The Bible is today, and has been since 2,000 years ago, the cardinal text for Judaism and Christianity. Its stories and characters have greatly influenced Western culture and civilization.
Many of the elements of a specific biography are widely separated in the Bible, distributed across great stretches of the text. This book brings together in a narrative format all the information and references about each character which are scattered in the different Bible books, and presents the biography of each person as a coherent and continuous story. For the purposes of the book it is not important if each person in the Bible really existed in historical fact, or only in folk-mythology, or as fictional characters in tales written for moral purposes.
Unavoidably there is some redundancy in the narrations because many of the biographies share the same events. The author has strived in each case to present the events from the point of view of the specific individual, so that, ideally, each biography should stand independently on its own.
Who’s who in Tanakh differs from comparable volumes in having only the Bible text as its source. The book is based solely on the biblical text as it is commonly understood, without extra-biblical legends, theological interpretations, or other additions.
The book does not have a theological approach to the Bible. It is based on a literal reading of the biblical text, treating the text as a historical document. However, the author considers that many of the biographies, long or short, of the 3,000 persons that inhabit the biblical text, convey the profound truths of the Bible. It his hope that the user should find these biographies instructive, enjoyable, and interesting to read, and, at the same time, gain new insights, as a study of characters to be learned from, as examples to be emulated or avoided.
Who’s who in Tanakh is an authoritative and comprehensive reference for a wide audience, including scholars and general readers; students and teachers in high school, religious institutions, colleges, and seminaries; rabbis, ministers, and religious educators; and participants in religious education and Bible study programs. It can be read by people of all ages for information and enjoyment, and, at the same time, it can be used as an indispensable reference by Bible students, scholars, researchers, teachers, and clergy persons.
Names in the Bible
A great percentage of biblical names are theophoric; that is they are compounded with the name of the God of Israel in its different forms, such as El, Jo, Jah, or Jahu, or some pagan god, such as Baal. For example, Abiel, God is my father; Jonathan, God gave; Malchijah, God is my king; Jerubbaal, Baal will contend.
Many of the proper names in the Bible times tell important events related to that character. For example, the changing of Abram’s name, Exalted father, to Abraham, Father of multitude, symbolizes God’s promise; Leah naming her firstborn Reuben, See a son, shows Leah’s effort to gain the love of Jacob her husband; or Naomi, Pleasant, returning to her native town a widow bereft of her sons, and asking to be called Mara, Bitter.
A number of names are descriptive, such as Laban, White; Dibri, Wordy; Edom, Red; Doeg, Worrier; Er, Watchful; Geber, Man; Ham, Hot; Haran, Mountaineer; Hariph, Sharp; Heresh, Deaf; Ibri, Hebrew; Matri, Rainy; Kareah, Bald; Naarah, Young girl.
In many cases people were given the names of animals, such as Caleb, Dog; Nahash, Snake; Shaphan, Rabbit; Huldah, Weasel; Arad, Wild donkey; Zippor, Bird; Deborah, Bee; Hamor, Donkey.
The translation of the names has been done by consulting Biblical Hebrew dictionaries, and Hebrew encyclopedias. The phrase Hebrew origin next to the name does not necessarily mean that the name can be accurately and exactly translated to English. In many cases the name derives from an unused or primitive root, and its meaning can be applied only figuratively or by implication. In frequent cases the nuances of the meaning are debatable. For example, Hananiah can be understood as God has favored or as God will favor. The name Bani, can be translated as Built and also as My son. Barzillai can be Iron maker or Man of Iron. Beeliada can be translated as Baal knows, and also as One who knows Baal.
Note: During the biblical period there were no family names. A man was identified by his name followed by his father’s name, as for example, Jonathan son of Saul, a format that is followed in this book. This tradition is still followed in our own days when people in the synagogue are called to the blessing of the reading of the Torah by their name and the name of their father.