Home Page

Research Problems
Project Status

Geographic Regions
How to Search
Search Guidelines

Search the GNDBs
Search SIG GNDBs

Hilchot Gitin Books
"Get Mesudar"
GM: Srch Old Names
GM: Srch New Names
GM: Srch Old Kinuim

About GNDBs, Names

JewishGen HomePage
JewishGen DataBases



3.1.  ANCIENT PERIOD (3150 BCE - 500 CE)

Jewish history begins in the ANCIENT PERIOD with the Patriarch Avraham Avinu sealing a covenant with G-d and migrating at His command to Canaan, which was to become the Land of Israel.  Table 2 lists the major occurences in this period and some impacts on the choice of given names.

Table 2.  Ancient Period (3150 BCE - 500 CE)

Pre-Judaic PeriodBeginning-2000 BCE
Canaanite Period3150-1200 BCE(Bronze Age)
  Jewish Tora Period2000-1246 BCETRIBAL NATION
Original Hebrew names:Avraham, Sarah
Single Hebrew names
  Hyksos Period1720-1570 BCE
  Israel in Egypt1686-1286 BCEEgyptian namesMoshe
  Exodus from Egypt1286 BCEGiving of the Tora at Mt. Sinai
  Moshe dies1246 BCEOn Mt. Nevo
1246 ... BCESome Patronymic names:Yehoshu bin Nun
  Conquest, Canaan1246-1200 BCEIsraelites under Yehoshua bin Nun
Israelite Period1200-586 BCE(Iron Age)
  Phillistines1200 BCESettle on the Canaanite Coast
  Period of Judges1200-1025 BCECharismatic, religious/military leaders
1200-928 BCEPlaces-of-origin names:Eliyahu HaTishbi
  Period of Kings1025-928 BCEShaul, David, Shlomo
  Period of Prophets870-457 BCEEliyahu to Malachi
  North Kingdom falls722 BCETo Assyria
  Judah submits604 BCETo Babylonian control
  Temple 1 destroyed587 BCEBy Babylonians
Babylonian Exile586-537 BCEChaldean names:Mordechai, Shamai
Persian Period537-332 BCEAramaic names:Zerubavel, Nechemia
  Temple 2 built515 BCE
450 ... BCEDescriptive names:HaKaton (Ezra 8:12)
  Age of Sofrim420-300 BCETransition: TRIBAL NATION TO
Hellenistic Period332-63 BCEGreek names:Alexander, Philo
Hebrew-Greek doubles:Shimon-Petrus,
Use of two Hebrew names:Sarah Miriam
Hebrew-Aramaic double names
  Repeating namesNewborns named after
deceased relatives
Roman Period63 BCE-476 CELatin names:Marcus, Agrippa
  Herod becomes king40 BCERebuilds 2nd Temple
  Temple 2 destroyed70 CEBy Romans, 9th of Av
  Sanhedrin set up70 CEIn Yavne, by Yochanan ben Zakai
  Masoretic Text100 CEText and vowels of the Tanach set
  Paganism Collapses100-200 CE
  Dispersion of Jews130-250 CETo Spain, France, Italy, ...
  Talmudic Period200-550 CEPatronymic names:Yochanan ben Zakai
Place-of-origin names:Yosi the Galilean
Priestly-designation names:Yosi HaCohen
Vocational names:Yochanan HaSandlar
Nicknames:Shmuel HaKatan
Newborn boys named, circumcision
  Outside PalestineMostly non-Jewish names
  Sura Academy219 CEFounded in Babylonia
  Pumbeditha Acad.259 CEFounded in Babylonia
  Mishna compiled200-215 CEBy Yehuda HaNasi, of the Sanhedrin
  Gemara compiled500 CEIn Tiberius
Christianity312 CEBecomes official religion
of Roman Empire
Byzantine Rule324-640 CE

For this paper, the Bible (Tanach) is defined as the combination of the Tora (five books of Moshe -- Genesis through Deuteronomy, ending with Moshe's exhortation and death), the Nevi'im (Prophets, beginning with Yehoshua bin Nun, ending with Malachi), and the Ketuvim (Scriptures/Writings, beginning with the Psalms, ending with Chronicles). The Jewish Tora Period begins with the Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov and ends with the death of Moshe before the conquest of Canaan began under Yehoshua bin Nun.

