Trinity Journal 1 NS (1980) 5-20
Copyright © 1980 by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Cited with permission.
EXODUS 3:14 AND THE DIVINE NAME:
A CASE OF BIBLICAL PARONOMASIA
BARRY J. BEITZEL
TRINITY EVANGELICAL DIVINITY SCHOOL
I. The Device of Paronomasia in the Old Testament
In its broadest definition, paronomasia is a comprehensive term first
employed by ancient Greek scholastics when referring to rhetorical devices
designed to engage and retain the attention of an audience. This extremely
persuasive literary embellishment was so-called because one word was "brought
alongside" (lit. "to name beside") of another which appeared or sounded
similar or identical--thus producing an aura of literary ambiguity--but which
was actually quite different in origin and meaning.1
Paronomasia is a common ancient Near Eastern phenomenon, specimens of
which are preserved in Mesopotamian,2 Egyptian3 and Arabic4 literatures. It is
also attested in the New Testament5 and post-Biblical6 corpora.
1 adnominatio in Latin; tajnis in Arabic.
2 The reader is referred to M. Fishbane, "The Qumran Pesher and Traits of Ancient
Hermeneutics," Proceedings of the VIth World Congress of Jewish Studies (Jerusalem:
World Union of Jewish Studies, 1977) 97-114.
3 Examples have been collected by L. Peeters, "Pour une interpretation du jeu de
mots," Semitics 2 (1971-72) 127-42.
4 Consult the discussions of G. M. Redslob, Die Arabischen Worter mit
entgegengesetzten Bedeutungen (Hamburg: Meissner, 1873); W. C. F. Giese,
Untersuchungen uber die ‘addad auf Grund von Stellen in altarabischen Dichtern (Berlin:
S. Calvary, 1894); T. Noldeke, "Worter mit Gegensinn," Neue Beitrage zur semitischen
Sprachwissenschaft (Strassburg: Trubner, 1910).
5M. Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts (3d ed.; Oxford: Clarendon,
1967) 160-85; E. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (London: Eyre &
Spottiswoode, 1898 [repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968]). What seems to this writer to be
an important New Testament example of paronomasia is not cited by Bullinger. The word
Jerusalem translates two Greek words Ierousalem and Hierosoluma. The former is simply a
Greek transliteration of the Old Testament Aramaic form, whereas the latter reflects the
word hieros, "holy," representing an instance of Hellenistic paronomasia, but having
correspondence neither with the Semitic root nor with the city's historical reality.
6Cf. F. Domseiff, Das Alphabet in Mystik und Magie (2d ed.; Leipzig/Berlin: Teubner,
1925); R. Marcus, Alphabetic Acrostics in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods," JNES 6
(1947) 109-115; S. Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York: Jewish
Theological Society, 1950); M. Steinschneider, Jewish Literature (2d ed.; Hildesheim:
Olms, 1960); Jewish Encyclopedia 1.424-25; EncJud 2. §§ 229-32, 7. §§ 369-74.
6 TRINITY JOURNAL
Though regarded by contemporary Westerners only as an appropriate form
of comedy, paronomasia is characteristically utilized in the Old Testament to
arouse curiosity or to heighten the effect of a particularly solemn or important
pronouncement, in this way permanently and indelibly impressing the
proclamation upon the memory of an audience.7 This essay will consider the
two foci of paronomastic types--visual and oral--and advance a paronomastic
explanation of Exodus 3:14.
Visual paronomasia, tending to be intellectual, if not esoteric, includes the
following varieties: (1) Gematria. In Biblical Hebrew, a numerical equivalent
existed for each letter of the alphabet (e.g. ' =1, b=2, etc.). Gematria normally
defines a cryptograph in the form of a word or cluster of words which, through
the calculation of their combined numerical values, discloses an otherwise-
concealed meaning. For instance, David, whose gematria is 14, is listed 14th in
the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1) and the employment of his gematria is
reinforced by the prominent role which the number 14 plays later in this
chapter (v 17). Gad, with a gematria of 7, is reckoned 7th in the tribal listing of
Genesis 46, where 7 sons are ascribed to him. The first collection of Solomonic
Proverbs (10:1-22:16) is introduced with the expression misle selomoh, the
gematrial total of which is 375. Hence, it is not surprising that one discovers
precisely the same number of Proverbs comprising this section of the book.8
Some writers see in the "318" servants of Abraham (Gen 14:14) a gematria for
Eliezer, the servant of Abraham (15:2), and in the "603,550" people delivered
from Egypt (Num 1 :46) a gematria for bene yisra'el kol ros, "the children of
7 Studies devoted to the paronomastic phenomenon in the Old Testament include the
following: I. M. Casanowicz, "Paronomasia in the Old Testament," JBL 12 (1893) 105-67;
G. B. Gray, Studies in Hebrew Proper Names (London: Black, 1896); E. W. Bullinger,
Figures of Speech; H. Reckendorff, Uber Paronomane in den semitischen Sprachen. Ein
Beitrag zur allgemeinen Sprachwisrenschaft (Giessen: Topelmarm, 1909); A. Murtonen, A
Philological and Literary Treastise on the Old Testament Divine Names (StudOr 18;
Helsinki: Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seuran kirjapainon, 1952); F. de Llagre Bohl,
“Wortspiele in Alten Testament," Opera minora (1953) 11-25; A. Guillaume,
"Paronomasia in the Old Testament," JSS 9 (1964) 282-90; A. F. Key, "The Giving of
Proper Names in the Old Testament," JBL 83 (1964) 55-9; M. Noth, Die israelitischen
Personnenamen im Rahmen der gemeinsemitischen Namengebung (Hildesheim: Olms,
1966); D. F. Payne, "Characteristic Word Play in 'Second Isaiah': A Re-appraisal," JSS 12
(1967) 207-29; W. Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies (2d ed.; London: Macmillan, 1870
[repr., Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1968]) 561-66; C. M. Carmichael, "Some Sayings in Genesis
49," JBL 88 (1969) 435-44; J. J. Gluck, "Paronomasia in Biblical Literature," Semitics 1
(1970) 50-78; W. L. Holladay, "Form and Word-Play in David's Lament Over Saul and
Jonathan," VT 20 (1970) 153-89; I. H. Eybers, "The Use of Proper Names as a stylistic
device," Semitics 2 (1971-72) 82-92; L. Peeters, "Pour une interpretation;" J. F. A.
Sawyer, "The Place of Folk-Linguistics in Biblical Interpretation," Proceedings of the Vth
World Congress of Jewish Studies (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1973)
109-13; J. M. Sasson, "Wordplay in the OT," IDBSup 968-70.
8According to the count of codex Vaticanus. For this reference, I am indebted to my
colleague, Professor Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.
