Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Nomen Omen Theophorica Wanax

King Shelomo was the wisest of the entire human race, but, as one of my students pointed out last year, he was not wise enough to avoid a number of mistakes. One of them was exploiting the other tribes while exempting his own tribe, Yehuda, from the payment of labor taxes. He even took a member of the tribe of Efrayim, Yarov‘am ben Nevat, and put him in charge of the exploitation of his own people. Because of Shelomo's sins, God sent the prophet Ahhiya Hashiloni to tear away most of the Israelite Nation from the Davidic dynasty, giving rulership over all tribes but Yehuda (including Shim‘on) and Binyamin to that same Yarov‘am.

After Shelomo's death, his son Rehhav‘am rejected the people's request that he lighten their burden, threatening that while his father beat them with whips, he would beat them with scorpions (ouch!). And so Yarov‘am led a rebellion, tearing apart the Nation of Israel. However, while he had a divine mandate to do so, he was not authorized to set up new ritual centers — with golden calf idols/godseats, of all things — in Beit Eil and Dan, nor to ordain non-Levite kohanim, nor to invent a new holiday on the 15th of Bul-Marhheshvan.

Like Shim‘on "Bar-Kokhba" ben Kosba hundreds of years later, Yarov‘am is a failed savior. And not only does he fail, but he acquires such a bad reputation that hundreds of years later, prophets are still cursing evil kings of the North that they end up like the quickly-extinguished Jeroboamic dynasty, and using Yarov‘am as the benchmark for how evil each king was.

And yet, let's compare one salient piece of information about Yarov‘am with his rival Rehhav‘am — what they named their children.
Yarov‘am's son was named אֲבִיָּה, Aviya.
Rehhav‘am's son was named אֲבִיָּם, Aviyam.
Two normal theophoric names — except that Yarov‘am's son's name invokes Yhvh [barukh shemo], God of Israel; while Rehhav‘am's son's name invokes Yam, the Cana‘anite god of (what else?) the seas.

So who's the "good guy" and who's the "bad guy" now?

nomen omen theophorica wanax


Blogger The back of the hill said...

Re Aviyam: excellent observation.

It had entirely gone over my head that the name itself was idolatrous.
Those darned fish-daemon worshipping coastal folk, they're everywhere!


[I've added an update pointing to your post.]

5/10/2007 1:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pardon me for making such a stupid comment, but isn't am also he word for poeple...aviyam...something about g-d's people? Not so bad to me...

5/10/2007 3:43 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

the back of the hill:



ים (yam) = sea
עם (‘am) = nation

5/10/2007 3:51 PM  
Anonymous brother kayin said...

You totally wrote this post just so you could use the word "wanax" in it.

5/10/2007 4:34 PM  
Anonymous debka_notion said...

Well, Jeroboam (sorry, I learned these names first in a Reform Hebrew school- I'm used to the weird Anglicized forms) starts off on a good foot very briefly, at least with the whole divine-choice business, while Rehoboam starts off his reign with making a poor decision. A teacher of mine says that this whole 'Judahite kings can do about the same things as Israelite kings and get away with it' business can be ascribed to there being a Judahite editor of the text and the editor's prejudices showing. If you're not ok with there being human impact on the text of nevi'im, well, I don't have so much of an answer.

5/12/2007 10:57 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


and what if i did? :-P


answer? what was the question? :-)

5/13/2007 8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Divrei Hayamim, Rechavam's son is called Aviyah not Aviyam. Melachim and Divrei Hayamim frequently differ in name spelling (Uziyahu/Azaryahu for example), so I don't see "Aviyam" as referring to a sea god (the territory of Yehudah didn't even have a coastline!) but, more likely as just a misspelling/mispronunciation.

5/14/2007 3:27 AM  
Anonymous j said...

Note that the prophet is called Gid'on BEFORE he cuts down the trees of the Ba'al idolatry. (le-gadei'a - to cut down.)
But he is called Yeruba'al AFTER he ceases to worship them! (This name would imply the reverse.)

5/14/2007 10:22 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Divrey Hayamim, compared with Shemu’eil and Melakhim, have a habit of using different names with significance to the change; for instance, Sha’ul's son EshBA‘AL = IshBOSHET


What's interesting about Yeruba‘al is that it's a theophoric name, but a *negative* one. It's as if one would name their kid "Zeussucks" ;-)

5/14/2007 3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The word "Baal" technically just means "lord", and the explanation I heard was that originally it could have referred to the Jewish as well as the Canaanite god. Thus, (relatively) frum Jews like Eshbaal and Merivbaal had "baal" in their names. But when the word later received exclusively idolatrous connotations, whoever was editing Sefer Shmuel decided to "censor" the names to Ishboshet and Mepiboshet.

It's hard to argue that "Aviyam" was censored to "Aviyah" in Divrei Hayamim to remove the idolatrous element, because with Eshbaal and Merivbaal the censoring occurred in Shmuel/Melachim and NOT in Divrei Hayamim.

It seems more likely that Aviyah/Aviyam was just a spelling disagreement with no theological significance. Such is the case with Uziyahu/Azaryahu and I believe with several other kings.

Plus, as I said before, it's not reasonable to say that Judeans were worshipping a sea god. There was no sea nearby, and unlike all the other regional deities (Baal/Asherah/Milkom/Dagon) who are mentioned in various contexts, I don't think there's any reference to worship of "Yam".

5/14/2007 4:17 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

My theory about "Ba‘al" was that around the time of Sha’ul and David, the Israelites attempted to appropriate it as a generic god-title, but failed and eventually gave up, leaving it with the Cana‘anite god Hadad.

You make good points. I'm not completely convinced, though.

5/14/2007 7:15 PM  
Anonymous j said...

The point is he's named gidon BEFORE he cuts down the tree.

And if you investigate the matter closely - Yeruba'al is NOT a negative theophoric name. (that's what some instinctually have written because it couldnt be otherwise.) What in the prefix "yeru" makes it negative? What makes more sense is that Yeruba'al was his name before he cut down the tree when he still believed in ba'al and gidon was his name after he cut the tree down. But can this be?

5/14/2007 9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hadad was Canaanite? I thought Hadad was an exclusively Aramean deity.

5/15/2007 3:16 AM  
Anonymous psachya said...

It's been a while since I've studied that part of Nach, but I don't recall Gideon ever believing in idols.

5/17/2007 12:11 AM  
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