During the Ancient Period, Jews lived in and around the Land of Israel, except for the exile to Egypt and the fifty-year period of the Babylonian Exile between 586-537 BCE.  By and large, the given names which they had were Semitic, except for Egyptian names like Moshe, and some names adopted from peoples conquered upon entering Canaan.  One of the largest groups of Jewish names were those using the name of G-d.  Later, however, they came into close contact with conquering cultures (Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman) which deeply affected their naming patterns;  the Babylonian culture was the first important one, introducing a definite trend in changing the names used in the past.  Hadasa became Esther, and the names Mordechai, Daniel, Chanania, Azaria, and Nechemia were introduced.

To Top

Pre-Judaic || Canaanite || Hyksos || Israelite || Temple I || Sofrim || Hellenistic || Roman ||


The Pre-Judaic Period covers the period described in the Five Books of Moshe, from G-d's Creation of the World up to the Covenant made between G-d and Avram.  During this period were born many of the progenitors of non-Jewish nations.

Some of the pre-Judaic names appearing in the Five Book of Moshe during the Pre-Judaic Period are:  Adam, Kayin, Hevel, Chanoch, Mechiyael, Lemech, Yaval, Yuval, Shet, Enosh, Noach, Shem, Cham, Yafet, Canaan, Ashkenaz, Elisha, Nimrod, Mitzrayim, Ever, Nachor, Terach, Lot, Haran; Chava, Ada, Tsila, Na'ama, Milka.

Although these people were not Jews, many of their names have been adopted by Jews over the centuries, becoming sacred Hebrew names.

To Top

3.1.2.  CANAANITE PERIOD (3150-1200 BCE)

For Jews, the first major part of the Ancient Period (the Canaanite period) includes the initiation of the Jewish Tora Period, as described in the Five Books of Moshe:  the Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, the People of Israel in Egypt, and their exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam.  At the beginning of this period, the Jews were but a small family tribe with a covenant, common values, basic differences with the surrounding tribes, and the beginnings of a one-G-d concept.

Figure 2 presents a descendants list for the first Jews, omitting non-Jewish ancestors (e.g., Avram's father Terach, grandfather Nachor, great grandfather Serug), and branches other than that one leading directly to Moshe (e.g., Yitzchak's siblings and their offspring.)

   0   1   2   3   4   5   6
   Avram (Avraham) (1991-1816BCE)                (The first Jew & Patriarch)
   + Hagar (?-?BCE)                              (Sarai's handmaid)
   :   Yishmaeyl (1905-1768BCE)
   + Sarai (Sarah) (1981-1855BCE)
   :   Yitzchak (1891-1711BCE)                   (Second Patriarch)
   :   + Rivka (?-?BCE)
   :   .   Eysav (1831-?BCE)
   :   .   Yaakov (Yisrael) (1831-1684BCE)       (Third Patriarch)
   :   .   + Leah (?-?BCE)
   :   .   .   Re'uveyn (1746-?BCE)
   :   .   .   Shimon (1745-?BCE)
   :   .   .   Leyvi (1744-1667BCE)
   :   .   .   .   Kehas (?-?BCE)
   :   .   .   .   .   Amram (?-?BCE)
   :   .   .   .   .   .   Miriam (?-?BCE)
   :   .   .   .   .   .   Moshe (?-?BCE)
   :   .   .   .   .   .   Aharon (?-?BCE)
   :   .   .   Yehuda (1743-?BCE)
   :   .   .   Yisachar (1742-?BCE)
   :   .   .   Zevulun (1741-?BCE)
   :   .   .   Dina (?-?BCE)
   :   .   + Bilha (?-?BCE)                      (Rachel's handmaid)
   :   .   .   Dan (1743-?BCE)
   :   .   .   Naftali (1742-?BCE)
   :   .   + Zilpa (?-?BCE)                      (Rachel's handmaid)
   :   .   .   Gad (1742-?BCE)
   :   .   .   Asher (?-?BCE)
   :   .   + Rachel (?)
   :   .   .   Yoseyf (1740-1667BCE)
   :   .   .   + Asnas (?-?BCE)
   :   .   .   .   Menashe (?-?BCE)
   :   .   .   .   Efrayim (1704-?BCE)
   :   .   .   Binyamin (1734-?BCE)