BEITZEL: EXODUS 3: 14 AND THE DIVINE NAME 7
Israel, every individual."9
(2) Atbash. Atbash is an oratorical device according to which letters of one
or more words, counted from the beginning of the alphabet, are exchanged for
corresponding letters counted from the end of the alphabet (e.g.' = t, b = s, etc.).
Embedded in Jeremiah's grim oracle of doom directed against Babylon and the
king of Babylon (chaps. 50-1) is the enigmatic Sheshak (51:41). Enigmatic,
that is, until one recognizes that the letters which comprise the word ssk are
actually atbash for bbl, "Babylon" (cf. 25:26). In this same chapter (v 1),
Jeremiah describes the inhabitants of Babylon by means of the otherwise-
mysterious lb qmy which, through atbash, becomes ks'dym, "Chaldeans,"
known to have been contemporary inhabitants of the great city. It is suggested
that the hapax legomenon kbwl of 1 Kings 9:13, traditionally transliterated
"Cabul," is to be understood as atbash for lspk, "worthless land."10
(3) Acrostic. Biblical literature displays a paronomastic device in which
successive or alternating verses, or cluster of verses, begin with the letters of the
Hebrew alphabet in sequence. A complete acrostic sequence may be found in
Psalms 111, 112, 119, 145!;11 Proverbs 31:10-31 and Lamentations 1, 2, 3, 4.12
(4) Notrikon. This term defines the concept in which letters of a word are
considered as abbreviations for a series of words. Hence, 'yk, "how" (Jer 3:19)
is said to represent a notrikon for '[amen] y[hwh] k[i], "Amen, O Yahweh
for," and hmh, "this" (Jer 7:4) is a notrikonic representation for h[am]
m[aqom] h[azzeh] , "this place."
(5) Acronymy. The opposite of notrikon, an acronym is formed when the
initial letter of each of the successive words in a series is extracted to form a
separate word. Acronymy is beautifully illustrated in Esther 5:4. In context,
the heroine has just risked her life to plead the case of her betrayed people.
The dramatic suspense reaches a climax when, in response to the king's query,
Esther's first sentence of intercession includes the words y[abo] h[ammelek]
w[ehaman] h[ayyom], "let the king and Haman come today." Now the
writer, realizing full well that the book inevitably would be translated into
9 Cf. EncJud 7. § § 369-70. The use of letters to signify numbers was known to other
Semitic peoples. An inscription of Sargon II (722-705) states that this king extended the
wall of his capital city to 16,283 cubits, which corresponds to Sargon's personal gematria.
Rabbinic scholarship also indulged in this oratorical device; based upon a gematrial
interpretation of the phrase 'elleh-haddebarim, "these are the words" (Exod 35:1), they
argue that there were 39 categories of work forbidden on the sabbath. One recalls that the
painstaking statistical work undertaken by Massoretes, including the counting of verses,
words and letters for each book of the Old Testament, was recorded in the Massorah
finalis, where such detailed data was somewhat unsusceptable to textual corruption, owing
to the employment of gematria.
10Variations of atbash advanced by others include atbah (i.e. t is substituted for ', h for
b, etc.) and cipher (i.e. reversing the letters of a word and then suggesting that the
following letter in the alphabet was actually intended). Using the latter method, some
writers suggest that the intended subject of the prophecy of Ezekiel 38-9 is Babylon [bbl],
and that Magog [mgg] is to be interpreted in the text only as a cipher for Babylon.
11 The nun verse, omitted in the MT, is attested at Qumran, cf. J. A. Sanders, The Dead
Sea Psalms Scroll (Ithaca: Cornell University, 1967) 66, lines 2-3.
12Partial acrostics occur in Psalms 9-10, 25, 34, 37; and Nahum 1.
8 TRINITY JOURNAL
Persian, and wishing to preserve the divine name from Persianized profanation,
wrote the entire book without its inclusion. However, in this critical passage,
the Lord is present, if oratorically by way of the acronymic reference yhwh, in
a form which cannot possibly be distorted by a Persian writer.13
(6) Anastrophe. In this type of paronomasia, the usual syntactical order is
inverted for oratorical effect or emphasis. Though examples of this device
abound in the Scriptures, it is poignantly employed in Gen 1:2. Here one
observes that, after verse 1, the chapter is decidedly geocentric. And it is the
anastrophic function of weha'ares at the beginning of verse 2 which
rhetorically signals this orientation for the balance of the chapter.
Alternatively, the name of the patriarch Noah is purposely placed at the end of
a verbal sentence in order to underscore a relationship with the admired
ancestor Enoch. One reads 'et-ha'elohim hithallek-noah, "and Noah walked
with God," (Gen 6:9), and observes that the last three radicals, read backwards
[hnk], spell the name Enoch, known also for walking with God (Gen 5:22-4).14
(7) Epanastrophe. Here the final syllable of one word is reproduced in the
first syllable of the word which immediately follows. For example, takossu
'a1-hasseh / seh tamim, "you should compute for the lamb / (your) lamb
should be whole" (Exod 12:4-5); bene-yisra'e1 beyad ramah le ‘ene kol-
misrayim / umisrayim meqabberim ‘et . . . kol-bekor, "the children of Israel
went out triumphantly before all the Egyptians / while the Egyptians were
burying. . . all (their) firstborn" (Num 33:3-4); welir’ot sehem-behemah
hemmah lahem, "to show them that they are but beasts" (Eccl 3:18); or the
constantly recurring phraseology, paras reset leraglay, "he has spread a net for
my feet" (Lam 1:13; Prov 25:13; cf. Ezek 18-20); and finally ‘oyaw ‘albis
boset, "I will clothe his enemies with shame" (Ps 132:18; cf. Job 8:22).15
Oral paronomasia depends upon the similarity of sounds to provide a
meaning or to draw an image other than that expected in the context. The
terminology is adopted from Gluck.16
(1) Equivocal. This type of paronomasia depends on the literary paradox of
homonymy, that is, the similarity of sound between varying words, illustrated
in the mene, mene, teqel, parsin passage of Daniel 5. Daniel announces,
"mene’, God has numbered [menah] . . . your kingdom," "teqel, you have
been weighed [teqiltah] . . . and found wanting," "peres, your kingdom is
divided" [perisat]. Other eloquent expressions of equivocal paronomasia
include yhwh seba’ot . . . wehayah . . . ulsur miksol . . . te’udah,
"Yahweh Seba'ot . . . will become a rock offense. . . / (therefore) bind up the
testimony" (Isa 8:14, 16); wehahemar hayah lahem lahomer, "and they had
bitumen for mortar" (Gen 11:3);17 and beti ‘aser-hu’ hareb . . . wa’eqra’
14 The reader will fmd a fuller discussion in J. M. Sasson, "Word-Play in Gen 6:8-9,"
CBQ 37 (1975) 165-66; cf. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 699-700.
