Mitka Golub, an archaeologist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, published an article titled e, What’s in a Name? Personal Names in Ancient Israel and Judah in the summer edition of the Biblical Archaeology Review and the Israel Exploration Journal in which she hypothesizes a method of determining whether Biblical stories were recorded near to the time they actually occurred. Her method is based on the names. She claims that if the names appear in the Bible in a form identical to hwo they are found in archaeological artifacts from the same time period, this is a strong indicator of the historicity of the Biblical account. Golub argues that biblical editors were less likely to alter personal names than events with theological importance.
Golub’s recent research focuses on the Book of Jeremiah which, according to archaeologists, describes events in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, or, in archaeological terms, the end of the Iron Age II. Though focusing on names is a common technique in archaeology, Golub’s method is unique in focusing not only on the letters and names, but also on rother elated etymological elements. If it all matches, the archeological references and the Biblical account, that would indicate that the biblical reference was likely written near the time of the events it describes. if the naming characteristics differ, it might suggest that the biblical book was written or edited at a later date.
For the purposes of her study, Golub developed onomasticon.net, a database for personal names collected from artifacts dated to the Iron Age II and found in the southern Levant. This resource is free and available to the public. The list contains 950 names in total and 367 specifically from the seventh and sixth centuries BCE but is not exhaustive and does not represent the totality of Iron Age II names.
In the Book of Jeremiah, there are 92 personal names, the majority of which are theophoric names (names formed by using a deity’s name), most commonly the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh. The syllable ‘el’ (literally ‘god’) is also commonly part of a name.
“Rather than comparing only individual names, she analyzes elements of names, such as if a personal name contains part of a divine name and, if so, where that element appears within the name (e.g., at the beginning or end),” writes Megan Sauter of the Biblical Archaeology Society, summing up Golub’s approach.
“If naming characteristics in the biblical text and archaeological record align, it supports the historicity of the Bible — meaning that the biblical book in question was likely written near the events it describes and reflects genuine names of the respective period,” Sauter writes at the blog Bible History Daily. “However, if the naming characteristics differ, it might suggest that the biblical book was written or edited at a later date.”
Based on this method, Golub concludes that the Book of Jeremiah was written close to the events it describes. However, she noted what she believes is a significant difference. In the Book of Jeremiah, the groups of letter yod-hei-vav was used 53% of the time as part of names as compared to yod-vav which was used in 42% of the names. Golub noted that the combinations were essentially interchangeable. In comparison, almost all the epigraphic artifacts incorporated yod-hei-vav in names. She theorized that this element might indicate that the author did not any importance to the different elements. An alternative that Golub prefers is that the book was compiled in a later period when the use of yod-vav had become more common.