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Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 41 - June/July 2011 > Lost in Translation (by Norman Tew)

Lost in Translation

by Norman Tew

Lost in Translation - Hebrew names as translated

As I was studying the story of the family into which Joseph (of the coat of many colours fame) was born, I realised that the names are still in Hebrew.  We have had the Bible in English for over four hundred years, but I believe we miss some of the impact because the names were not translated.

It may seem strange to us but consider this story which starts in Genesis chapter twenty-five and ends in chapter Forty-three, though most of the story can be found in chapter twenty-nine.  I should also note that some of the translations I have used could be contested, but although there may be alternatives I believe these give us a picture of how the people at the time may have viewed it.

Grasper stole, step by step, the inheritance from his brother Hairy.  After the final step he had to flee for his life, and he went to the home of his uncle Glorious where he had to do whatever his uncle wanted.

Grasper fell in love with Glorious's younger daughter Lamb, but he was forced to work for seven years unpaid for the right to marry her.   When the seven years were done he asked for his bride but Glorious arranged for Lamb's older sister, Weary to go through the ceremony and sleep with him (we may wonder how this was done but she was probably veiled until after dark).  Grasper was then forced to work for another seven years to get his true love, Lamb, though he was allowed to take her as his second wife almost at once.

So Grasper had two wives, Weary and her younger sister Lamb; but Lamb was the one he really loved, and this was obvious to Weary.

God was not happy with this situation so he arranged for Weary to become pregnant.  She named her firstborn See a son, saying, "God has seen my troubles" (Reuben).  Then God gave Weary a second son, and she called him Heard because God had heard her (Simeon).  The third son she named Attached saying, "now my husband will be joined to me" (Levi).  Her fourth son she named Praise because she wanted to praise the Lord. (Judah)

By this stage Lamb was angry with her husband because she had no children.  She actually accused him as if it was his fault.  Grasper replied that it was in God's hands not his.  Bute Lamb insisted Grasper follow the example of his grandfather and have children for her by her maid TenderGrasper should have remembered all the trouble that caused in the household of Father of nations (in Hebrew Abraham) but he did what Lamb asked him.

Tender's first son was named by Lamb as Judge, saying, "God has judged my case" (Dan).  She named Tender's second son Wrestling, saying, "have wrestled with my sister" (Napthali).  You can see from the names the attitude between the two sisters/wives.

Weary did not want to be bested so she took her maid Myrrh and demanded that Grasper have children with her.  Weary named Myrrh's first child Troop, for she now had a troop of children - five (Gad).  She named Myrrh's second child Happy (Asher).

But then Weary became pregnant twice more and she called her fifth true son Wages (Issachar), claiming that God had given her wages for having her maid marry her husband.  Her sixth son she named Dwelling in the hope that her husband would now live with her (Zebulun).  This is another indication of how dysfunctional this polygamous family was.

Finally God heard the prayers of Lamb and He will Add was born.  His mother said "May the Lord add to me another son" (Joseph). 

At this point in the story Grasper, at God's command, fled from uncle Glorious with his four wives, eleven boys and his vast flocks.  On the journey back to Canaan Grasper had an encounter with God, and God gave him a new name of God's Prince.

After they were back at Bethel Lamb had the second child, but she died immediately after child birth.  With one of her last breaths she named the child Son of my sorrow, but God's Prince modified the name to Son of my right hand (Benjamin).

Think of these real names when you read the rest of the story.  For example when you read of He will Add bearing bad reports to his father of the sons of Tender and Myrrh, think of them as Judge, Wrestling, Troop and Happy.  You can also think of the time when See a son trying to save He will Add (called by his older brothers - The Dreamer) from death but Praise got in first and sold See a son to foreign traders.

You can also see why God's Prince was so unwilling to allow Son of my right hand to be taken to Egypt when the ruler in Egypt demanded to see the younger brother.

This may seem a far-fetched way of looking at the story but it makes more sense when you read the story in the Book of Daniel of Nebuchadnezzar renaming Daniel, Hananiah, Michael and Azariah as Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.  Their original names were God is my judge, Jehovah is gracious, Who belongs to God, Jehovah Helps.  All these names included references to their God.  While we do not understand the meaning of two of the names in Babylonian, the other two both include references to a heathen god.  Belteshazzar probably means Bel protect his (the king's) life and Abed-nego would mean Servant of Nebo.

One other very interesting name is that of one of the sons of king Saul.  His name is sometimes given as Ishbaal and sometimes Ishbosheth.  The first means man of Baal ( a Canaanite god), while the second means man of shame.  I wonder who made the change.

Next time you read you Bible ask yourself about the meaning of the personal names involved, there are many ways to find out.

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