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The distribution of personal names in the Land of Israel and Transjordan during the Iron II Period.


Lists, including lists of personal names, are known from ancient times, and are called onomastica. Two notable examples are the onomasticon of Amenemope, which is dated to the end of the twentieth dynasty in the late twelfth century (all dates are B.C.E. unless otherwise stated) (Simpson 2001: 605) and the onomasticon of Eusebius, which is dated to the early fourth century C.E. (Taylor 2003: 1-5).

The Mandelkern concordance, first published in 1896, includes a list of all biblical personalities and place names, arranged alphabetically (Mandelkern 1972: 1349-1532). A brief explanation appears at the beginning of each entry, followed by all the biblical references to the specific name.

The first two modern studies of Hebrew names are the monographs of Gray (1896) and Noth (1928). At the end of each monograph there is a list of names sorted according to the Hebrew alphabet (Gray 1896: 331-38; Noth 1928: 233-60). However, these lists were created more than eighty years ago and are missing many personal names from extra-biblical sources, such as ancient inscriptions and seals, which have been discovered since their appearance (Fowler 1988: 17).

Onomastic study examines Hebrew names in the wider context of the West Semitic world (Tadmor and Ahitu 1982: 31). The following review is limited to material presented in books and does not include journal articles: Huffmon (1965), Gelb (1980), and Streck (2000) have studied the Amorite names from Mari and other sites; Hess (1993), the Amarna personal names; Grondahl (1967), the Ugaritic names from Ras Shamra; Goldmann (1935), Stark (1971), and Hillers and Cussini (1996), the Palmyrene names from Palmyra; and Benz (1972), the Phoenician and Punic names.

Researchers of Hebrew names have considered various subgroups of names, such as theophoric names and biblical and/or extra-biblical names. They have emphasized different aspects, such as god names as theophoric elements and linguistic characteristics. Tigay studied pre-exilic personal names in order to understand the place of polytheism in the history of Israelite religion, since ancient names often reflect religious beliefs and the gods that were worshiped. Tigay collected and studied only theophoric names and only those from epigraphic artifacts, provenanced and unprovenanced. He found a very limited use of names with theophoric elements other than Yahweh (Tigay 1986: 11-17, 47-89).

Fowler collected and studied theophoric Hebrew names too. However, the names in her study are from both biblical and extra-biblical sources and cover a longer period of time: from the pre-Monarchical period to the post-Exilic period. She classified the biblical names (but not the extra-biblical ones) according to time period: pre-Monarchical, the United Monarchy, the Divided Monarchy, and Exilic and post-Exilic periods. She defined an additional period, represented by 1 Chronicles 23-27, as post-Exilic in content, although presented by the Chronicler as belonging to the Davidic period (Fowler 1988: 31). All the names, biblical and extra-biblical, are further classified according to their theophoric elements (prefixed or suffixed) and grammatical forms, e.g., nominal or verbal, imperatives, participles, and prepositions (ibid.: 333-64).

In the same year that Fowler's work appeared, Zadok published a study of pre-Hellenistic Israelite names. He concentrated on the linguistic structure of the names as well as on prosopography and collected all the names--biblical and extra-biblical, theophoric and non-theophoric--in cuneiform and alphabetic script (Zadok 1988: 1-2, 397-465). Zadok classified the names according to time period just as Fowler did--with one exception: The pre-Monarchical period is further divided into two periods: that of the Patriarchs (wandering and settlement) and that of the Judges (ibid.: 15-18).

Layton (1990) studied the archaic features of Canaanite personal names in the Bible. Andersen and Hess demonstrated the importance of personal names for the analysis of the authorship and composition of the Bible. Comparing the evolution of suffix elements of Yahweh (yhw, yh, yw) isolated in names from biblical texts to those from epigraphic texts, they found that names provide information about the likely origins of some of the historical texts of the Bible (Andersen and Hess 2007: 1-14).

Hess surveyed recent studies of Israelite personal names and pre-exilic Israelite religion (Hess 2007: 301-6). He also checked samplings of personal names from different periods and places within the Iron Age and found differences in the religious onomasticon between Israel and Judah. When compared with the neighboring states, these differences in naming practices are even more dramatic (ibid.: 306-10).

Recently, Albertz investigated Hebrew personal names as part of his study of family and household religion in ancient Israel and the Levant (Albertz and Schmitt 2012). In a previous study Albertz observed that names referring to the traditions of Israelite official religion, such as exodus, conquest, kingship, the Sinai, Zion or Bethel traditions, are almost nonexistent in biblical names. Instead the names reflect familial piety (Albertz 1978: 49-77). In his new study, Albertz and Schmitt explored the religious beliefs expressed predominantly in the predicative elements in epigraphically attested Hebrew personal names (biblical names are referred to only for comparison) (Albertz and Schmitt 2012: 505 table 5.2, 507 table 5.6). He collected 675 different personal names that appear 2922 times on ostraca, seals, bullae, and weights from the Iron II period (ibid.: 248-50, 505 table 5.1). For comparative purposes, names from the surrounding cultures--the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Arameans, and Phoenicians--were also collected (ibid.: 506 table 5.3, 509-13 tables 5.8-5.12). Further developing Noth's (1928) categorization of names, he grouped Hebrew names into the following six categories: 1) names of thanksgiving, 2) names of confession, 3) names of praise, 4) equating names, 5) birth names, and 6) secular names (ibid.: 250-54, 534-609, appendices B1-B6). A high rate of correspondence was found between verbs and nouns used in the personal names and verbs and nouns used in the individual prayers in the Bible, especially in Psalms.

Thus, the majority of Hebrew names reflect the religious crises of the family, predominantly the events connected to birth, and the family struggles for survival (ibid.: 482). The strikingly similar relative distributions of Hebrew, Ammonite, Moabite, Aramaic, and Phoenician names among the above six groups suggest that family religion in Israel followed the same basic structure as in the surrounding cultures during the Iron II period (ibid.: 258, 482-83). In addition, the theophoric elements of personal names--a god name or a divine appellative--were also investigated (ibid.: 339-67). In contrast with the predicate statements, different theophoric elements were found among the different Levantine groups and this reflects the varying religious environments of their societies (ibid.: 339-48).

