Exodus 3:14 And The Divine Name: A Case Of Biblical Paronomasia -- By: Barry J. Beitzel

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 01:1 (Spring 1980)
Article: Exodus 3:14 And The Divine Name: A Case Of Biblical Paronomasia
Author: Barry J. Beitzel


Exodus 3:14 And The Divine Name:
A Case Of Biblical Paronomasia

Barry J. Beitzel

Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

I. The Device of Paronomasia in the Old Testament

In its broadest definition, paronomasia is a comprehensive term first employed by ancient Greek scholastics when referring to rhetorical devices designed to engage and retain the attention of an audience. This extremely persuasive literary embellishment was so-called because one word was “brought alongside” (lit. “to name beside”) of another which appeared or sounded similar or identical-thus producing an aura of literary ambiguity—but which was actually quite different in origin and meaning.1

Paronomasia is a common ancient Near Eastern phenomenon, specimens of which are preserved in Mesopotamian,2 Egyptian3 and Arabic4 literatures. It is also attested in the New Testament5 and post.Biblical6 corpora.

Though regarded by contemporary Westerners only as an appropriate form of comedy, paronomasia is characteristically utilized in the Old Testament to arouse curiosity or to heighten the effect of a particularly solemn or important pronouncement, in this way permanently and indelibly impressing the proclamation upon the memory of an audience.7 This essay will consider the two foci of paronomastic types-visual and oral-and advance a paronomastic explanation of Exodus 3:14.

Visual paronomasia, tending to be intellectual, if not esoteric, includes the following varieties: (1)Gematria. In Biblical Hebrew, a numerical equivalent existed for each letter of the alphabet (e.g. ‘ =1, b=2, etc.). Gematria normally defines a cryptograph in the form of a word or cluster of words which, through the calculation of their combined numerical values, discloses an otherwise-concealed meaning. For instance, David, whose gematria is 14, is listed 14th in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1) and the employment of his gematria is reinforced by the prominent role which the number 14 plays later in this chapter (v 17). Gad, with a gematria of 7, is reckoned 7th in the tribal listing of Genesis 46, where 7 sons are ascribed to him. The first collection of Solomon...

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