15 It is sometimes suggested that lahem hallbenah le’aben, "they had brick for stone"
(Gen 11 :4), illustrates the epanastrophic principle.
16J. J. Gluck, Semitics 1 (1970) 50-78.
17Cf. G. von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (rev. ed.; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972) 148-49.
BEITZEL: EXODUS 3: 14 AND THE DMNE NAME 9
horeb ‘al-ha'ares, "my house is a desolation. . . I have called a drought on the
earth" (Hag 1:9, 11); and watta ‘as ha’ares beseba’ hassaba’ leqmasim,
"during the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth abundantly" (Gen 41:47).
Sometimes homonymy that allows for such punning occurs when
consonants which are phonemically disparate in proto-Semitic fall together in
Hebrew, e.g. hereb 'al-kasdim . . . horeb 'el-memeha, "a sword (HRB) upon
the Chaldeans . . . a drought (HRB) upon her water" (Jer 50:35, 38); we’anah
‘iyyim be’almenotaw . . . weqarob laba' 'ittah, "hyenas will cry (GNH) in its
towers . . . its time (‘NH) is close at hand" (Isa 13:22; cf Jer 51:14, 18; Pss
88:1, 10; 119:153, 172).18
(2) Metaphony. Metaphonic wordplay is facilitated by the occurrence of
verbal forms in which a change in stem conjugation does not affect the
consonantal root but introduces a vowel mutation which alters, sometimes
radically, the nature of the act described. maqqel saqed 'ani ro’eh. . . /
ki-soqed ‘ani, "I see a rod of almond. . . / for I am watching" (Jer 1:11, 12);
kelub qayis . . . / ba’ haqqes 'el-'ammi; "a basket of summer fruit . . . / the
end has come upon my people" (Amos 8:1, 2); 'im lo’ ta’aminu ki lo'
te’amenu, "if you do not believe, then you will no longer be established" (Isa
7:9); wahasimmoti ‘ani ‘et-ha 'ares wesamemu 'aleha ‘oyebekem hayyosebim
bah, "I will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it will be
astonished at it" (Lev 26:32). A somewhat more sophisticated instance of
metaphonic wordplay is to be found in Gen 26:8. Isaac's name, which in Gen
17:17, 19; 21:6 had been associated with its cognate verb "to laugh" (SHQ), is
read here as follows: wehinneh yishaq mesaheq 'et ribqah 'isto, "Isaac was
fondling Rebekah his wife."
(3) Parasonance. This type of paronomasia involves the use of verbal and
nominal roots which differ in one of their three radicals. This device is
profusely illustrated in Judg 5:19-21. Here the kings of Canaan fought, heaven
fought and the stars fought [nilhamu] (LHM) against Sisera while the torrent
Kishon, the mighty onrushing torrent [nahal] (NHL) swept him away. The
Lord frequently promises, "I will bring again [sabti] (SWB) the captivity
[sebut] (SBY) of my people.19 Parasonancy is artfully employed elsewhere:
"Yahweh seba’ot looked for justice [mispat], but there was only bloodshed
[mispat],20 for righteousness [sedaqah], but there was only a cry [se’aqah]
(Isa 5:7); qamah 'en-lo semah beli ya ‘aseh-qqemah, "standing grain has no
heads, it will yield no meal" (Hos 8:7); haggilgal galah yigleh, "Gilgal will
surely go into exile" (Amos 5:5); kime noah. . . me noah, "like the days of
Noah . . . the water of Noah" (Isa 54:9); wesama ‘ta yisra’el wesamarta
La’asot, "hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do [my commandments]"
(Deut 6:3); weteben lo’-yinnaten lakem wetoken rebenim tittenu, "no straw
shall be given you, yet you shall deliver the same number of bricks" (Exod
18 C. Fritsch, "Homophony in the Septuagint," Proceedings of the VIth World Congress
of Jewish Studies (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1977) 115-20.
19 This formula is recorded some 26 times in Scripture.
20 This word is a hapax legomenon.
10 TRINITY JOURNAL
But perhaps the most widespread use of parasonancy is to be found in
word plays upon proper names. Very often, assignment of the names of Biblical
characters, tribes, places and episodes is made to suggest a characteristic
attributed to them or an important event associated with them.22 Babel
[babel] (BBL) received its name because it was the place of confusion, [balal]
(BLL) (Gen 11:9); the first female was called woman ['issah] ('NS) because
she was taken from man ['is] ('YS) (Gen 2:23);23 Cain [qayin] (QYN) was
so named because his mother claimed to have gotten [qaniti] (QNY) a man
with the help of the Lord (Gen 4:1).24 At times, double parasonancy is
employed with proper names. Gad [gad] was named at birth because of his
mother's good fortune [bagad] (Gen 30:11), and later in life he is called a raider
[gedud] (Gen 49:19). Because Jacob took hold of Esau's heel [ba 'aqeb] (Gen
25:26) he was named Jacob [ya 'aqob] , but later Esau claimed that Jacob had
been named aright because he had beguiled [wayya' qebeni] (Gen 27:36) his
older brother. Though examples of punning proper names could be multiplied,
it should be clear from these cited that one is dealing with words which exhibit
a paronomastic relationship, and not an etymological one.
A more complicated form of parasonance is the type in which radicals of
one word are found in another word in a differing order: "He delivers
(yehalles) the afflicted by their affliction, and opens their ears by adversity
(ballahas)" (Job 36:15); "All my enemies shall be ashamed (yebosu) and sorely
troubied, they shall turn back (yasubu) and be put to shame (yebosu) in a
moment" (Ps 6:10 [H 11]); "Noah (noah) found grace (hen) in the eyes of the
Lord" (Gen 6:8). One is tempted to see an example of this type of
parasonancy in Genesis 32:24 [H 25]: "And Jacob (ya'aqob) was left alone,
and a man wrestled (ye'abeq) with him until daybreak."
(4) Farrago. This form of paronomasia defines somewhat confused and
often ungrammatical wording which gains meaning only because of context. A
characteristic of farrago is that some of the elements display a tendency to
rhyme (e.g. "hodge-podge," "helter-skelter"). Farragonic examples from the
Scripture include maher salal has baz, the son of Isaiah (Isa 8:1, 3); tohu
wabohu "without form and void" (Gen 1:2); 'et-ha'urim we'et-hattummim,
"Urim and Thummim" (Exod 28:30); uben-meseq beti hu' dammeseq
'eli'ezer, "the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus" (Gen 15 :2); ben sorer
umoreh, "a stubborn and rebellious son" (Deut 21: 18, 20).
(5) Assonance. Words may be strung together primarily for oral effect
rather than furthering the meaning of the phraseology. Isaiah seems to have
21Parasonance becomes the vehicle to convey the poignant outpouring of Micah's grief (1:10-5).