More onomastic material from epigraphic artifacts in the Land of Israel and its neighbors appears in the following publications: Renz's book on ancient Hebrew epigraphy includes a list of all names from epigraphic artifacts (1995b: 53-87). The corpus of West Semitic stamp seals created by Avigad, revised and completed by Sass, includes a list of all seal names (Avigad and Sass 1997: 465-546). The corpus and concordance of ancient Hebrew inscriptions prepared by Davies lists personal names in the inscriptions (1991-2004). The collection of Hebrew inscriptions from the biblical period of the Monarchy, prepared by Dobbs-Allsopp et al., includes a list of all personal names in those inscriptions (2005: 583-622). The collection of ancient inscriptions from the Land of Israel and the kingdoms of Transjordan from the period of the First Temple, prepared by Ahitu, includes a list of all the names in the inscriptions (2008: 474-88, 502-4). The volumes of Donner and Rollig on Canaanite and Aramaic inscriptions include lists of Canaanite and Aramaean names (1964: 45-52, 53-56), and Sivan's book includes an investigation of West Semitic names in Bronze Age sources from Canaan and Syria (1984).


In terms of structure and content, personal names may be sorted into three categories: theophoric names, hypocoristic theophoric names, and other (Ahitu 2008: 474; Avigad and Sass 1997: 23-25; Porten 1982: 39-43). The first category is comprised of sentence names, either nominal or verbal, compounded with a god name or a divine appellative. Examples of god names so employed are Yahweh (yhw/yh/yw), Kemosh, and Qaus. Divine appellatives may indeed refer to a particular god, but we have no way to determine just which of the possible referents is intended. Common examples are 'dn ('lord'), mlk ('king'), and familial nouns like 'b ('father'), 'h ('brother'), 'm ('paternal uncle, kinsman'), and hm ('father-in-law on the mother's side') in which the god was perceived as a part of the family (Ahitu 2008: 474; Porten 1982; 39). El and Baal are both ambiguous. Baal is the name of the Canaanite storm god, but it is also the divine appellative Tord/master' and may refer to Yahweh (Tigay 1986: 14; Ahitu 2008: 328). El is the head of the Canaanite pantheon but is also the divine appellative 'god'. Nominal sentence names express one of the divine characteristics (Gdlyhw, "Yahweh was great"). Verbal sentence names express gratitude or supplication (Ahitu 2008: 474).

The second category of names is comprised of hypocoristic theophoric names. These are abbreviated theophoric names where the theophoric element was dropped (e.g., 'by, an abbreviation of 'byhw or 'by'l), and it is therefore impossible to tell what the theophoric element in a hypocoristic name originally was. The third category covers names with no religious meaning, such as animal names (e.g., Hgb, S'l, Klb), floral terms (e.g., Bsl, Smh), appellatives (e.g., Ytm, Gbh), or substitute names, i.e., names that designate the name-bearer as a substitute for a deceased relative (e.g., Mnhm, Tnhm).


This study investigates the distribution of personal names from the Land of Israel and Transjordan during the Iron II period--from the tenth century until the destruction of the First Temple in 586. In contrast to previous onomastic studies, only names from archaeological excavations have been used. Names found in items from the antiquities market were not included since the geographic origin is unknown and the authenticity is not always certain. The study explores the theophoric (and not the predicative) elements in the names. Thus, the names have been grouped as theophoric names, hypocoristic (abbreviated) theophoric names, or other. The theophoric names have been further sorted into seven subgroups comprising the five theophoric elements yhw, yh, yw, b'l, 'l, the divine appellatives ('b, 'dn, 'h, hm, mlk, 'm), and god names other than Yahweh, Baal, or El. The distributions in space (geographic) and in time (chronological) of the different groups of names were investigated. Previous onomastic studies did not address the geographic or chronological distribution of names from epigraphic sources. Geographic distribution can track ethnic groups by characteristic theophoric elements; chronological distribution can identify onomastic evolution during the Iron II period. In addition, following previous onomastic studies, the following issues have been investigated: 1) yhw as the dominant theophoric element in names during this period in Israel (Anderson and Hess 2007: 10; Tigay 1986: appendices A-D; Albertz and Schmitt 2012: 341, 508 table 5.7); and 2) the very limited use of theophoric elements involving god names other than Yahweh (Tigay 1986: appendix B; Albertz and Schmitt 2012: 341, 508 table 5.7).


This study investigates personal names as a group and not individually, in order to detect trends within the use of personal names. Trends in onomastic preferences, such as a high percentage of names with the theophoric element yhw, are significant indicators of religious beliefs, while the appearance of yhw in a particular name does not necessarily reflect the religious beliefs of the name-bearer or his parents. Other reasons might explain the choice of the name.

The data on personal names in provenanced inscriptions and ostraca were collected from two corpora: HaKetav VeHaMiktav (Ahitu 2005), its updated English version Echoes from the Past (Ahitu 2008), and Handbuch der althebrdischen Epigraphik, vol. I (Renz 1995a). The data on personal names in provenanced seals, bullae, and stamp seals were collected from two corpora: Handbuch der althebrdischen Epigraphik, vol. II/2 (Renz and Rollig 2003) and Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals (Avigad and Sass 1997). In addition, the following publications (issues of 2000 through those of 2009) were searched for personal names in provenanced artifacts: Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, 'Atiqot, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, City of David: Studies of Ancient Jerusalem (Hebrew), Dvar-'Avar (Hebrew), Hadashot Arkheologiyot (Hebrew), Israel Exploration Journal, New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Region (Hebrew), New Studies on Jerusalem (Hebrew), Palestine Exploration Quarterly, Qadmoniot (Hebrew), Qedem, and Tel-Aviv. Excavation reports, books on Iron Age epigraphy, and publications of any Iron age epigraphic artifacts that reached the Israel Antiquities Authority between 2000 and 2009 were also searched.

