Israel Tour Guide – A MISHMASH of languages – different and odd pronunciation of names in Israel
ישראל – בלגן בשמות או שהשמות בבלגן
(MISHMASH – in Yiddish – a confused mess…)
Ever wondered what the meaning of Gethsemane is? Where the term Armageddon came from? Why Jesus is called the Nazarene?
It is relatively complicated and developed for a number of reasons. Here are a few:
• The lingua-franca (spoken language) of the the Holy Land changed from Hebrew to Aramaic around 500 BC leaving Hebrew as the language of prayer and poetry. Even in today’s Jewish prayers we have some in Aramaic.
• Hebrew as a daily language “died” in the first Century AD and other languages (Greek, Arabic, Yiddish…) were in daily use by the Jewish people. The Hebrew language was only revived some 100 years ago by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda with the return of the Jews, mostly from Europe, to the Promised Land.
• There were two massive translations of the Bible from Hebrew into Greek – the Septuagint and into Latin – the Vulgate translation. Even though the translations were good, some of the transliterations did not hit the mark. The difference in the phonetic sounds of languages has always been a translation and pronunciation problem.
• In the middle of it all the Muslims conquered the Holy land and many names received Arabic pronunciations. All the conquering nations added their interpretations even the many-language-speaking Crusaders.
• And then of course came the modern government bureaucracy with the Names Committee who decided on the Hebrew names of places and their English spelling – mainly on the terribly-spelled road signs.
Here are some of my favorite examples:
• GETHSEMANE – in Hebrew Gat means a press and Shemen means olive oil – so why not call that grove of ancient olive trees the OLIVE PRESS GARDEN?
• ARMAGEDDON – the place is called HAR – as in mountain – MEGIDDO (Rev 16:16) or the plains of Megiddo (Judges 5:19) or the waters of Megiddo (2Kings 23:20). It is obvious that the translator either made a mistake in the pronunciation of the name or had no idea of where Megiddo was.
• Joseph of ARAMATHIA – Ramah is a then important town just north of Jerusalem or can mean a high place so the man should have been called Joseph from Ramah – or in Hebrew Joseph HaRamati.
• Maria MAGDALENA – Miriam from Migdal – a fishing village well known near Capernaum.
• CAPERNAUM – Kfar means village and Nachum is a common men’s first name.
• YESHUA – the original Hebrew name meaning Savior, a common name of those times when people were expecting the nearby “coming of the Messiah”. JESUS – the Greek/Latin transliteration. ISSA – in Arabic.
• Judas ISKAROT – Ish means “man from” and Krayot means “a neighborhood/town”.
• BETHLEHEM – Bait means house and LEHEM means bread or food. Maybe they had some good restaurants there in the ancient times (just a joke).
• YOEL – in English Joel – my name and there is also the prophet JOEL. YO in gematria (numerical worth of alphabetical letters – A=1 / B=2…) is 16 – a holy name for God and EL means God. Many Hebrew names are some combination of using words or meanings for God.
• NAZARENE (and maybe even the city NAZARETH) – NETSER in Hebrew means “from the lineage of” and specifically here “from the lineage of King David” as the New Testament tells us about Jesus). So when Pontius Pilate asks Jesus is he the King of the Jews the name Netser sticks to Jesus and is badly transliterated into Greek and Latin.
• MOGEN DOVID – Magen David or Star/Shield of David in Yiddish.
• BEIT G’AMAL – a village that its name when reverted into Arabic accepted the apostrophe. G’amal means camel and Beit means home.
• BETHANY – In Hebrew – Beit = home. Anya = the poor. A relatively suitable name for the followers of Jesus – as the Bible tells us – poorer people. The village is about 3 hours walk from Ancient Jerusalem and below the mountain top in the Judean desert and mostly very hot.
• El-AZHARIA – in Arabic – a modern name for Bethany – “the place of Lazarus” (John 11 – Lazarus from Bethany).
• ISKANDAR – the Arabs found it difficult to pronounce Alexander (the Great – Greek conqueror of this area in the 2nd century BC) so there is a completely new name.
• IBLIN – a village near Haifa deriving its name from French Crusader Balian of Aveline who’s descendants settled in that area during the Crusades.
• ACRE, AKKO – the ancient and modern names in English and Arabic for the Crusader city of St Jean D’Acri.
• NABI MUSSA – a monastery. Nabi = prophet. Mussa is Moses in Arabic.
• NABI DAWOOD – the prophet (King) David in Islam.
• QESARIA – just horrible work for the Hebrew name for Caesarea. Keisar = Caesar. Who uses the letter Q without a U.
• QIRYAT Shmona – Kirya means town and the names committee should have used a simple K.
• HERZLIYYA – on the road signs. Anyone heard of 3/4 consonants coming one after the other or a double YY in English spelling?.
• TVERIA – a city on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, built just AD and named in honor of King Herod Antipas’s mentor the Roman Caesar Tiberius.
Want to hear more about this? Come to Israel and use my services as your Israel Tour Guide. I have many anecdotes and stories on this line.
Read more about the religious aspect of the transliteration in this article – Is Jew-hatred and Poor Transliteration Related?