22J. Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture (2 vols.; London: Cumberlege, 1926 [repr.
1954]) 1.245-59. He succinctly states: "To know the name of a man is the same as to
know his essence. . . the name is the soul" (245).
230ne observes that "man" and "woman" do not derive from the same root. Moreover,
it should be pointed out that the character of the shin in these 2 words is phonemically
different in proto-Semitic: in the former case it is a proto-Semitic and * and in the latter
case a proto-Semitic *S.
24The petros/petra passage in Matthew 16 closely resembles this classification.
BEITZEL: EXODUS 3: 14 AND THE DNINE NAME 11
been particularily fond of this rhetorical device: wa'omar razt-li razi-li 'oy li
bogedim bagadu ubeged bogedim bagadu / pahad wapahat wapah 'aleka yoseb
ha'ares. "But I say, 'I pine away, I pine away. Woe is me, for the treacherous
deal very treacherously.' / Terror, and the pit, and the snare are upon you, 0
inhabitants of the earth" (Isa 24: 16-7); hakkemakkat makkehu hikkahu
'im-kehereg harugaw horag, "Did he smite him with the same blows as his
smiters smote him? Was he slain in the same way as those he had slain?" (Isa
27:7); hitmahmehu utemahu hista 'as 'u waso'u, "Tarry and be astonished,
blind yourselves and be blind!" (Isa 29:9). Other instances of assonantic
paronomasia include yitten yhwh 'et-metar 'arseka 'abaq we'apar, "Yahweh
will make the rain of your land powder and dust" (Deut 28:24); sam sepatam
'aser lo' yisme'u 'is sepat re'ehu, "there [confuse] their language, that they
may not understand one another's speech" (Gen 11 :7); gad gedud yegudennu
wehu/yagud 'aqeb, "raiders shall raid Gad, but he shall raid at their heels"
(6) Onomatopoeia. This term involves the formation and use of words in
imitation of natural sounds, beautifully illustrated by the gibberish of foreign
tongues in Isaiah 28:10, 13: saw lastaw saw lasaw qaw laqaw qaw laqaw ze'er
sam ze'er sam, "precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line,
line upon line, here a little, there a little."25 Other examples of onomatopoeia
include: 'az halemu 'qqebe-sus middahot daharot 'abbiraw, "then loud beat
the horses' hoofs with the galloping, galloping of his steeds" (Judg 5:22);
welo' hayah noded kanap uposeh peh umsapsep, "and there was none that
moved a wing or opened the mouth or chirped" (Isa 10:14).
(7) Antanclasis. The same word or words, when repeated, sometimes
requires different renditions: "I saw the tears of the oppressed, and there was
no one to comfort them [we'en lahem menahem], strength was on the side of
their oppressors, and there was no one to avenge them [we'en lahem
menahem]" (Eccl 4:1); hitrapptta beyom sarah sar kohekah, "If you faint in
the day of adversity, your strength is small" (Prov 24: 10); 'en qol 'anot
geburah we'en qol 'anot halusah qol 'annot 'anoki somea, "it is not the
sound of the shout of victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but it is the
sound of singing that I hear" (Exod 32:18).
The Biblical narratives also benefit from paronomastic displays extending
beyond the confines of an immediate context. A few such wordplays, called
extended paronomasia, deserve mention here. Launching a propaganda assault
calculated to demonstrate the ineptitude of Hezekiah, the emissaries of
Sennacherib charge, in effect: Hezekiah had to pay tribute (NS') to us, don't
let him deceive (NS') you with words! (2 Kgs 18:14, 29; cf. 19:4, 22). The
text of Genesis 3 supplies further expressions of this paronomastic device. A
clever ['arum, 1] serpent leads the couple to sin and become naked
['erummim, 7] and to be cursed ['arur, 14]; because the woman had eaten
from the tree ['es, 6] she must experience pain ['issabon, 16] in childbirth.
25Casanowicz, 105, incorrectly limits paronomasia to the oral dimension and rules out
this passage from consideration.
12 TRINITY JOURNAL
Cassuto26 points out a skillful contrivance of extended paronomasia in the flood narrative, playing on the radicals in the name Noah: "This one shall bring us relief [yenahamenu, 5:29]; "Yahweh was sorry" [wayyinnahem, 6:6]; "The ark came to rest" [wattanab, 8:4]; "A restingplace to set her foot" [manoah, 8:9].
This discussion in no way attempts to exhaust the possibilities of Old
Testament paronomasia, either in function or in form. The concept was
resorted to most frequently by the prophet Isaiah, and it may be found
frequently in the books of Proverbs and Job. In the historical books,
paronomasia is largely found embedded in poetic passages and in the assigning
of proper names.
II. An illustration of Paronomasia in Exodus 3:14
The Exodus discourse between Moses and his God bristles with a number of
virtually insoluble philological and theological problems, and one is not
surprised at the inability to forge a common scholarly concensus regarding the
linguistic and theological meaning of the ineffable tetragrammaton. Though a
veritable kaleidoscope of etymological speculation has been set forth,27 three
prevalent viewpoints will be distinguished in this essay. These outlooks
commonly share and express the belief that the relationship between the verb
hayah and the divine name yhwh is one of etymology.
(1) An Ejaculatory Cry. Since the writing of G. R. Driver,28 a number of
scholars have embraced the opinion that the divine name, when first it arose,
did not have a readily intelligible form, instead being an emotional cultic
outburst, such as dervishes might cry out ecstaticly. In the main basing his
26U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (2 vols.; Jerusalem: Magnes,
27 A Sumerian etymology [ia-u5, "seed of life"] has recently been theorized by J. M.
Allegro, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1970) 20,
130, 215, n. 1. An Egyptian etymology [Y-h-we3, "moon one"] has been proposed by N.
Walker, The Tetragrammaton (West Ewell, England: privately published, 1948) [volume
unavailable to author] 10-4; "Yahwism and the Divine Name 'Yhwh'," ZAW 70 (1958)
262-65. An Akkadian etymology [ia-u, "noble one"] has been suggested by F. Delitzsch,
Babel and Bibel (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1921) 79-80; E. Littmann, AfO 11  162 has
proposed an Indo-European etymology [*Dyau-s, which became Zeus in Greek, Jupiter in
Latin, and Yah in Hebrew]. A Hurrian etymology [ya, "god" (plus a prinominal suffix)]
has been offered by J. Lewy, "Influences hurrites sur Israel," (Revue des Etudes
Semitiques, 1938) 55-61. Finally, it has been suggested by B. Hrozny, ("Inschriften und
Kultur der Proto-Inder von Mohenjo-Daro und Harappa," ArOr 13  52-5) that
Yahweh is to be related etymologically to a god Yaue, apparently mentioned in a yet
unpublished 3rd millennium inscription found in the Indus valley.