The onomasticon consists of two interrelated tables: the table of names and the table of epigraphic artifacts. Each entry in the table of names is a name which appears on a specific artifact. Each entry in the table of epigraphic artifacts is a specific artifact which includes one or more names, listed in the table of names.

The table of names includes only personal names. The table does not include names which can be interpreted either as a person or a place name, such as Rbt Mgn on a jar fragment from Tel 'Ira (Beit-Arieh 1999: 407). It does not include clan names, such as 'b'zr, Hlq, or Smyd' in the Samaria Ostraca, which are districts named after eponyms in the genealogy of the tribe Manasseh (Josh. 17:2; Ahitu 2008: 260, 273-74, 281, 288). In addition, the table does not present any personal names that are missing two or more letters, since the reading of the full name can be problematic: two or more missing letters may have comprised the missing theophoric element (or any other element) in a name. Therefore, the identification of a partial name as theophoric, hypocoristic, or other, or the identification of the divine name or appellative in such a name becomes problematic. Moreover, the reading of a partial word as a name is also questionable. For example, the partial word 'bd'l might be completed as a title--'bd ('servant')--or as a name--'bd' (hypocoristic name), 'bd'l (theophoric name with 'l), or 'bdyw (theophoric name with yw) (Ahitu et al. 2012: 78). Nevertheless, some partial names can be reconstructed with confidence and in others the theophoric element is clear. However, in order to be consistent in the data selection, all names missing two or more letters have been omitted.

In a few cases, a name in the table can have more than one reading. In such instances, 1 have preferred the reading presented in the corpora to those in the other publications. If two corpora do not agree on the same reading, I have preferred the later corpus. When one corpus presents more than one reading, I have used the first suggested reading. This applies to any other disagreement among researchers regarding a name, such as dating or defining it as theophoric.

A name found at a site more than once, either on the same artifact or on different artifacts, is listed in the table only once and the number of its occurrences appears in a comment. However, if the repeated name seems to belong to different people, e.g., each name has a different patronymic or the name appears on artifacts from different periods of time, the name is listed in the table as many times as the number of people who bore that name. In a few cases, where the same name appears at the same site but in a different form, once with a patronymic and once without, the name is listed twice. These repeated occurrences testify to the popularity of a name and are significant in the statistical analyses of the different name types.

A name found at more than one site is listed in the table as many times as the number of the sites where it was found, even when it belongs to the same person, since the geographical distribution of a name is important. However, in the statistical analyses all repeated occurrences of a name belonging to the same person are counted only once. If a name appears in a variant spelling, but clearly belongs to the same person (Garfinkel 1984: 50-51), the name is included only once and the plene spelling is used. There are four such cases: 1) Mnhm Yhwbnh/Mnhm Ywbnh/Mnhm Ybnh, 2) Yhwhyl Shr/Yhwhl Shr, 3) Spn 'zr/Spn 'zryhw, and 4) Sbnyh 'zryh/Sbnyhw 'zryhw.

Each name in the onomasticon is evaluated for the following categories: name, full name (including patronym), prefixed theophoric element (if present), suffixed theophoric element (if present), hypocoristicon (for hypocoristic theophoric names), and artifact (the catalog number of the artifact where the name appears). Each artifact in turn is evaluated for the following categories, which include information for all the names appearing on it: catalog number, which also specifies the artifact type (inscription, ostracon, seal, bulla, impression on jar), site (where it was found), date (in centuries), reference (a corpus or the most recent publication), and comments (e.g., additional occurrences of the artifact at the same site, as with seal impressions).

There is no gender category in the onomasticon since the number of women's names is too small for any meaningful statistical analysis. It is also hard to determine gender with certainty when the words bt ('daughter') or bn ('son') are not part of the full name, or when the name is not a patronym. (I follow other researchers in assuming that the patronym is the father's name and not the mother's.) In addition, women's names do not have a distinctive form and there are names that are used both by men and women (Porten 1982: 44-45).

The onomasticon does not define the ethnic group to which the names belong because of the difficulty in determining this. The site of the artifact, the script and the language, the content--and for seals, the decoration--all might help to determine the ethnic group of the artifact. However, the ethnic group of an artifact is not necessarily the ethnic group of the name on it. Indeed, the very aim of this study is to investigate whether ethnic group can be determined through the distribution of theophoric elements in personal names.

As mentioned above, this onomasticon identifies the theophoric element in a name as one of the following: yhw, yh, yw, b'l, 'l, divine appellative, or other god name. In most cases, the identification of the element as theophoric is relatively straightforward. However, not every element in the above list is always theophoric. For example, the element 'h in the name 'h'mh is not theophoric (Ahitu 2008: 475). Defining the name as theophoric or as a hypocoristic theophoric name is based on the name analysis as it appears in the corpora and in the publications. When it is unclear whether a name is a hypocoristic theophoric name, e.g., Thtnh (ibid.: 488), it is marked as "maybe" in the onomasticon and has not been included in the statistics of hypocoristic theophoric names. When a name includes two theophoric elements, such as 'byhw, 'hyhw, or 'bb'l, only one theophoric element was marked--the god name and not the divine appellative, e.g., yhw for 'byhw and 'hyhw and b'l for 'bb'l.

In the onomasticon, artifacts are dated by centuries, since most epigraphic artifacts are so dated in the various publications. Renz dates epigraphic artifacts more precisely--by quarter century within the eighth century and by half century within the seventh century. However, it is hard to justify Renz's degree of precision for most of the artifacts, since dating is based on stratigraphic context and/or paleographic analysis. Furthermore, distribution by centuries creates groups of names that are too small for statistical analysis. Therefore, in the distribution maps and in the statistical analysis, the artifacts are grouped into two periods: the early centuries (tenth to eighth centuries) and the late centuries (seventh to sixth centuries). Artifacts dated to both the eighth and the seventh centuries or whose exact century within the Iron II period is unknown are marked as "unknown century." The period comprising the early centuries includes Israel and Judah; the late centuries cover only Judah.