    Figure 2.  The Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov

Yoseyf, who was sold to the Midianites and taken to Egypt, was in the same generation as his older brother Levi.  (For those interested in a complete GEDCOM file biblnams.ged for the King James Version of the Tora, visit the URL: http://genealogy.org/~ajmorris, GEDDEX, ao07.)

Avram's origins were in the city of Ur, just north of today's Persian Gulf, and southeast of the land that later became Babylonia.  His father Terach took his family northwest from Ur to the city of Charan in northern Syria.  Later, in a Covenant with Avram, G-d told him (Genesis 12:2) that his seed would become a great nation, and (Genesis 15:18) that they would be given the land of Canaan;  afterward, Avram's name was changed to Avraham.  When Avraham was circumcised, he became the first Jew.  Under command from G-d, Avram left Charan and his father for the land of Canaan which would be the inheritance of his descendants.  Avraham's wanderings eventually carried him as far south as Egypt during a period of famine.

Under the promise of G-d, Avraham became the progenitor of many nations:  the Jews, the Yishmaelim (Arabs), Midyanim, Ashurim, Letushim, Le'umim.

Avraham lived sometime in the early 20th century BCE, about 200 years before the time of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE), the King of Babylonia.  He lived about the same time that the Semitic Amorites swept over the centers of the Fertile Crescent, including Canaan, and who were in turn absorbed by Hammurabi.  During the 20th and 19th centuries BCE, a change occurred in the structure of settlement and social order in Canaan;  this is the period among the Amorites and others, of transition from nomadic to settled life, from patriarchal and tribal rule to city-kingdom.

Avraham was the Patriarch of his nomadic family, as were later Yitzchak and Yaakov.  He was a powerful religious/civil/military leader who inspired and led his family.  It was only later in and after Egypt, that his descendants were forged into a People.  This pattern of inspiring leadership continued until the Age of the Sofrim when major changes occurred.

Some of the Hebrew names used for males during the first few generations of the Biblical Period (beginning with the Patriarchs) were: Asher, Avram (Avraham), Dan, Eliezer, Gad, Lavan, Levi, Lot, Nachor, Naftali, Reuven, Shimon, Terach, Yaakov (Yisrael), Yehuda, Yissachar, Yitzchak, Yoseph, Zevulun.  Some of the Hebrew names used for females were:  Dina, Leah, Rachel, Rivka, Sarai (Sara).  Only a few of these names from the Biblical Period are theophoric.

To Top

3.1.3.  HYKSOS PERIOD (1720-1570 BCE), ISRAEL IN EGYPT (1716-1286 BCE),

The start of the rather obscure Hyksos Period roughly paralleled the post-patriarchal period described in the Tora, when the People of Israel descended to Egypt.  The Hyksos, the introducers of the war chariot as a new weapon, were apparently Semites from Syria.  They entered Egypt and defeated the pharoahs of the Middle Kingdom, and established a powerful kingdom from Syria, through Canaan, into Egypt;  there was peace and prosperity in the lands of their dominion.  Chatzor became the capital of Canaan under the Hyksos, and remnants of their fortifications have been found in Jericho, Shechem, and Lachish.

