God’s Name in Personal Names

In Exodus 30, God tells Moses to anoint Aaron and his sons for service as priests. “Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. Say to the Israelites, This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. Do not pour it on anyone else’s body and do not make any other oil using the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. Whoever makes perfume like it and puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from their people.”

Earlier in Exodus 28, the Bible listed the names of Aaron’s sons. “Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Avihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests.”

A theophoric name is a name that includes the name of a god within the complete name. For example, Israel included God’s name El within it. Similarly, Aaron’s son Avihu has a theophoric name, with the concluding letters taken from God’s name YHWH. Theophoric names are indicators of which god a particular group or culture revered.

In 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam led the northern tribes of Israel to secede from the Davidic kingdom, and he set up competing shrines at Dan and Bethel. At Tel Dan, archaeologists unearthed an Iron IIA temple that appears to have been the one utilized by the northern Kingdom of Israel.

At Tel Dan, two artifacts bearing theophoric names were discovered within the archaeological layer that is attributed to the period of occupation by the northern Kingdom of Israel. A seal impression with the name ‘Immadiyaw’, meaning “YHWH is with me”, was discovered on the western edge of the enclosure of the sacred area. Additionally, a jar handle bearing the name Zakaryaw, another theophoric name, was found on-site.

In Exodus 32, Aaron “took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, This is your god, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” Similarly, in 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam made two golden calves, one for Bethel and the other for Dan, and he said to the people “Here is your god, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.” In both Exodus and 1 Kings, the Golden Calf is associated with God.

These artifacts indicate that it is likely that the god that was worshipped at Dan was YHWH, consistent with the Bible’s account of an Israelite king shifting the worship of YHWH from Jerusalem to a site at Dan in the northern reaches of his kingdom.

The image above is of the finely cut masonry wall of the temple at Dan.