The onomasticon includes 799 names from 66 sites (including repeated names of the same person at different sites as described above). Table 1 shows the geographical and chronological distribution of these names. For each site and time period (E = early centuries, L = late centuries, U = unknown century) the number of different name types is listed.

The 799 names are used for checking the geographical distribution. However, in the statistical analysis, repeated names of the same person have been counted only once, leaving 712 names.

Chronological Distribution

Table 2 shows the chronological distribution of 712 names and 382 artifacts by century. We can see that during the tenth and the ninth centuries there are relatively few names and artifacts. The big increase happens in the eighth century, where we find eight times more names and eleven times more artifacts than in the previous century. This increase in names and artifacts continues in the seventh and the beginning of the sixth century, but in a more moderate way (close to twice the number in the previous century). The 146 names and the 45 artifacts found in the early sixth century, even though smaller in absolute numbers than the numbers for the seventh century, also reflect an increase, since they cover only fourteen years.

Chronological Distribution of the Three Main Groups

The 712 names were sorted into three main groups:

1. Theophoric names: 381 names with a theophoric element. Prefixed theophoric elements found in the names are 'b, 'dn, 'h, 'l, b'l, hdd, hm, yhw, yw, yrh, kms, mlk, 'm, and qws. Suffixed theophoric elements found in the names are 'l, b'l, hr, yh, yhw, yw, mwt, mlk, 'm, and qws.

2. Hypocoristic theophoric names: 147 names whose theophoric element is omitted. Hypocoristic theophoric names that have a theophoric element (of the divine appellative type), such as 'by, 'h', and Mlky, belong to the previous group.

3. Other: 184 names, almost all of them secular. Very few names that do not have a theophoric element but yet refer to a god belong to this group, such as My'mn and 'zryqm (Ahitu 2008: 483, 485).

Table 3 shows the chronological distributions of these three main groups. The first row shows the tenth through eighth centuries in the aggregate and the second row shows the seventh and early sixth centuries. Names of unknown century are not included in the table. When comparing the late centuries with the early centuries, we can see the onomastic evolution: Theophoric names grow from 50% of the total in the early centuries to 57% in the late centuries. Names without theophoric elements (other) grow from 23% to 26%. These increases are balanced by a decrease in hypocoristic theophoric names from 27% to 17% of the total.

Chronological Distribution of Theophoric Names

The theophoric names were further sorted into seven groups according to their theophoric element: the five theophoric elements yhw, yh, yw, b'l, 'l, divine appellatives, and other god names. In the divine appellatives group are names with one of the following appellatives: 'b, 'dn, 'h, hm, mlk, or 'm. In the other god group are names with one of the following god names: hdd, hr (Horus), yrh, kms, mwt, or qws. Names with other god names are grouped together since only nine such names were found. Names with b'l are grouped separately from other god names since bcl is ambiguous--it may refer to the Canaanite storm god or it may refer to Yahweh as lord/master (a divine appellative) (Tigay 1986: 14; Ahitu 2008: 328). Eighteen names with b'l are found, twice as many as all the names with other god names.

Table 4 shows the chronological distribution of these seven groups of theophoric names. The first row shows the distribution in the early centuries while the second row shows the distribution in the later centuries. Names of unknown century are not included in the table. The theophoric elements are ordered according to their prevalence in the early centuries, from the most common to the least common element. In this table we see a very clear onomastic evolution. Specifically, yhw grows from 21% of the total in the early centuries to become the dominant theophoric name element in the later centuries with 67% of the total names. At the same time, 'l increases slightly from 14% to 17% of total names. These increases come at the expense of the other elements, yw goes from being the most common theophoric element in the early centuries (30%) to being insignificant in the later centuries (less than 1%). b'l similarly drops from 10% of names in the early centuries to 3% in the later centuries. Divine appellatives decrease from 18% of total names to 11 %. The last two groups, six names with yh and seven names with other god names, are very small. Therefore, the decrease of yh and the decrease of other god names, as seen in Table 4, should be handled carefully. In addition, the combined group of the three yahwistic theophoric elements, yhw, yw and yh, increases substantially from 53% of the total in the early centuries to 69% of the total in the later centuries.

Geographical Distribution

The geographical distribution includes repeated names of the same people at different sites and therefore the number of names in the different categories will be larger than the total number in the chronological distribution, as discussed above.

The site of a name is defined as the site of the artifact. However, in a very few cases the artifact's site is not necessarily the name's site, such as the name Dwd on the Tel-Dan inscription (Ahitu 2008: 467-72) and the name Mky bn Hslyhw MMqdh on an ostracon from Horvat 'Uza (ibid.: 166). A distribution map was created for each of the nine different groups of names--seven groups of different theophoric elements, hypocoristic theophoric names, and other. Four maps, each with a unique distribution, are presented here (Figs. 1-4).

General Description of the Distribution Maps

Each distribution map refers to a specific group of names and indicates the sites where these names are found. In addition, the sites are marked according to the quantity and the chronology of the names found there. The mark for sites with names from the early centuries is black and that for sites with names from the later centuries is gray. The size of the mark reflects the quantity of names found at the site: the larger the mark, the greater the number of names. The marks appear in three sizes and each size's numerical range is defined in the map's legend. The exact number of names for each site in the map and for each time period is listed in Table 1. The distribution maps include the relevant ethnic borders for reference. The border lines in the eighth century (for the early period) are marked in black and are based on the map of Israel and Judah in the days of Jeroboam II and Uzziah, mid-eighth century (Rainey and Notley 2006: 219). The border lines in the seventh century (for the later period) are marked in gray and are based on the map of Judah and her neighbors during the reign of Manasseh, 701-643 (ibid.: 246).