28G. R. Driver, "The original form of the name 'Yahweh': evidence and conclusions,"
ZAW 46 (1928), 7-25, esp. 23-5. This view was also mentioned by H. Tur-Sinai, Die
Bundeslade und die Anfange der Religion Israel (2d ed.; Berlin: Philo, 1930) 75; K. G.
Kuhn, "Uber die Entstehung des Namens Jahwe," Orientalische Studien Enno Littmann
zu seinem sechzigsten Geburtstag uberreicht (Leiden: Brill, 1935) 25-42; M. Buber and F.
Rosenzweig, Die Schrift und ihre Verdeutschung (Berlin: Schocken, 1936); A. Schleiff,
"Der Gottesname Jahwe," ZDMG 90 (1936) 679-702; B. D. Eerdmans, "The Name Jahu,"
OTS 5 (1948) 16; R. Otto, The Idea of the Holy (2d. ed.; London: Oxford, 1950 [repr.,
1973] 190-91; E. Auerbach, Moses (Amsterdam: Ruys, 1953) 44-7.
BEITZEL: EXODUS 3:14 AND THE DNINE NAME 13
conclusions upon extra-Biblical evidence, Driver affirmed that the antique form
of the deity worshipped by some pre-Mosaic Hebrew ancestors was the
digrammaton Ya, a form whose origin was a kind of numinal exclamation.
Conclusive for Driver was the fact that whereas Hebrew compound proper
names were never formed with Yahweh, many were formed with Ya. Now over
a period of time, such primitive ecstatic ejaculations tend to become
prolonged. Thus, taken together with Driver's belief that the genius of the
Exodus event lay in the creation of a new national Hebrew deity, the evolution
from Ya to Yahweh was easily effected. At once, this new form was recognized
on the basis of popular etymology as closely resembling the verb hayah, therein
facilitating its general acceptance and interpretation by the Mosaic community.
Elmslie29 accepted the reasoning of Driver, but he extended the argument
by suggesting, on the analogy of Tunisian cult shouts, that the ejaculation Ya
was originally associated with the cult of the moon deity Sin, whom the
Hebrew ancestors obviously adored and from one of whose centers the great
In 1961, Mowinckel30 sought to advance this hypothesis by asserting that
the divine name was to be understood as ya-huwa, being composed of the
Arabic interjection and the third person independent personal pronoun, and
translated "Oh He!" Though such a form was originally a cultic cry of
exclamation and invocation, it gradually developed into a symbolic designation
("He whose inmost essence and being we cannot see or understand") and
finally came to be understood as a proper name.31
As to these suppositions, it must be asserted that it would be unprecedented
for a Semitic divine name to originate as a religious exclamation. Driver cited
Greek analogies and Mowinckel relied heavily on Norwegian analogues.
Furthermore, leaving aside the problem of how Ya developed into Yahweh and
not some other form, Semitic proper names normally begin with transparent
appellations or sentences and shorten or disintegrate. They do not become
prolonged, as supposed by adherents of this view.32
(2) A Triliteral Verbal Form. By a large margin, the opinio communis has been
one which treats the tetragrammaton as a triliteral verbal form, deriVing from
29W. A. L. Elmslie, How Came Our Faith (London: Cambridge, 1948 [repr., 1958)
30S. Mowinckel, "The Name of the God of Moses," HUCA 32 (1961) 121-33, esp.
that 131-33. A similar view had been espoused by J. P. Brown and H. S. Rose, The Dervishes
yet (London: Milford, 1927) 275; A. Vincent, La religion des Judeo-Arameens d'Elephantine
(Paris: Geuthner, 1937) 46. More recently M. Reisel, (The Mysterious Name of Y. H. W.
H. [Assen: Van Gorcum, 1957] 48) arrives at this conclusion.
31Psalm 102:27 [H28] we'attah-hu' was luminous with meaning for Mowinckel
32For convincing discussions in support of this contention, the reader may consult D.
D. Luckenbill, "The Pronunciation of the Name of the God of Israel," AJSL 40 (1924)
277; W. F. Albright, "The Name Yahweh," JBL 42 (1924) 370-78; L. Waterman, "Method
In the Study of the Tetragrammaton," AJSL 43 (1926) 1-7; M. Noth, Personennamen
143-44; A. Murtonen, Treatise 58-61; P. M. Cross, "Yahweh and the God of the
rep;., Patriarchs," HTR 55 (1962) 252-55; R. de Vaux, "The Revelation of the Divine Name,"
Proclamation and Presence (London: SCM, 1970) 50-1; EncJud 7. § 680.
14 TRINITY JOURNAL
the root HWY.33 (a) Causative Participle. J. Obermann34 attempted to show that
Yahweh need not represent a finite verb. As a finite verb, it would be, of necessity,
one of the third person. Yet the solemn formula ‘ani yahweh, occurring with high
frequency throughout the pages of the Old Testament, would present one with the
enigma of a third person imperfect having as its subject or agent a first person
pronoun.35 For Obermann, such a construction was manifestly impossible unless
one assumes either that the meaning of the appellation had been lost by the time
this formulation developed, or that the form yahweh does not represent a finite
verb. On the other hand, arguing on the analogy of the Karatepe inscription of
Azittawadd, where numerous expressions of the same type occur, Obermann
submitted that yahweh represented a peculiar type of causative participial
formation with a y instead of a m preformative. Therefore, as a lexeme, yahweh should be translated "Sustainer, Maintainer."
Against Obermann's view it must be argued that demonstrably participial
forms with y preformatives are non-existent in Semitic. Even in the unlikely
event that the Phoenician examples cited by Obermann should eventually
prove to be participial in form and function,36 their appearance only in
relatively late inscriptions cannot be used to support the antiquity of the
phenomenon. Moreover, the causative of the root HWY is attested in Semitic.
(b) G stem triliteral verb. Actually, the only common denominator among
those who endorse this view is that the tetragrammaton springs from the root
HWY. Goitein37 argues that the root signifies "the Passionate One," whereas
Schorr38 and Bowman39 aver that the root reflects the meaning "to speak"
(cognate to Akkadian awatu), hence Yahweh was the "Speaker, Revealer," an
epithet particularly eloquent in the Mosaic period. Murtonen,40 who accepts
this reasoning, regards the divine name as a kind of nomen agentis with a y
prefix, meaning "Commander." Klostermann41 recognized in the same root a
negative connotation, declaring that Yahweh means "the Faller," in the sense
33 C. H. Ratschow, (Werden una Wirken. Eine Untersuchung des Wortes hajah als Beitrag
zur Wirklichkeitserfassung des alten Testaments [BZAW 70; Berlin: Topelmann, 1941] 81)
finds 3 meanings for the verb hayah: "to be," "to become" and "to effect."