Some historians (e.g., Josephus) place the sale of Yoseph by his brothers to the passing Midianites in the Hyksos Period, but others do not, claiming that the soujorn in Egypt could not have been as long as 430 years, as stated in the Bible.  Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam, the triumverate leaders of the Jewish exodus from Egypt, are thought by some to have led the Jews from there about 1286 BCE, after the weakening defeat of Pharaoh Rameses II at Kedesh;  using these two assumptions, Yisrael and his family came to Egypt at Yosef's invitation about 1716 BCE (some say in 1701 BCE), at the beginning of the Hyksos Period.

The long period spent in Egypt, the slavery there, the Jews' suffering, and their high birth rate slowly forged the small Jewish Patriarchal family into a much larger People with common values.  At Sinai was born a new conception of G-d and His relationship to man in general, and in particular to the Jewish People, His Chosen People -- chosen for a special relationship.

Some Hebrew names from this period are, for men:  Aharon, Amram, Avihu, Chanoch, Gershom, Gershon, Karmi, Kehat, Merari, Moshe, Nadav, Ohad, Pinchas, Shaul, Uziel, Yamin, Yehoshua, Yemuel, Yisrael, Zohar. For women: Elisheva, Miriam, Yocheved.

To Top

3.1.4.  ISRAELITE PERIOD (1200-586 BCE)

The second major part of the Ancient Period, the Israelite Period, began in 1200 BCE after the Jews left Egypt, and after they conquered Canaan (1246-1200 BCE) under the leadership of Yehoshua bin Nun.  This period includes the Jewish tribes in the Land of Israel, the exploits of Shimshon, the period of the Judges (1200-1025 BCE), the kingships of Shaul, David, and Shlomo (1060-1010, 1000-961, 961-922 BCE), the conquest of Jerusalem by David (1000 BCE), the construction of the first Temple by Shlomo (950 BCE), the division of the united kingdom of Shlomo into the northern Israelite kingdom and the southern Judaean kingdom (922 BCE), the period of the Prophets (Eliyahu to Malachi, 870-457 BCE), the rise of the Assyrian Empire to the north and east of the Land of Israel and the subjection of the Jews, and finally the destruction of the Kingdom of Assyria by newly-powerful Babylonia.

Throughout much of this period, Shlomo's Temple existed and the Jews' relationship to their G-d was a semi-passive one -- making pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem to sacrifice animals through the Cohanim.  Their leaders during this period began with the military leader Yehoshua bin Nun, and continued with the charismatic religious/military Judges, the three major kings (Shaul, David, and Shlomo) and the later kings of the divided kingdoms, and the moralistic Prophets.

Estimates of the populations of the ancient southern Judaean and northern Israel kingdoms are given in Table 3. (8)

1000 BCE733-701 BCE586 BCE
Judaea  450,000325,000150,000
Israel  1,350,000900,000-

Table 3.  Jewish Populations in Ancient Judaea & Israel

Some of the names used for men in this period were:  Amatzia, Asriel, Avimelech, Avinoam, Avshalom, Barak, Chizkiya, David, Ehud, Elazar, Elisha, Gidon, Otniel, Shamgar, Shaul, Shimshon, Shmuel, Shlomo, Tzelofchad, Uzia, Yoav, Yoshia;  For women:  Chogla, Dvora, Machla, Milka, Tirtza, Yael. Several of these names are theophoric.

To Top


The utter Destruction by the Babylonians of the First Temple in 587 BCE and the subsequent exile to Babylonia in 586 BCE was a major catastrophe for the Judaeans.  Not only was the Temple destroyed, but Jerusalem and its protective wall were devastated and so was the spirit of the Jewish people.  The Temple's destruction was so traumatic because the Temple had been the very center of Jewish life and symbolic for Jews for many centuries.  Its destruction created a despondency among the Jews that could have destroyed them completely as a nation.