In all the distribution maps we can see the same phenomenon--names in the territory of Israel are limited to the early centuries. During the later centuries, the most northern site at which a name has been discovered is Tel Mazar, which is east of the Jordan River. The absence of names in the territory of Israel in the later centuries is probably the result of the fall of Israel in the last part of the eighth century. However, names in Judah appear throughout the whole period of Iron II, starting in the tenth century.

Geographical Distribution of Names with the Element yhw

yhw, the dominant form of Yahweh, appears in 224 names-all of them in Judah or close to its borders (Fig. 1). The element yhw does not appear in Israel. It is clear that yhw is a Judean element. In the sites close to Judah's border the number of names with yhw is very small: Tel Qasile, 1; Tel Zafit, 1; Tel Beersheba, 2; Wadi Murabba'at, 1; and Tel en-Nasbeh, 1. In the central Judean cities the names with yhw appear in large numbers: Jerusalem, 56; Lachish, 36; Arad, 54; and Horvat 'Uza, 37. This distribution is consistent with Jerusalem's status as the main city and Lachish's status as the second-largest city in Judah. The large number of names in Arad and Horvat 'Uza may be the result of the random discovery of epigraphic artifacts there.

Geographical Distribution of Names with the Element yh

yh, another form of Yahweh, appears in only ten names, all in Judah: Jerusalem, 3; Lachish, 3; Tel Judeideh, 2; Arad, 1; and Moza, 1 (Table 1). yh is also a Judean element.

Geographical Distribution of Names with the Element yw

yw, also a form of Yahweh, appears in thirty-eight names (Fig. 2). yw is the most frequently used theophoric element in the early centuries, but has almost disappeared in the later centuries. It appears mainly in Israel and it is concentrated in Samaria (fifteen names) and in Horvat Teman (Kuntillet (Ajrud) (nine names). Horvat Teman, although southern in location (50 km south of Kadesh-Barnea), has other associations with the northern orthography and the name Samaria (Ahitu et al.: 2012: 128-29; Heide 2002: 110-20). The rest of the names with yw (37%) are distributed throughout Israel. Several names with yw also appear in Judah, but they belong to only three people: Yw'zr (1), Ywkn (3), and Ywbnh (4). Interestingly, the full name Mnhm Ywbnh also appears as Mnhm Yhwbnh and we may assume that the patronymic was changed to Yhwbnh as the yw element was disappearing. Another point worth noting is that the yw element in Israel is mainly suffixed while the yw element found in Judah is prefixed.

Geographical Distribution of Names with the Element b'l

b'l appears in eighteen names, twice as many as all names with god names other than Yahweh. b'l distribution is as follows (Fig. 3): eighth century: Samaria, 9; Beth Shean, 1; seventh to sixth century: Tel Ashkelon, 4; Tel Jemmeh, 2; Tel el-'Umeiri, 1; unknown: Acco, 1. We can see that in the eighth century names with b'l appear only in Israel, half of them in Samaria. In the later centuries after the fall of Israel, names with b'l disappear from this area and appear at but three sites, all of them outside Judah.

Geographical Distribution of Names with the Element 'l

'l is a general term for god, but it is also stands for the head of the Canaanite pantheon. Since 'l is ambiguous, it is treated in a separate group. 'l appears in sixty-eight names from Israel, Judah, and Ammon (Fig. 4). In the later centuries, one-third of the names with 'l (15 out of 47) appear in Ammon: Heshbon, 9; Rabbath-Ammon, 2; Tel el-'Umeiri, 2; Tel Mazar, 1; and Tel Siran, 1.

Geographical Distribution of Names with Divine Appellatives

Divine appellatives do not refer to a particular god. The fifty-six names with a divine appellative are found throughout the land of Israel and Transjordan and are not limited to a certain territory (Table 1). It is worth mentioning that divine appellatives are mostly prefixed (54 out of 56 names), while yhw, yh, and yw are suffixed in the majority of the names. The most dominant divine appellative is 'h (55%).

Geographical Distribution of Names with Other God Names

Other god names appear in only nine names and are distributed as follows: hdd, Dan, eighth century; hr (Horus), Arad and Aroer (Negev), eighth century; yrh, Rabbath-Ammon, eighth or seventh century; kms, Karak, ninth century; mwt, Arad, eighth century; qws, Aroer (Negev), seventh century, Tel el-Kheleifeh, one from the seventh century and one from unknown century (Table 1). Even though names with other god names are few, we can see that the different god names appear in various regions where names with yhw, yw, and b'l are not found, e.g., kms in Moab and qws in Edom. hdd appears in Dan, a border town between Aram and Israel, along with two names with yw, hdd is a known theophoric element in names of Aramaic kings, while yw is a theophoric element unique to Israel, hr appears at two southern sites, close to Egypt. hr and mwt appear at Arad in 2 out of 112 names (2%).

Geographical Distribution of Names without Theophoric Elements

The distribution of 173 hypocoristic (abbreviated) theophoric names and the distribution of 203 other names cover the entire land of Israel as well as Transjordan and are not limited to a particular territory (Table 1).

Geographical Distribution of Repeated Names

Identical seal impressions and their distribution were discussed in depth by Garfinkel (1984). In this study twenty-one people are found whose full names appear at more than one site. All repeated names are limited to Judah and appear on jars.