34 J. Obermann, "The Divine Name YHWH in the Light of Recent Discoveries," JBL 68
(1949) 301-23, esp. 303-09; "Survival of an Old Canaanite Participle and Its Import on
Biblical Exegesis," JBL 70 (1951) 199-209.
35 According to the linguistic model of F. Anderson, (The Hebrew Verbless Clause in the
Pentateuch [Nashville/New York: Abingdon, 1970] 39-42), such a syntactical order
would indicate a clause of identification.
36 G. R. Driver, ("Reflections on Recent Articles," JBL 72  125-31) disputes the
admissibility of the Karatepe evidence. The forms at Karatepe are generally considered to
be infinitives followed by a personal pronoun. An infinitive without such a governing
pronoun could never have developed into a divine name in Hebrew.
37S. D. Goitein, "YHWH the Passionate: The Monotheistic Meaning and Origin of the
Name YHWH," VT 6 (1956) 1-9.
38M. Schorr, Urkunden des altbabylonischen Zivil- und Prozessrechts (Leipzig: Hinrichs,
1913 [repr., Hildesheim: Olms, 1971]) XXXII-XXXIV.
39R. A. Bowman, "Yahweh the Speaker," JNES 3 (1944) 1-8.
40A Murtonen, Treatise 90.
41A. Klostermann, Geschichte des Volkes Israel (Munchen: Beck, 1896) 70.
BEITZEL: EXODUS 3:14 AND THE DIVINE NAME 15
of one who crashes down or falls from heaven, as a meteor.
But the prominent position42 has been to associate the tetragrammaton
with hayah (necessarily related to a hypothetical antique verb *HWY), and to
suggest the meaning "He Who is the Existing One," "the Absolute, Eternally-
Existing One, the One Who is with His people." According to this view, Moses
poses a question of nomenclature and Yahweh offers an etymological response.43
In appraising this point of view, this writer would offer three lines of counter-
argumentation: lexicographic, phonetic and onomastic. Buber44states the following:
If you wish to ask a person's name in Biblical Hebrew, you never
say, as is done here, "What (mah) is his name?" or "What is your
name?" but "Who (mi are you?" "Who is he?" "Who is your
name?" "Tell me your name." Where the word "what" is
associated with the word "name" the question asked is what finds
expression in or lies concealed behind that name.
Having inspected the various categories and significant citations of the
interrogative particles mah and mi; Motyer45 concluded that when mah is
employed, it consistently and uniformly possesses this qualitative force which
Buber had attributed to it. Consequently, mah should be labelled as an
impersonal interrogative particle asking the question "What?"
The question. . . mah semo, cannot mean; "by what name is the
deity called?", because the answer to such a question should have
been: He is called by the name YHWH. The actual answer to the
question: "I am that I am" (v 14) does not give the name of the
Deity. It gives the significance and the interpretation of the name
YHWH, but not the name itself. Therefore the question mah semo can
only mean: "What meaneth His name? what is its import and significance?"46
42C. F. Hitzing, Ueber die Gottesnamen im alten Testament (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1875)
7-9; A. B. Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1904)
54-6; E. F. Kautzsch, Biblische Theologie des alten Testaments (Tiibingen: Mohr, 1911)
44-7; J. Hehn, Die biblische und die babylonische Gottesidee; die israelitische
Gottesauffasgung im lichte der altorientalischen religionsgeschichte (Leipzig: Hinrichs,
1913) 214; E. Konig, Geschichte der Alttestamentliches Religion (2d ed.; Gutersloh:
Bertelsmann, 1915) 213; O. Grether, Name und Wort Gottes im alten Testament (BZAW
64; Giessen: Topelmann, 1934) 9; U. E. Simon, A Theology of Salvation; a Commentary
on Isaiah 4-55 (London: SPCK, 1961) 89; Th. C. Vriezen, An Outline of Old Testament
Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1962) 147, 235-36. For an incisive syntactical study of
Exodus 3:14, refer to B. Albrektson, "On the Syntax 'ehyeh 'asher 'ehyeh in Exodus
3: 14," Words and Meanings. Essays presented to D. Winton Thomas (London/New York:
Cambridge, 1968) 15-28; R. de Vaux, The Early History of Israel (Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1978) 348.
43 Against the claim of B. D. Eerdmans, (OTS 5  12) that God was being
intentionally evasive in answering Moses, cf. K. Barth, Church Dogmatics (4 vols.;
Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961) 1/1.368-71.
44M. Buber, Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant (New York: Harper, 1958) 48.
45J. A. Motyer, The Revelation of the Divine Name (London: Tyndale, 1959) 20-1.
46M. H. Segal, The Pentateuch: Its Composition and Its Authorship (Jerusalem: Magnes,
1967) 5. Furthermore, this assertion is altogether consistent with what is known about the
word sem the semantic range of which, according to BDB 1027-28, is understood to
encompass nomenclature, reputation, character and fame.
16 TRINITY JOURNAL
Accordingly, it appears that Moses is posing a question of character
reference and not one of nomenclature. And in context, such a question would
have conveyed profound theological potentialities.41 "What kind of a God are
you?" Moses queries, to which the Lord responds in kind, "I will be what I will
be." That is to say, God is affirming that in His essential character He will not
be the product of human thought or manipulation, unlike the Egyptian deities
with which the children of Israel would have been eminently familiar.
Secondly, the contention that the divine name and the verb hayah are
related etymologically violates a Hebrew law of phonetics regarding the hollow
verb. Here the same phonetic rules govern CwC/CyC verbs in all persons, and
one looks in vain to find a verb in this classification exhibiting a middle waw in
the 3rd person but a yod in the 1st person. In fact, so uniform is this phonetic
axiom that Kautzsch48 declares that secondary formations, found only in the
latest Old Testament literature, are owing to Aramaic influence. And to suggest
that in Exodus 3:14 there was an intentional alteration specifically to avoid
confusion with the tetragrammaton is to introduce into the MT a hypothetical
reconstruction for which there is an utter lack of textual support.
Finally, the suggestion that the tetragrammaton and verb hayah are
etymologically interwoven leads inescapably to the conclusion that the divine
name consists exclusively of a finite verb. Mowinckel observes that "in the
ancient Semitic nomenclature a name containing a verbal form, whether impf.
or perf., would otherwise always be an abbreviated form of the name
concerned; the full form contains also a subject of the verb."49 While the
present writer has frequently encountered divine names consisting of
augmented one-word nouns (e.g. El), genitive compounds (e.g. Marduk
[amar-utu-ak] , "son of Utu"), predicate compounds (e.g. Dagan-Neri, "Dagan
is light"), noun plus pronoun (e.g. Yaum-An, "An is mine"), and verb plus
noun (e.g. Itur'-Mer, "Mer returns"), it would be virtually unparalleled for a
bare verbal form to exist as a divine name.50
What is more, it must be pointed out that a root HWY is inextant in all West
Semitic languages which antedate the Mosaic era. That is to say, Phoenician
contains no root HWY; Ugaritic, despite its attestation of a divine name yw,
47W. Eichrodt, (Theology of the Old Testament [2 vols.; Philadelphia: Westminster, .1
1961] 1.118) makes this astute observation.
