by: Mark Kirschbaum on January 19th, 2012 | 3 Comments »
In the case of some terms, people might have doubts as to whether they’re names or descriptions; like “God”—does it describe God as the unique divine being or is it a name of God? (Saul A Kripke, Naming and Necessity, p. 27)
Our text seems to be preoccupied with names. Moshe (Moses) went to Pharoah as instructed, and instead of freeing the slave people, Pharoah makes their life even more miserable. Moshe complains to God about the suffering of the people and the failure of his mission, but God wants to talk about names. The text relates (Shemot 2:6):
And God spoke to Moshe, saying: I am ADNY. I have revealed myself to Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov as El Shaddai, but with the name ADNY I had not revealed myself to them.
Moshe wants to know how the people will be freed, and God answers with a seemingly irrelevant discourse on names. Why does it matter with which name revelation was conducted in the past? In attempting to find meaning in this emphasis upon ancient names, we will find ourselves confronting very contemporary issues regarding faith and science.
Even as we focus upon the centrality of names in the current verse, we can’t help noticing the preoccupation with names in the early part of the book of Shemot (Exodus). This book begins with an enumeration of the names of the tribes, then Moshe names his children, then Moshe is concerned in his first dialogue with God that the Israelites will ask of him what God’s name is, and here again, in this speech announcing the deliverance from Egypt, God begins by announcing a new previously undisclosed name. It is fitting, I suppose, that this book, called Exodus in Greek, is traditionally known as Sefer Shemot, the Book of Names, in Hebrew. What’s all this business about names?