Distribution of Theophoric Elements at Major Sites

The distribution of theophoric names according to their various elements was also investigated for five sites with the largest number of names: Jerusalem, 140; Arad, 112; Lachish, 92; Horvat Tjza, 72; and Samaria, 62. The first four sites are Judean. The artifacts from Jerusalem, Arad, and Lachish are from the eighth to the sixth centuries, the artifacts from Horvat TJza from the seventh and sixth centuries, while those from Samaria are from the eighth century only. Fig. 5 presents the distribution of theophoric names at each of these sites. Each column presents the distribution of the theophoric elements at one site. Table 5 shows the percentage of theophoric elements for these five sites. The distributions at the four Judean sites are remarkably uniform: the dominant element is yhw (86%-67%), followed by 'l (16%-9%) and divine appellatives (12%-5%). At all four Judean sites, the element b'l is absent, yh appears in a very small percentage of names at three of the four sites, yw appears in a very small number of names: Jerusalem, 1% and Lachish, 2%. It is also interesting to see that the smaller and less central the site, the higher the percentage of yhw. In contrast, the distribution of theophoric elements in Samaria is totally different from that of the Judean sites: yw is the dominant element (49%), followed by b'l (27%). The elements yhw and yh are absent. However, the percentage of 7 (9%) and divine appellatives (15%) is very similar to that for these elements at the Judean sites, probably because these theophoric elements are general and do not refer to a specific god.


The Onomasticon

Before discussing the study results, I must consider whether the onomasticon presents a representative sample of all the names used in the Land of Israel and Transjordan during Iron II. The onomasticon includes all names found in archaeological excavations of this period and no others. However, archaeology is not a perfect record of history. Specifically, we may suspect that the onomasticon does not equally represent all social strata in the area. The names in the onomasticon have been collected from epigraphic artifacts that are associated with literacy, a characteristic that itself tends to be associated with the elite (Rollston 2010: 127-35). However, there were probably different levels of ability of reading and of writing, and the increasing evidence of epigraphic artifacts from ancient Israel suggests that more people were able to read (Hess 2009: 1-9). Many names have been collected from seals, from seal impressions on jars, and from bullae, all of which are associated with administration. The historical inscriptions, though few, present names of kings, royal officials, and scribes. On the other hand, names on limestone seals (as opposed to precious or semi-precious stone seals) and names on ostraca from the later centuries when literacy was not limited to the elite may present a more mixed population. Examples are lists of disbursements from Lachish and Arad and military lists from Horvat 'Uza (Ahitu 2008: 86-88, 135-39, 166-73, 177-80). The people mentioned in these lists were not necessarily literate. Therefore, it is unclear how far the onomasticon reflects the lower strata (Tigay 1986: 9-10).

The increasing number of artifacts and names over the course of Iron II as shown here supports the results of previous studies. Ahitu pointed out the increasing number of epigraphic artifacts from the seventh century onward: Lachish ostraca, Arad ostraca, and the majority of the seals and seal impressions (Ahitu 2008: 2). However, this increase finds a more precise numerical description in this study. There is a sharp increase in the eighth century: eleven times more artifacts than in the ninth century. This increase continues but more moderately during the seventh century and later: twice as many artifacts as in the eighth century. This increase probably reflects the spread of literacy among the population.

Previous studies showed that yhw is the dominant theophoric element in names during Iron II (Anderson and Hess 2007: 10; Tigay 1986: appendixes A-D; Albertz and Schmitt 2012: 341, 508 table 5.7). The present study shows a more complex picture: yhw is the dominant theophoric element only in the later centuries, with 67% of all names. In the earlier centuries, yw was the most common element, with 30%, whereas yhw was the second most common element, with 21%. The differences between the early and later centuries reflect the onomastic evolution.

The very limited use of god names other than Yahweh and b'l supports Tigay's conclusions (Tigay 1986: appendix B; Albertz and Schmitt 2012: 341, 508 table 5.7). If b'l refers to Yahweh as lord and not to the Canaanite storm god, the use of god names other than Yahweh was even more limited. Either way, gods other than Yahweh were not widely regarded as the source of beneficence, blessing, and protection (ibid.: 37-41). Furthermore, this study shows that the already limited use of b'l and other god names decreased from the early to the later centuries. At the same time, the use of the three yahwistic theophoric elements, yhw, yw, and yh, as a single group increased substantially from the early to the later centuries. These differences between the early and the later centuries also reflect the onomastic evolution.

Onomastic Evolution in the Iron II Period

Iron II is divided here into two periods: the early centuries--the tenth to the eighth century--and the late centuries--the seventh to the sixth century. The study results show an onomastic evolution. In the later centuries, the use of hypocoristic theophoric names decreases significantly while the use of theophoric names and other names increases, but to a lesser extent. Within the theophoric names, the differences between the two periods are more substantial, yw, which is the most common theophoric element in the early centuries, almost disappears in the later centuries, and yhw becomes the dominant theophoric element (67%). The use of b'l and divine appellatives decreases in the later centuries, while the use of the yahwistic theophoric elements increases in the later centuries. The decrease in other god names in the later centuries should be evaluated carefully, since the use of these names is very limited throughout the early and the later centuries.

What social reality stands behind this onomastic evolution? The decrease of hypocoristic theophoric names and the increase in theophoric names, especially the increase of the yahwistic theophoric elements as a group, may indicate the spread of yahwism. Other changes, such as the disappearance of yw and the decrease of b'l, could be the result of the fall of Israel, since yw and b'l are characteristic elements in names in Israel (see below). The decrease in the use of divine appellatives may reflect a change in fashion in name-giving since divine appellatives do not refer to a specific god.

Theophoric Elements as Ethnic Characteristics

This study shows that a name is an important element in ethnic identity. While hypocoristic theophoric and other names appear throughout the Land of Israel and Transjordan, certain theophoric elements are limited to territories of particular ethnic groups.

Theophoric Elements in Judean Names: yhw and yh

yhw, the most dominant form of Yahweh, is a uniquely Judean element. It appears in Judah or in close proximity to its borders but is absent from Israel, yh, another form of Yahweh, is also a Judean element. It appears in a small number of names, all of them in Judah. Furthermore, names from major Judean sites show a particular characteristic mixture of theophoric elements that is substantially homogeneous across all Judean sites studied but strikingly different from the mixture found at the Israelite site of Samaria. Similar differences between Samaria and Jerusalem were reported by Hess (2007: 307-10). This mixture of theophoric elements and the distribution of yhw throughout Iron II indicate the long existence of Judah as a distinct ethnic group in the southern part of the land of Israel.

