Just a snippet from a commentary that anyone can read, but this stuck in my head from earlier reading in Jeremiah, and it took a while to find it again…
You know how good Winston Churchill was at insults? Look them up on the web if you don’t.
Well, here’s a good one from the Bible. In the Hebrew and in some English Bibles, we can find Nebuchadnezzar’s name spelled Nebuchadrezzar. In fact, scholars exposed to the Akkadian language, the older home language of Neb’s Babylon, would often say that the latter form was right, and that it may have been misspelled in places in our Bibles.
“I wish Stanley Baldwin no ill, but it would have been much better if he had never lived.”
But check out this suggestion in F. B. Huey’s Jeremiah commentary (see end), cited from one A. van Selms. Huey reports that Nebuchadrezzar with an ‘r’ means, in Akkadian, ‘Nabu (a god) protect(s) the boundary’, or ‘Nabu protect(s) the crown’. I’ve also heard ‘Nabu protect the son’. But van Selms suggests that Nebuchadnezzar with the 2nd ‘n’ was a deliberate misspelling, which means, ‘Nabu, protect the mule’!
Can you imagine Jews sticking the ‘n’ in under their breath and, in the early days when it was a new joke, sniggering to one another? It’s a little bit like the way people called the Hellenistic Seleucid emperor fought tooth and nail by the Jews in the Maccabean Era, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, whose self-given title meant ‘[God] manifest’, Epimanes, ‘the mad’.
There are other clever switcheroos to be found in the OT, but I’ll have to go looking for them again!
By the way, the name of ‘Abed-nego’ in Daniel 1 means ‘servant of Nabu’. Popular god! That wouldn’t sit easily on a faithful Yahweh-worshipping exile from Judah, would it? Did many Jews receive such names? Did they learn to live with them? It would be interesting to know.
Huey, F. B. Jeremiah and Lamentations (New American Commentary; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1993), 199.
“Churchill portrait NYP 45063 edit1” by British Government – This is photograph NYP 45063 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Churchill_portrait_NYP_45063_edit1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Churchill_portrait_NYP_45063_edit1.jpg