But the stiff-necked determination of the Jews to survive as a People created a new form of Judaism which became a blessing.  On the one hand, a Babylonian Diaspora was established that was to become a major religious builder of Judaism, and on the other, a new leadership arose in Judaea itself which reconstructed the religious role of Jews by redefining their relationship to G-d as a personal relationship in which they prayed and studied their sacred books and heritage to improve themselves, rather than making animal sacrifices.

Four groups of religious leaders were responsible for this major re-direction of the Jewish religion and the creation of Judaism as we know it today:  Ezra and Nechemia (458-420 BCE), the Sofrim (420-300 BCE), the Pharisees and Saduccees (109), and the Schools of Hillel and Shammai (30 BCE- 35 CE).  The contributions of Ezra and Nechemia (who began the re-direction of Judaism), and of the Sofrim (who gave the re-direction its major impetus) are discussed below.  The Pharisee, Saduccee, and Essene parties were established about 109 BCE;  the contention between the Pharisees and Saduccees (who represented extremes of position among Jews) began to clarify the position of the Oral Law in the new Judaism.  And the arguments between the opposing Schools of Hillel and Shammai cemented the acceptance of the Oral Law in Judaism.  The re-definition of Judaism made it possible for Jews who were exiled or who left Judaea of their own volition beginning in the first century CE, to carry their religion with them to the Diaspora.

In the Babylonian Exile and Persian Periods, Aramaic was the every day language of Syria, Mesopotamia, and Judaea for Jews and non-Jews alike, and was used from 300 BCE to about 650 CE as the lingua franca (much as English is today) for nearly all of southwest Asia.  The syllabic script used to write Aramaic from about the 9th century BCE, was the one from which the early Hebrew, Arabic, Armenian, and many other scripts were developed.

Since Aramaic is a semitic language like Hebrew and resembles it, it struck a special chord with Jews that resonates even today.  It is the language in which the Gemara was written, there are numerous prayers in the Sidur and Machzor written in Aramaic, and Hebrew and Aramaic are treated the same in the modern YIVO (Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut) Yiddish transliteration standard.  Indeed, it is still spoken today by some Jews and non-Jews.  Those Jews of Iran from the ancient region centered in Urmia in northern Iran still speak Aramaic;  some of these Jews now live in Israel and the US.

This special bond between Jews and Aramaic caused the early adoption of many Aramaic names by Jews, both in Babylonia and in Judaea, and the borrowing of Aramaic names continued during the entire period 300 BCE - 650 CE in which Aramaic was the lingua franca of the region.  This was the first example of large-scale adoption of foreign names by the Jews.  The names Zakai, Shamai, Akiva, and Bezai are typical.  Many of these names have survived and are still in use today.  Other Hebrew names used in this period were:  Barzilai, Berachya, Bilshan, Chalchalya, Elyashiv, Ezer, Ezra, Malkiya, Meshulam, Nechemya, Rechum, Reelya, Seraya, Shealtiel, Shefatya, Talmon, Tovia, Uriya, Uzai, Uziel, Yeshua, Yoav, and Zerubavel.

In 539 BCE, the Babylonians were defeated by the Persian King Cyrus. Liberal King Cyrus allowed some Judaean exiles in Babylonia to return to Jerusalem.  After the Exile, tens of thousands of Hebrews from Babylonia under the leadership of Prince Zerubavel and High-Priest Joshua returned to Judaea, and were followed by many others who had scattered to Egypt, Asia Minor, and the Mediterranean islands.  A modest new Temple was built (516).  Later, 1,500 Babylonian Hebrews accompanied High-Priest descendant Ezra in 458 BCE and returned to Jerusalem.  The spiritual leadership of Ezra was much enhanced by the invigorating civil/military leadership of Nechemia who arrived from Babylonia in 455 BCE and continued the re-building of the Temple and the reconstruction of the defending wall around Jerusalem.