Theophoric Elements in Israelite Names: y w and b'l

yw, also a form of Yahweh, is unique to Israel. It is concentrated at Samaria and Horvat Teman. Only a few names with yw appear in Judah. In addition, yw, the dominant element in the early centuries, disappears in later centuries with the fall of Israel. Names with b'l appear in the eighth century only in Israel, almost all in Samaria. With the fall of Israel the b'l element disappears from this area but is still found at three sites, two in Philistia and one in Transjordan. It seems that b'l was an Israelite theophoric element in the early centuries.

A Theophoric Element in Ammonite Names: 'l

'l is a general term for god but it is also the head of the Canaanite pantheon. Names with 'l appear in a wide distribution mainly in Israel, Judah, and Ammon. This distribution is consistent with 'l as a general term for god. However, one-third of all 'l names in the seventh and sixth centuries appear in Ammonite territory (at Heshbon, Rabbath-Ammon, Tel el-'Umeiri, Tel Mazar, and Tel Siran), a relatively small area compared with the territories of Israel and Judah. It seems that 'l is a dominant element in Ammonite names but not unique to them as yhw is unique to Judean names. A similar distribution of names with 'l was found in Albertz' study (Albertz and Schmitt 2012: 341, 509 table 5.8).

A Theophoric Element in Edomite Names: qws

The Edomite national god is Qaus. There are only three names with qws in the onomasticon: Pg'qws, Qwscnl (22-25 impressions), both from Tel el-Kheleifeh, and Qws' from Aroer (Negev) (Ahitu 2008: 354-56; Avigad and Sass 1997: 389-90, 392-93). The corpora contain four additional provenanced names, which are missing more than one letter and therefore are not included in this onomasticon: Qwsg[br] mlk '[dm], from Umm el-Biyara (Avigad and Sass 1997: 388); and Bdq[ws], Qwsb[nh?], Qwsn[db?], from Tel el-Kheleifeh (Ahitu 2008: 354-55). In addition, the element qws appears on a bronze seal and in inscriptions on pottery, all from Horvat Qitmit, which was used as an Edomite temple from the end of the seventh century to the beginning of the sixth century (Beit-Arieh 2003: 68). Most of the names with qws appear in the seventh century onward and their sites, listed above, are near the southern border of the Beersheba-Arad Valley and from Wadi Zered to Eilat in Transjordan. This was the beginning of the Edomite settlement in the eastern Negev at the end of the Iron II period (ibid.: 76).

Other God Names as Theophoric Elements

Names with the name of a god other than Yahweh (yhw, yh, yw), El ('l), or Baal (b'l) include one of the following elements: hdd, hr (Horus), yrh, kms, mwt, qws. There are only nine such names, too few for statistical analysis. However, most of these names appear in the territory of the ethnic group that worships that god: kms at Karak, Moab; qws at Aroer (Negev) and Tel el-Kheleifeh, Edom (see above); hdd at Dan, a border town between Aram and Israel, hr appears at Arad and Aroer (Negev), close to Egypt, hr and mwt, which appear at Arad, are exceptions to the typical Judean distribution of names.

Divine Appellatives as Theophoric Elements

Names with a divine appellative--'b, 'h, cm, hm, adn, mlk--appear throughout the Land of Israel and Transjordan and do not characterize a specific ethnic group. Similarly, Albertz demonstrated that names with divinized kingship elements--'b, 'h, 'm, hm, and 'm--are contained in all Levantine onomastica (Albertz and Schmitt 2012: 487, 509 table 5.8). This is not surprising since divine appellatives do not refer to specific gods and are general in their nature. The most common divine appellative is 'h. Divine appellatives appear mainly as a prefixed element in names, whereas yhw, yh, and yw are mainly suffixed.


I thank Yosef Garfinkel for his advice and helpful comments, Ruhama Bonfil for preparing the distribution maps, and Amitai Golub for his advice on statistical issues.


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Table 1. Geographical and Chronological Distribution of Names
(E = early centuries, L = late centuries, U = unknown century)

                             yhw           yh           yw

                         E    L     U   E   L   U   E    L   U

Arad                     13   40    1       1
Beth Shean
Bethsaida                                           1
Beth-Shemesh             2    3                     1
Beth-Zur                      1
Dan                                                 2
Dothan                                              1
En- Hazeva
En-Gedi                       3
Gibeon                        7                          1
Hazor                                               1
Horvat Radum
Horvat Shovav
Horvat Teman                                        9
Horvat 'Uza                   37
Jerusalem                2    52    2   2   1            1
Khirbet el-Mudeiyine
Khirbet el-Qom           2    1
Khirbet Rabud
Lachish                  2    29    5       3            1
Mezad Hashavyabu              3
Moza                                        1
Nabal 'Arugot En-Gedi
near Revadim
Ramat Beth-Shemesh
Ramat Rabel                   4                     1    1
Samaria                                             16
Tel 'Amal
Tel Ashkelon
Tel Batash
Tel Beersheba            2
Tel Beit Mirsim                                     1
Tel Chinnereth
Tel Deir 'Alla
Tel el-Hammah
Tel el-Hesi                   1
Tel el-Kheleifeh
Tel el-'Umeiri
Tel en-Nasbeh            1    1
Tel 'Erani
Tel 'Ira                      2
Tel Jemmeh
Tel Judeideh             1    2             2
Tel Malbata
Tel Masos                     2
Tel Mazar
Tel Qasile               1
Tel Sera'
Tel Siran
Tel Zafit                     1
Tell el-Far'ah (South)
Wadi Murabba'at               1                          1

