; Num. 13.29 etc.). Their ancestor is seen as a grandson of Esau ( Gen. 36.12–16). Amalek can also designate a topographical area as in the expression har hāʿămālēqî ‘the mountain of the Amalekites’ ( Judg. 12.15). An etymological explanation of the name Amalek has been impossible until now (Weippert 1974:252). The suggestion has been made to relate the name Amalek to a mountain deity ḥmrq known from an Egyptian source (Görg 1987:14–15). II. Identity The Egyptian Leiden Magical Papyru…

Virgin בתולה

(703 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name In Hebrew two nouns occur which traditionally have been translated with ‘virgin’: ʿalmâ and bĕtûlâ. A convincing etymology of the noun ʿalmâ has not been given. The word has cognates in various Semitic languages; Ugar ǵlmt, ‘girl’; Phoen. ʿlmt;Aram. ʿljmt. The exact meaning of these words, however, is not easily established. The proposal of Dohmen (1987:172–173) who sees a relation—via Ugar ǵlm—between Heb. ʿalmâ and Akk./Semitic ṣlm, ‘image’ and proposes a semantic field including ‘image of’ and ‘image referring to’, is unlikely. The noun bĕtûlâ is etymologic…

Shem שׁם

(878 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name The name of Shem, one of the three sons of Noah, literally means ‘name’ ( Gen. 5.32; Gen. 6.10; Gen. 7.13; Gen. 9; Gen. 10; 1 Chron. 1; Sir. 49.16; HALAT 1435). šm occurs as a theophoric element in personal names from Ebla (Gordon 1988:153–154). A deity Shem is probably present as theophoric element in names like šĕmîdāʿ, Shemida ( Josh. 17.2; 1 Chron. 7.19), and šĕmûʾēl, Samuel (Jirku 1927). The name of this deity should be distinguished from the use of the noun šem as an hypostatical indication of Yahweh; Name. II. Identity In Mesopotamian personal names—mostly in Amori…


(709 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name The name of the city of Shunem, šûnēm, is attested in Josh. 18.19; 1 Sam. 28.4; 2 Kgs. 4.8 (see also the indication for inhabitants of that city * šûnammî, 1 Kgs. 1.3, 1 Kgs. 15; 1 Kgs. 2.17, 1 Kgs. 20–21; 2 Kgs. 4.12, 2 Kgs. 25, 2 Kgs. 36). The etymology is unclear ( HALAT 1339 offers no etymology), the name has been related to a Ugaritic deity Shunama occurring as an element in the binomial divine name Ṯkmn-w-Šnm (Ginsberg 1936:92; Jirku 1970). II. Identity The binomial deity Thakumanu-wa-Shunama is attested at Ugarit in literary-religious texts as well as in offer…

Blood דם

(738 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name Although nowhere deified, blood, Hebr dām, is seen in the OT as a liquid essential for animal and human life. In Ugaritic and Mesopotamian texts, mention is made of divine blood. In personal names from Ebla and Emar the theophoric element Damu is attested. The name of this deity has incorrectly been connected with the Semitic noun dm, ‘blood’. The name of the deity, however, is not etymologically related to the noun mentioned, but should be construed as related to the root d‘m, ‘to support’ (Lipińs-ki 1987:92–94). II. Identity In Ugaritic texts Anat threatens El that she wil…

Jordan Ἰορδάνης

(996 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name The name of the river of Jordan, ( hay) yardēn, occurs 177 times in the OT. In the NT Ἰορδάνης is attested 15 times. The etymology of the name is debated. A derivation from the root yrd, ‘to descend’, implying an interpretation ‘the river that comes down’ (e.g. Philo, Leg. All. II:89; b Bech 55a; BDB 432–434) probably rests on popular etymology. Generally, the name is interpreted as non-Semitic in origin. One proposal connects the element dan with Indo-Iranian don, ‘river’ (cf. e.g. Danube; Djnepr) and interprets yar- as related to Indo-european ‘year’. The name then woul…

Rapha רפה

(277 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name In 2 Sam. 21.16, 2 Sam. 18, 2 Sam. 20, 2 Sam. 22 (// 1 Chron. 20.4, 1 Chron. 6, 1 Chron. 8) mention is made of rāpâ, ‘Rapha’, the ancestor of various warriors who battled with David. Rapha has been connected to the Rephaim and interpreted as a deity whose cult centre was in Gath (L’Heureux 1974; McCarter 1983:449–450; HALAT 1191). II. Identity 2 Sam. 21.15–22 relates quarrels between David and a group of Philistine warriors: Jisni-Benob; Saph and an anonymous giant with six fingers on each hand. They are presented as yĕlîdê hārāpâ, ‘descendants of Rapha’. Willeson (1958) interp…

Yehud יהוד

(461 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name The name Judah, yĕhûdâ, occurs over 800 times in the OT and indicates (1) a person, e.g. the fourth son of Jacob; (2) the tribe Judah; (3) the kingdom governed by the dynasty of David; (4) a province in the Persian empire. The etymology of the name is still unsettled. The name has been construed as containing a theophoric element: e.g. J. Hempel ( BHH II, 898) interprets the name as a hypocoristicon of yĕhûd-ʾēl, ‘Praised be El’. A. Alt (Der Gott der Väter, KS I [München 1953] 5 n.1) suggested that Judah originally was a place name. The general tendency in OT studie…