48GKC 191. § 12m.
49HUCA 32 (1961) 128.
50For a listing of ancient Semitic deities, refer to A. Deimel, ed., Pantheon Babylonicum
(Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1914); K. L. Tallqvist, Akkadische Gotterepitheta
(Helsinki: Societas orientalis fennica, 1938); G. Dossin, "Le Pantheon de Mari," Studia
Mariana (Leiden: Brill, 1950) 41-50; S. Moscati, ed., Le Antiche Divinita Semitiche (Studi
Semitici 1; Rome: University of Rome, 1958). This writer has been able to find one such
divine name: dlksudum (CTXXIV.16.21; 28.15 [Deimel #1545]); ARM XIII. 111.6.
BEITZEL: EXODUS 3:14 AND THE DIVINE NAME 17
bears no witness to this verbal root;51 and Amorite Akkadian evidences no root
HWY.52 The root HWY is attested only in Aramaic, Syriac, Nabataean and
(c) H stem triliteral verb. Many writers advocate that the divine name is to be
connected etymologically with the causative stem of the root HWY, again
agreeing only in the basic root. Smith53 proposes that the word derives from
an Arabic cognate meaning "to blow." claiming that Yahweh was originally a
storm god. This sentiment is echoed by Wellhausen,54 Duhm,55 Eisler,56
Ward,57 Oesterly and Robinson,58 and Meek,59 some of whom link Yahweh
with the ancient southern sanctuaries of the Kenites and/or the Midianites.
Citing an alternate Arabic root, Barton60 views the name as meaning "He Who
causes to love passionately." On the other hand, Holzinger61 takes the root to
mean "to destroy," and the God of Israel is seen to be "One Who brings about
destruction." At the same time, a host of scholars62 advance the theory that
the tetragrammaton derives from the causative stem of a Hebrew verb hayah.
In this case, "Yahweh" and the verb "to be" are understood to be fused
etymologically, and the divine name is taken to convey the meaning "the One
51Ch. Virolleaud, (Ugaritica V [Paris: Geuthner, 1968] 244-45) refers to a
lexicographic text from Ugarit [RS 20.123.ii.28'] which he says exhibits the root *HWY,
reading the line in question u-wu/a. Though this reading is accepted by H. Huffmon,
("Yahweh and Mari," Near Eastern Studies in Honor of William Foxwell Albright
[Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins, 1971] 289), F. Cross and T. O. Lambdin, ("A
Ugaritic Abecedary and Origins of the Proto-Canaanite Alphabet," BASOR.160 
21-6), convincingly argue that the spelling u represents hu, so that the more likely readmg
of the line would be hu-wa, "he." The use of the independent personal pronoun as a
copula in Canaanite is well known, cf. HTR 55 (1962) 254, n. 124. C. F. Jean and J.
Hoftijzer, Dictionnaire des Inscriptions Semitiques de l'Ouest (Leiden: Brill, 1965) 63.
52Akkadian attests the verb awu "to argue in court" "to discuss talk over" "to
speak" [CAD A2 86a-96, possibly a denominative verb derived from awatu], as well as the
verb ewtl, "to change, turn into" [CAD E 413b-15b]. The only root meaning "to be" of
which there is evidence in Ugaritic 38d Phoenician is KWN; cf. Arabic kawana. The normal
Akkadian root meaning "to be" is BSY.
53W. R. Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church (New York: Appleton, 1881) 423.
54J. Wellhausen, Israelitische und judische Geschichte (3d ed.; Berlin: Reimer, 1897) 25.
55B. Duhm, Israels Propheten (Tubingen: Mohr, 1916) 34.
56R. Eisler, "Orientalische Studien," MVAG 22 (1917) 36.
57W. H. Ward, "The Origin of the Worship of Yahwe," AJSL 25 (1925) 175-87.
58W. O. E. Oesterly and T. H. Robinson, Hebrew Religion: Its Origin and Development
(2d ed.; London: SPCK, 1937) 153.
59T. J. Meek, Hebrew Origins (2d ed.; Toronto: University of Toronto, 1950) 99-102.
60G. A. Barton, Semitic and Hamitic Origins, Social and Religious (Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania, 1934) 338.
61H. Holzinger, Einleitung in den Hexateuch (Leipzig: Mohr, 1893) 204.
62P. Haupt, "Der Name Jahwe," OLZ 12 (1909) §§211-14; W. F. Albright, JBL 43
(1924) 374-75; From the Stone Age to Christianity (2d ed.; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins,
1946) 15-6, 260; J. P. Hyatt, "Yahweh as 'the God of my Father'," VT 5 (1955) 130-36;
D. N. Freedman, "The Name of the God of Moses," JBL 79 (1960) 151-56; F. M. Cross,
HTR 55 (1962) 251-55; Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge: Harvard
University, 1973) 65-9. Albright mentions that this point of view dates back to the time of
Le Clerc (c. 1700).
18 TRINITY JOURNAL
Who causes to be (what is)," "He Who brings things to pass," or "the
Performer of the Promise."
But again, one is left with a divine name composed wholly of a finite verb
and, in this case, one of a demonstrably non-existent causative stem.63 Nor can
one affirm, with Lagarde,64 that the divine name is itself responsible for this
lack of attestation; to do so would be to commit an obvious circularism and to
fail to explain such non-attestation in Semitic dialects where the divine name
was never sacred.
Further, if, as the result of such an interpretation of the tetragrammaton,
one formulates a notion of causality which implies ontological speculation, one
proceeds still further from early Hebrew thought and faith. Though causatives
of verbs meaning "to be" are predicated of deities in the sense of creating, it
would be absolutely without precedent to define in such an abstract and
philosophical manner the character, vis-a-vis the actions, of a deity.65 That is
to say, it seems to the present writer that the distinction is one of philosophy
and not merely of semantics, and early Hebrew thought perceived being
phenomenally, not ontologically or metaphysically. The latter impression is
received from the reading of the LXX.66 In any case, the causative of this root
is unattested in Semitic.
(3) A Genuine tetragrammaton. Arrayed against the inherently improbable
conclusions of the first two standpoints, this writer should like to theorize
that, with the tetragrammaton, one is most likely dealing with a quadriliteral
divine name in which the initial yod is lexically intrinsic.67 In support of this
suggestion, one summons the following evidence. As a second millennium
extra-Biblical phenomenon, this name is ubiquitous. One is able to locate the
name in an onomastically identical or equivalent form in three corpora of
second millennium literature. It appears (1) as a Ugaritic divine name [yw],68
(2) as an Egyptian place name [ya-h-wa/yi-ha] (Amenophis III text from
63H. Bauer, "Die Gottheiten von Ras Schamra," ZAW 51 (1933) 93, n. 7; M. Reisel, Y.