At the massive Kneset HaGdola (Great Assembly) held upon the completion of the Second Temple (444 BCE), Ezra unrolled and read a section of the Law (Tora, Pentateuch) and the Levites explained it.  The men, women, and children were overwhelmed with emotion and vowed to learn the Law and to obey it.  It was from that emotional moment that the active participation of ordinary Jews in religion and prayer started.  Ezra and Nechemia had begun a new era in Judaism - the transition from a nationality to a religious conviction.  The subsequent destruction by the Romans in 70 CE of the magnificent Temple built by King Herod, spelled the end of the centrality of the Temple in Jewish practice and the consolidation of Judaism as a personal, portable religion.

To Top


The reforms begun by Ezra and Nechemia were expanded greatly during the Age of the Sofrim (Scribes), 420-300 BCE.  The result was the creation of the High Court of Justice (Sanhedrin) of 70 Elders, its president called the Av Bet Din (Father of the Tribunal), and its guardianship of the Law. The Jewish people became Bible-centric, more specifically, Deuteronomy-centric, and ultimately, G-d-centric.  The name "Judaean" lost its racial meaning, and was applied to any adherent of the Jewish faith. The Sanhedrin applied Judaism or the Law to the life and customs of the People.  During a 120-year period of quiet, the Court changed the Jewish people from a tribal Nation into a personally-religious people, an edifice -- religious conviction -- that has lasted until our own times.  Yet, there is not a single mention in the sources of the names of the leaders who effected this major conversion, from the death of Nechemia to the destruction of the Persian kingdom.

In addition to the old ritual sacrifices of the Temple which stopped after the destruction of the first Temple but were renewed in the reconstructed Temple, the Elders created a new Judaism:  regular readings of the Law (Tora) in newly-instituted assemblies on the Sabbath and holy days, additional readings twice a week and public courts of justice on market days (Mondays and Thursdays), personal participation by congregants in the readings and new prayers, schools teaching the Law, laws and customs defining Pesach, three daily prayer sessions, development of the concept and rules of exposition of the Law (Midrash), a "fence around the Law" -- in short, individual Jews now became active participants in formalized religious observance, rather than passive observers of others carrying out the sacrificial rituals.  To help individual Jews in the transition to a personalized religion, the old Tora script (Ketav Ivrit, based on Phoenician or old Babylonian characters) was changed to the modern "square" script (Ketav Ashurit, Assyrian) which was already in use by Babylonian and Palestinian Jews, and was more familiar and easier to read;  the square script is still used today.

An ancient legend defines the threefold purpose that guided the Sanhedrin:  the establishment of truth and mercy in the courts, the dissemination of learning, and building a fence around the Law.

The formalization extended itself to using old pieces of partially written and partially orally transmitted spiritual treasures to define the authoritative collection of all of the holy books:  The Five Books of the Tora (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), the prophetic writings (Earlier Four Prophets of Jewish history, Major Prophets (Yeshaya, Yirmiyahu, Yechezkel), and the twelve Minor Prophets), and the Scriptures (various books dealing with the religion, moral code, philosophy, and poetry of the Hebrews) -- all of which were defined as the Tanach:  Tora, Nevi'im, Ketuvim, the record of the spiritual development of the Hebrew nation over a thousand years, from Moshe to the Sofrim.

In this new Judaism, men were called to participate in the readings of the Tora using their given names, and the concept of legal Hebrew names began to develop.  The new Judaism extended itself to country towns, where houses of prayer were established and the prayers were an exact copy of those in Jerusalem -- a completely new concept to a people accustomed to thinking in terms of pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem as the peak of religious observance.

The reverence and love with which the Tora came to be regarded after the days of Ezra and Nechemia were as deep as had been the general indifference to it in earlier times.  The Tora was looked upon as the quintessence of all wisdom.  Hebrew poetry glorified it with enthusiastic praise.  The Tora became the fundamental Law of the little commonwealth of Judah.  Judaeans asked religious leaders whether a proposed course of action was in conformity with the Law.  Slavery ceased to exist.  The Sabbatical Year was strictly kept and the debts of the poor were cancelled and fields lay fallow.  The poor were looked after, and giving charity was elevated to a highest virtue, particularly if anonymous.

