Divine Names and Numerical Architecture in the Hebrew Bible

Notwithstanding the dubious reputation of quantitative approaches to biblical interpretation, this paper argues that the frequency and distribution of divine names within the text of the Hebrew Bible reflect numerical frequencies derived via letter-number equivalence (or gematria) from divine names themselves. That is, numerical constants representing particular divine names typically govern the frequency with which these and other divine names or name-based formulas occur both within individual books and across traditional divisions of the canon (Torah, Former Prophets, etc.). The same numerical constants in many instances also govern the number of verses per individual book and, as a subset of the foregoing, the number of verses either with or without divine names. Infrequent divine names and formulas are likewise situated at junctures of symbolic numerical significance within the context of larger divine name collections and/or the verse structure of particular works. And whereas the foregoing strategies operate, as it were, beneath the surface of the text, appeal to onomastic values also helps to elucidate several long-standing challenges to the interpretation of particular biblical passages.

This methodological approach seeks on historical and textual grounds to elucidate onomastic numerical architecture as a feature of scribal redaction and transmission. In terms of historical background, Stephen J. Lieberman has proposed that gematria derives from Mesopotamian scribal practice, noting the correlation of divine names and numerical values in ancient Mesopotamian literature. In the margins of the Hebrew text, the numerical masora clearly evidences scribal interest in statistical analysis, thereby providing a methodological warrant for investigation of numerical strategies as a feature of structural organization.

This paper will identify numerical constants derived from divine names and review representative instances of symbolic numerical patterning in specific books of the canon, as well as across traditional literary units and/or the Hebrew canon as a whole. Where possible, discussion will highlight examples in which the frequency or placement of a particular divine name or name-based formula corresponds to the numerical value of the name itself. Finally, the paper will touch briefly on the theological implications of numerical symbolism and on technical challenges to investigating evidence of its use as a compositional and/or redactional strategy.

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