Pronouncing Biblical Names (Wherein I Rant)

jimmyakin.com | 10/13/2019 | View all posts by Jimmy Akin
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Pronouncing biblical names is often tricky. They’re names from other languages, after all.

Some have become standard, English names. But for every David or John there’s also an Artaxerxes and a Mahershalalhashbaz.

Aloud - Name

When you’re reading the Bible aloud and you come across a name, you may:

Many readers that I hear seem to prefer option 3.

Today - Peeve - Mine

However, that’s not what I want to rant about today. Instead, I want to rant about a pet peeve of mine.

Yes, I know it’s trivial, but it drives me nuts.

Names - Old - Testament - Elijah - Elisha

Consider the names of these two Old Testament prophets: Elijah and Elisha.

They’re different, no? One of them has a /j/ in it and the other has an /sh/ in it.

Difference

And that’s the only difference.

So it should be the only difference in how you pronounce them, right?

English - Pronunciation - Elijah - Elisha

Sure enough, in the traditional English pronunciation, it is: Elijah is pronounced ee-LIE-jah and Elisha is pronounced ee-LIE-shah.

If somebody names their kid Elisha, you call him ee-LIE-shah.

English - Pronunciation

At least, that’s how you do it if you’re using the standard English pronunciation.

Normally when reading aloud, you wouldn’t want to use anything but the standard English pronunciation.

Audience

It would confuse your audience, and you could come across as just showing off.

Like if you pronounced the name David as dah-WEED in church for no reason.

Situations—like - Language - Pronunciation - Language

However, there are situations—like in a language class—where you’d want to know the pronunciation in the original language.

So how would you pronounce Elijah and Elisha in biblical Hebrew?

Things

There are a few things you need to know:

Hebrew doesn’t have the /j/ sound; it uses the /y/ sound instead.

Syllable - Hebrew - Consonant - Stop—ie - Constriction

Every syllable in Hebrew must begin with a consonant, even if it’s just a glottal stop—i.e., a constriction of the throat (we actually have this consonant in English, but it’s not part of our alphabet; if you pay attention, you can hear yourself saying it on the front of...
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