The Tora became the spiritual and intellectual property of the people, and their own inner sanctuary.  Religious schools sprang up and pupils were trained in the details of their religion.  The result was the impulse to investigate, interpret, and tax their ingenuity in order to discover new hidden meanings in the Word.

Another major change which began in the Age of the Sofrim was the conception of G-d.  Until the time of the last Prophet Malachi, G-d was held to be an ethnic G-d, the G-d of the Judaeans who had made a Covenant with their forefathers.  But with the passing of the Age of the Prophets, the sweep of Hellenism over Judaea, the advent of the liberal Pharisees and the conservative Sadducees, this conception of G-d was entirely changed, largely by the influence of the Pharisees.  Now, He became the G-d of the Universe, the Father of the entire human race.  And His name was changed from that used in the Five Books to that used today in the prayer books.

This was a basic change in concept and sums up that new quality of Judaean life which fortified it against the onslaughts of political enemies.  As a small country, Judaea faced the same existential dangers as did other small countries, most of whom disappeared.  But Judaea did not die and rather was sustained by her unity as an ethnic group with a universal G-d.  Judaea's G-d, like her new rituals, was universalistic and existed everywhere, not only in Judaea.  This is the main legacy which the Sofrim and the Pharasees passed down to their descendants, to the Christians, and to the Moslems.

To Top


The Hellenistic Period began when Alexander of Macedonia defeated the Persian empire in 332 BCE (he died in 322 BCE).  The Greeks caused a thorough change in the manners, customs, and thoughts of their subjects and materially raised their civilization and culture.  The grace and charm of the Greeks caused their faults -- mutual jealousies, foibles, and restless, unruly dispositions -- to be leniently regarded by the Jews initially, but later, major conflicts developed.

It was during the Hellenistic period that local King Antiochus (about 175 BCE) encouraged his subjects to adopt a Greek lifestyle, and the upper classes in Jerusalem accepted this, but during 170-165 BCE, he outlawed Judaism and the Maccabean revolt followed.

It can be noted here that throughout the centuries, Jews were always attracted to cultural enlightenment in their surroundings, particularly when persecution let up slightly so that they might enjoy it.  And this type of cultural atmosphere always led to the adoption by Jews of given names from the surrounding culture.

Greek names were used throughout the Mediteranean basin, including by the Jews in Judaea.  One impact of the extensive interaction with Hellenism and non-Jews during the Hellenistic Period which followed the Age of the Sofrim, was the adoption of a second (vernacular) name for use in these contacts.  Thus, Jews began to have one name for use in prayers and in their conversations with other Jews, and another, for use with non-Jews. This was the first use by Jews of double names.  Some examples are: Chaim-Zosimus, Ezra-Boethus, Hilel-Iulus, Salome-Alexander, Sara-Miriam, Shaul-Paulus, Shimon-Petrus, Tzedek-Justus, Yanai-Alexander, Yedidya-Philo, Yochanan-Hyrcanus, Yoyakim-Alkimos, Yoseph-Ise, Yuda-Alfius, and Yuda-Aristobulus.  At first, the Greek names were used only in relations with non-Jews, but the non-Jewish name gradually became the more important one, and finally, the only one.

Double Hebrew names were also used:  Daniel Belshazar, Mahalalel Yehuda, Yochanan Yosef;  Hadasa Ester.

Some of the Greek names used were, for men:  Alcimus, Alexander, Andronicus, Antignos, Antiochus, Antipater, Aristobulus, Bachius, Diodorus, Eupolemus, Hyrkanus, Jason, Menelaus, Nikanor, Philo, Posidonius, Ptolemaus, Silas, Tarfon, Theodorus, Theodotus. For women: Alexandra, Berenice, Doris.

