Why do names change between the books of Samuel/Kings and Chronicles? For example, in 2 Samuel 11:3, David looks from his window and sees a beautiful woman bathing in an adjacent house. He inquires of her name, and finds out: “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam?” And from there it becomes your typical king-meets-wife-of-deployed-soldier, affair-pregnancy-murder-cover-up kind of story, and ends up costing David his kingdom.
But this story can become confusing when you read in 1 Chronicles 3:5 that David had four children “by Bath-shua, the daughter of Ammiel.” So what gives? Why is Bathsheba’s name spelled differently, and was her father named Ammiel or Eliam?
This question is not just simply an issue of missing the forest for the trees—although if you ask this question, please don’t neglect the larger issues of what God wants you to learn from David’s sin and how that ended up dividing the kingdom. But if you spend any time reading Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, you will find loads of examples of this same problem. Names are changed. People have one name in one book, and another name in another book. Why is that?
There are two main reasons:
Pronunciations change over time
Hebrew as it was originally written didn’t have many of the pronunciation aides that English speakers take for granted (we call them vowels). The consonants were all there, and the annunciation of the words was all well known. At risk of overly simplifying the issue (and Hebrew geeks will probably point out that this is an oversimplification) imagine seeing a sentence about brthrs and sstrs who fght like cts and dgs; it wouldn’t take effort to figure it out, but in a few generations it might not be that easy.
This is the kind of change that happens in the Bible. The consonants JSH mean Joshua (Exodus 17:9), but 1,000 years later they are pronounced Jeshua (1 Chron 24:11), and then of course ultimately Yeshua.
There is the additional issue that sometimes the pronunciation of consonants themselves change over time. I have on my office wall a page from a 16th-century English Bible, and 2 Timothy 3:1 says, “This I know alfo, that in the laft dayes fhall come perilous times.” Four hundred years later, orthographical conventions result in the f becoming an s.
People have more than one name
CNN’s Larry King is actually Larry Zeigler. He changed his name for the purpose of his show, but there is no telling how (or if!) he will be known 100 years from now. This same dynamic is at work in Israel. Uzziah, Jehoahaz, and Jehoiachin were all kings, but when they ascended to the throne they took the names Azariah, Shallum, and Coniah (respectively). Kings, Jeremiah, and Chronicles use both sets of names.
You see this even in the relatively short time span of the USA; while in office we have had Presidents Chet Arthur, Jack Kennedy, and Bill Clinton. Only later in history are they referred to as Chester, John, and William. In one sense, you could call Chet, Jack and Bill their Samuel names, and Chester, John, and William their Chronicles names—but only if you were ok making jokes only seminary students would understand.
With that in the background, how do we explain Solomon’s mother? In the 500 years between Samuel and Chronicles, Bathsheba got shortened to Bath-shua. The final b got swallowed over time, as the annunciation moved further down the word, and three syllables became two.
Meanwhile her father suffered a different kind of fate. Eliam in Samuel becomes elongated to Ammiel in Chronicles. Over time it appears that the way his name was pronounced involved a lengthening of the first letter (an aleph became an ayin), and this caused the m and the l to swap places. It is essentially the same consonants, they just moved around a bit. While it could have simply been a copy error (a scribe swapping two consonants), because the history of David and Bathsheba would have been so well known, that is very unlikely. It is more likely that the name’s pronunciation simply shifted over time.
So confession time: have the shifting names ever caused you to stumble over scripture? Is this something you have noticed on your own?