Exalted Ones שׁנים

(550 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name The expression bĕqereb šānîm, occurring twice in Hab. 3.2 and traditionally rendered as ‘within years; in the midst of the years’ or the like ( HALAT 1478), has been interpreted as referring to deities: ‘when the Exalted Ones are approaching …’ (Reider 1954; Wieder 1974) or as an epithet for Yahweh ‘The Exalted One’ (Haak 1992). This proposal is connected with the interpretation of a Ugaritic epithet for El ab šnm which is then supposed to mean ‘Father of the Exalted Ones’. II. Identity The translation ‘father of the years’ for ab šnm read as * abu šanima being an epithet for E…

Girl נערה

(422 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name The identity of ‘the Girl’ in the phrase “A man and his father go to the girl” ( Amos 2.7) is most probably solved when interpreted as a depreciative designation of a female deity, perhaps Ashima (Andersen & Freedman 1989:318–319) or Ashera. II. Identity The identity of the deity being unknown, it is impossible to provide information about her. In the ancient Near East comparable words can be used when referring to the feminine deity: in Mesopotamian hymns related to marriage between Ishtar and Dumuzi (Tammuz) the goddess is presented as a young nubile woman (Wilcke 1976–80:84); in …

Japheth יפת

(516 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name The personal name Yepet/Japheth ( Gen. 5.32; Gen. 6.10; Gen. 7.13; Gen. 9.18–27; Gen. 10.1, Gen. 2, Gen. 21; 1 Chron. 1.4, 1 Chron. 5; Jdt. 2.25 refers to a place name Japheth), does not have a clear Semitic etymology, except for the popular interpretation found in Gen. 9.27: yapt ʾĕlōhîm lĕyepet, “May God enlarge Japheth”, suggesting a connection between the name and I pth ‘to enlarge’ ( HALAT 405–406; Layton 1990: 90). A relation with II pth ‘to be youthful’ or with yph, ‘to be beautiful’, is also possible, though (Isaac 1992:641). Japheth has been compared with the Greek …


(928 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name The name of the Ugaritic deity Thukamuna, occurring as element in the binomial divine name Ṯkmn-w-Šnm, has etymologically been related to the Hebrew noun šĕkem (Ginsberg 1936:92; Wyatt 1990:446–449). šĕkem occurs in the OT as a noun meaning ‘shoulder; back’ (22 times; cf. Ug. škm, ‘shoulder’ e.g. KTU 1.14 ii:11; iii:54; 1.22 i:5); as a toponym Shechem located in the highlands of Ephraim (e.g. Gen. 12.6; Gen. 33.18; Gen. 35.4; Gen. 37.12, Gen. 14; Josh. 17.7; Josh. 20.7; Josh. 21.21; Josh. 24.1, Josh. 25, Josh. 32; Judg. 8.31; Judg. 9; Judg. 21.19) and as a personal name …

Hubal הבל

(434 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name As used in Deuteronomistic polemics, Hebrew הבל, vocalized hebel, has been interpreted as a divine name. Identified as a putative Canaanite fertility god *Hubal, he has been equated with the pre-Islamic central-Arabian deity Hubal (Barstad 1978). II. Identity Hubal was a central-Arabian deity. His cult has endured until today. A statue of Hubal is still standing near the Kaʿba in Mecca. He has been related to divination. An arrow oracle of Hubal has been famous (Fahd 1958:54–79; Höfner, WbMyth. 1/I 447–448). In a Nabataean inscription a deity hblw occurs between Dusares and Manā…

Breasts and Womb שׁדים ורחם

(680 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name The expression šādayim wārāḥam, ‘Breasts and Womb’, ( Gen. 49.25) has been interpreted as an epithet echoing Ugaritic titles of the goddesses Anat and Asherah (Vawter 1955; M. O’ Connor, Hebrew Verse Structure [Winona Lake 1980] 178; Smith 1990:17). II. Identity In a para-mythological text from Ugarit, it is said that the deities Shahar and Shalim are to be seen as those ‘sucking the nipple ( ap; lit. ‘nose’) of the breast ( ḏd// zd) of Athiratu’ ( KTU 1.23:24, 59, 61). In the epic of Keret, Ilu promises Keret that his future son will ‘suck the breast ( ṯd) of Virgin Anat’ ( KTU 1.15 …


(388 words)

Author(s): B. Becking
I. Name The personal name ʾašḥûr, Ashhur (1 Chron. 2.24; 1 Chron. 4.5)—traditionally construed as a derivation from the root šḥr, ‘to be black’ ( HALAT 91)—has been interpreted by Cassuto (1947:472) as “belonging to Išḫara”. Išḫara is known as a Babylonian goddess. II. Identity Išhara, d Iš-ḫa-ra, also written Aš-ḫa-ra and Eš-ḫa-ra, is one of the names for Inanna/Ishtar. In Atr. I 301–304 and Gilg. II ii 35–50 mention is made of a ‘bed laid for Išhara’. From this it can be inferred that Ishtar was called Išhara during the marriage rites. Therefore, she can be depi…
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