Thus, in addition to the Hebrew names used during the Biblical period, Chaldean, Aramaic, and Greek (and later Latin) names were introduced into the Jewish name lexicon.  Many of these names later fell out of favor and disappeared, but a number were held in great esteem (particularly Aramaic) and were adopted even by major religious leaders and the royalty, and were eventually adopted as true Hebrew names;  many of these Hebrew names, new then, have been used until today.

To Top

3.1.8.  ROMAN PERIOD (63 BCE - 476 CE)

The compilation of the Mishna and Gemara took place during the Talmudic portion of the Roman Period.  During the Age of the Tanaim (40-220 CE), the Mishna (Oral Law) was compiled.  The first generation of the Tanaim was Raban Yochanan ben Zakai, the third generation was Rabbi Akiva, and the last was Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi (last of the Tanaim) who finalized the Mishna.  During the Age of the Amoraim (220-500), the Gemara (Commentary on the Mishna) was written and completed by Rabbi Ravina HaAcharon and Rabbi Yossi, the last of the Amoraim.

The destruction by the Romans of the Temple reconstructed by King Herod threatened the very existence of the Judaean society.  Were it not for the recognition by Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai that the future of Judaism lay not in the sacrifices in the Temple, but rather in the education of Jews and their observation of the Law, his founding of a school to teach the Law in Jamnia (Yavne), and the Sanhedrin which he established and of which he became first President, the Jewish people may well have disappeared.

In 219 CE, Abba Areka opened the first academy in Sura, Babylonia, and in 247, Yehuda ben Ezekiel founded another academy in Pumbeditha.  Thus, the golden age of Judaism in Babylonia began.

Latin names were adopted during the Roman Period.  Some examples: Agrippa, Aguila, Antonius, Capellus, Crispus, Dortus, Drusus, Iustinus, Julius, Justus, Markus, Romanus, Rufus, Tiberius, Titus, and Virus. However, Jews were still so enamored of the Aramaic language (it was used in the Talmud, in prayers ("Yekum Purkan," ...), and otherwise), since it seemed to "fit in" phonetically with Hebrew and was still the lingua franca, that even during the Roman Period, numerous Aramaic names were adopted:  Abba, Abuya, Chanana, Huna, Manna, Nanai, Samkai, Tanchuma, Yochai, Yudan;  Beruria, Martha, Uma, Yalta.  Only a small number of female names were Hebrew names, and this has continued in later periods as well, since women do not have the need for a legal Hebrew name for being called to the Tora.

During the Talmudic portion of the Roman Period, some Hebrew names were modified to have a Hellenized spelling.  For example, the name Yosef was also used as Yose, the name Levi as Levites, Yitzchak as Isak, and Shimon as Simon.

Beginning with the Babylonian exile, there was a steady drift of Jews out of Palestine, to the Diaspora.  The small land of Judaea could not feed its entire population, so already in the Hellenistic period, individual families emigrated, attracted by the material prosperity of the surrounding world.  Thus, they appeared in Egypt, in Alexandria, Thebes, and in the delta.  In the Hellenistic world, early Babylonian exiles appeared as far west as present-day Turkey, and as far east as present-day Iran.

By the first century CE in the Roman Period, the dispersed Jewish communities were concentrated mainly in the Eastern, Greek-speaking half of the Roman Empire (modern Greece and Turkey).  They were centered around the synagogue, and had full internal autonomy, their own leaders, and communicated with foreign Jews, including those in Jerusalem.  Outlying areas of the Dispersion were Central Italy (slaves after Pompey's campaign), Egypt, and Babylonia.

As Christianity spread throughout Europe and the Mediterranean basin during the period 100-500 CE, Jews were persecuted in Judaea and were dispersed from there, fanning out into all parts of the Roman Empire in Western and Central Europe and North Africa.  Jews were in Western Europe (France, Spain, River Rhine) in the second century CE, and a little later in Rome and Italy.  By the time of the Dark Ages in Europe (300-600 CE), Jews in France and Spain were being persecuted and massacred there.  Never the less, these Jews were followed later by large numbers of others, as a result of Christian persecution in Judaea.

To Top History Middle Ages