Total                    26   190   8   2   8   0   33   5   0

                             b,l          'l        Appellatives

                         E    L   U   E    L    U   E    L    U

Acco                              1             1
Arad                                  1    6        4    3
Azeka                                                    1
Beth Shean               1
Beth-Shemesh                          2         1   1    1    1
Buseirah                                            1
En- Hazeva
Gezer                                               1
Gibeon                                     2
Heshbon                                    9             1
Horvat Radum                               1
Horvat Shovav
Horvat Teman
Horvat 'Uza                                4             2
Jerusalem                             1    10   2   1    9
Keila                                                    1
Khirbet el-Mudeiyine                       1
Khirbet el-Qom
Khirbet Rabud                                            1
Lachish                               1    3        3    3
Megiddo                               1             1
Mezad Hashavyabu
Nabal 'Arugot En-Gedi
near Revadim                                        1
Rabbath-Ammon                              2             2
Ramat Beth-Shemesh
Ramat Rabel                           2
Samaria                  9            3             5
Tel 'Amal
Tel Ashkelon                  4                          1
Tel Batash                                               1
Tel Beersheba                         2
Tel Beit Mirsim                       1
Tel Chinnereth                        1
Tel Deir 'Alla
Tel el-Hammah                                       1
Tel el-Hesi                                1
Tel el-Kheleifeh                           1
Tel el-'Umeiri                1            2             1
Tel en-Nasbeh                         1
Tel 'Erani
Tel 'Ira
Tel Jemmeh                    2       1             1    1
Tel Judeideh                                             1
Tel Malbata                                2
Tel Masos                                                1
Tel Mazar                                  1             1
Tel Qasile
Tel Sera'                                                1
Tel Siran                                  1             1
Tel Zafit                                                1
Tell el-Far'ah (South)
Wadi Murabba'at                            1             1

Total                    10   7   1   17   47   4   20   35   1

                           Other     Hypocoristic
                           Gods          Names           Other

                         E   L   U   E    L     U    E    L     U

Arad                     2           5    8     1    11   14    2
Aroer                    1   1
Azeka                                     1     1               1
Beth Shean                           1               1
Bethsaida                                       1    1
Beth-Shemesh                         4    6          3    4
Dan                      1           2               1
Dibon                                                2
Ekron                                     2               3
En- Hazeva                                                2
En-Gedi                                                   1
Gezer                                           1               1
Gibeon                                    4          4    2
Hazor                                1
Heshbon                                   4               6
Horvat Radum                                              1
Horvat Shovav                             1               1
Horvat Teman                         4               2
Horvat 'Uza                               5               24
Jerusalem                            5    16    4    3    25    4
Karak                    1
Keila                                     1
Khirbet el-Mudeiyine
Khirbet el-Qom                                            1
Khirbet Rabud                             1
Lachish                              5    20    2    4    8     3
Megiddo                              1               2
Mezad Hashavyabu                          1
Moza                                      1               2
Nabal 'Arugot En-Gedi                     2
near Revadim
Rabbath-Ammon                    1   1          1    1    2     1
Ramat Beth-Shemesh                        1               3
Ramat Rabel                          2    3          3    2
Samaria                              21              8
Shechem                                              1
Tel 'Amal                                            1
Tel Ashkelon                              2               5
Tel Batash                           1    1
Tel Beersheba
Tel Beit Mirsim                      1
Tel Chinnereth
Tel Deir 'Alla                                       2          1
Tel el-Hammah
Tel el-Hesi                          1
Tel el-Kheleifeh             1   1        2               1     1
Tel el-'Umeiri                                  1
Tel en-Nasbeh                             2          2
Tel 'Erani                           1               2
Tel 'Ira                                                  1
Tel Jemmeh                                2          1    13
Tel Judeideh                         1    5     1         2
Tel Malbata                               1               1
Tel Masos                                 3
Tel Mazar                                 1               1
Tel Qasile
Tel Sera'                                 3               3
Tel Siran
Tel Zafit                                 2          2
Tell el-Far'ah (South)                                          1
Wadi Murabba'at                           1               3
Yavneh-Yam                                      1

Total                    5   2   2   57   102   14   57   131   15

Table 2. Chronological Distribution of Names and Artifacts by Century

                       Tenth     Ninth    Eighth    Seventh
                      Century   Century   Century   Century

Number of Names          6        21        170       326
Number of Artifacts      5        11        119       175

                      Early Sixth
                        Century     Unknown
                      (until 586)   Century   Total

Number of Names           146         43       712
Number of Artifacts       45          27       382

Table 3. Chronological Distribution of the Three Main Groups

                     Theophoric    Theophoric
                       Names         Names         Other       Total

10th-8th Centuries    97 (50%)      54 (27%)     46 (23%)    197 (100%)

7th and early 6th    268 (57%)      80(17%)      124 (26%)   472 (100%)

Table 4. Chronological Distribution of the Seven Theophoric Name

                 yw      yhw    Appellatives     l      b'l

10th-8th         31      22          19         14      10
Centuries       (30%)   (21%)      (18%)       (14%)   (10%)

7th and early     1      183         29         47       7
6th Centuries   (0%)    (67%)      (11%)       (17%)   (3%)

                Other God
                  Names      yh    Total

10th-8th            5        2      103
Centuries         (5%)      (2%)   (100%)

7th and early       2        4      273
6th Centuries     (1%)      (1%)   (100%)

Table 5. Distribution by Percentage of Theophoric Elements at Major

             Names      Names    Names with Divine    Names     Names
Site        with yhw   with 'l     Appellatives      with yh   with yw

Jerusalem   56 (67%)     13             10              3         1
                        (16%)          (12%)          (4%)      (1%)

Lachish     36 (72%)      4              6              3         1
                        (8%)           (12%)          (6%)      (2%)

Arad        54 (76%)      7              7              1        --
                        (10%)          (10%)          (1%)

Horvat      37 (86%)      4              2             --        --
'Uza                    (9%)           (5%)

Samaria        --         3              5             --        16
                        (9%)           (15%)                    (49%)

             Names     Other God
Site        with b'l     Names     Total

Jerusalem      --         --         83

Lachish        --         --         50

Arad           --          2         71
                         (3%)      (100%)

Horvat         --         --         43
'Uza                               (100%)

Samaria        9                     33
             (27%)                 (100%)
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