H. W. H. 17; G. Quell, '"The Old Testament Name for God," (TDNT 3; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1965) 1068, n. 151; cf. BDB 224-28; KB 1.229-30.
64P. de Lagarde, Erklarung hebraischer worter (Gottingen: Koenigliche Gesellschaft der
Wissenschaften, 1880) 27-30.
65S. Mowinckel, HUCA 32 (1961) 128; R. de Vaux, Proclamation 70. W. von Soden,
("Jahwe: 'Er ist, Er erweist sich," WO 3 [1964-66] 182) argues that such a formulation of
causality is not in accordance with the Biblical idea of God.
66LXX reads 'Ego 'eimi ho on; Aquila and Theodotion 'Esomai hos 'esomai; and the
Vulgate reads Ego sum qui sum.
67Occurring in a number of languages, the name is attested some 250 times in
extra-Biblical documentation where the linguistic equivalent of the Hebrew yod is always
present, even in a language (e.g. Greek) in which the corresponding radical cannot possibly
be construed as a preformative element.
68UT 410 (#1084); J. Aistleitner, Worterbuch der Ugaritischen Sprache (Berlin:
Akadernie-Verlag, 1963) 126 (#1151). Though this word was read by U. Cassuto, (The
Goddess Anath [Jerusalem: Magnes, 1971] 162, 171) as yr, A. Herdner ("Corpus des
Tablettes en Cuneiformes Alphabetiques: Decouvertes a Ras Shamra-Ugarit de 1929 a
1939," [Mission de Ras Shamra 10; Paris: Geuthner, 1963] 4, n. 3) has collated the text
and finds that the reading yw is absolutely certain.
BEITZEL: EXODUS 3:14 AND THE DIVINE NAME 19
Soleb, Ramses II text from 'Amarah, Ramses III text from Medinet Habu),69
and (3) as a Byblian divine name ['Ieuw].70 Moreover, some authorities argue
that it may be found as an element in Babylonian proper names from the
Cassite period [e.g. Ya-u-ha-zi]71 and as an element in personal names [e.g.
Is-ra-il / lu du-bi-zi-pis, Is-ra-ya lu du-bi-zi-pis; dinger Ya-ra-mu] at Ebla.72
This list cuts a wide swath linguistically and geographically, and it evidences
a great antiquity for the word as a personal name, and as a divine name in
particular. Now semitic philologists are familiar with onomastic proposition
which states that geographical names and personal names derive from divine
names, but that the converse is not generally true. Further, the complexity of
phonetics ,and orthography between the Akkadian, West Semitic and Egyptian
writing systems is profound, but it is a fundamental principle in onomastic
studies that "divine names and even other substantives lend themselves to
borrowing more easily than do adjectives and that borrowing of verbal forms is
This latter dictum of linguistic borrowing is obviously recognizable in the
first millennium extra-Biblical evidence, where Yahweh is found in Aramaic,
Greek, Moabite and Canaanite literature.74 But the antiquity and ubiquity of
the second millennium evidence coupled with these two onomastic axia
strongly suggest that the word was already known as a divine name centuries
before the Mosaic epoch.75 Accordingly, it seems preferable to conclude that
tetragrammaton is a quadriradical divine name of unknown lexicographic and
ethnic origin, and that its relationship with hayah in Exodus 3:14 is one of
paronomasia, not etymology.
Since the use of paronomasia promoted a certain excitement and curiosity
69B. Grdseloff, "Edom, d'apres les sources egyptiennes," Revue de ‘Histoire juive
d'Egypt 1 (1947) 69-99; R. Giveon, "Toponymes ouest-asiatiques a Soleb," VT 14 (1964)
239-55; most recently M. C. Astour, "Yahweh in Egyptian Topographic Lists," Elmar Edel
Festschrift (forthcoming) 17-34.
70Murtonen, Treatise 53; J. Gray, "The God YW in the Religion of Canaan," JNES 12(1953) 283.
71So G. R. Driver, ZAW 46 (1928) 7; J. J. Stamm, Die Akkadische Namengebung
(Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1939) 113; A. Mutronen, "The Appearance of the Name Yhwh outside
Israel" StudOr 16 (1951) 3-11; Treatise 51-4; M. Reisel, Y. H. W. H. 42-7.
72E.g. most recently, M. Dahood, "Ebla, Ugarit and the Old Testament," Bible and
Spade 8 (1979) 9-10; C. H. Gordon, "Echoes of Ebla," Essays on the Occasion of the
Seventieth Anniversary of The Dropsie University (Philadelphia: Dropsie, 1979) 135-36.
However, caution is urged by A. Archi, "The Epigraphic Evidence from Ebla and the Old
Testament," Bib 60 (1979) 556-60; R. D. Biggs, "The Ebla Tablets: An Interim
Perspective," BA 4 (1980) 82-3.
73I. J. Gelb, P. M. Purves and A. A. MacRae, Nuzi Personal Names (OIP 57; Chicago:
University of Chicago, 1943) 185; cf. H. B. Huffmon, Amorite Personal Names in the Mari
Texts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1965) 15.
74Found most recently in an 8th century inscription from Kuntillet Ajrud, cf. Z. Meshel
and C. Meyers. "The Name of God in the Wilderness of Zin," BA 39 (1976) 6-10; Z.
Meshel, "Did Yahweh have a Consort?" BARev 5 (1979) 24-35.
75Ultimately, this discussion reduces itself to the philosophical question of similarity
versus identity. Though it is unclear whether a West Semitic deity named Yahweh is to be
identified with the Israelite God bearing the same name, balance of probability presently
favors the equation, in the mind of the present writer.
20 TRINITY JOURNAL
to invite a search for meanings not readily apparent, it is not at all surprising to
find that a divine revelation like Exodus 3:14 would be couched in
paronomastic forms. Nor is such a view inconsistent with those Johannine
passages in which Jesus consciously seeks to identify Himself with the "I am"
of Exodus.76 But neither the gospel nor the proclamation of Exodus is
attempting to supply us with the etymology of the tetragrammaton. Exodus
3:14 becomes, therefore, yet another instance of paronomasia in the Bible.
76See the insightful studies of R. Brown, The Gospel According to John (i-xii) (AB 29;
New York: Doubleday, 1966) 533-38; P. B. Harner, The "I AM" of the Fourth Gospel: A
Study in Johannine Usage and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970) 6-15.
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2065 Half Day Rd.
Deerfield, IL 60015
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