The Wright Brothers, Selena, Layla, Moses, and the Truth of the Old Testament

How many men do you know named Wilbur? Probably not many. But if you lived towards the beginning of last Century, you would have been much more likely to meet someone by that name because between 1880 and 1930, the name Wilbur was much more popular than today. In fact, according to babynamewizard.com, about 1000 babies out of every million born in 1919 was named Wilbur. While we cannot know for certain, the name was probably popularized by people wanting to commemorate the work done by Wilbur Wright – one of the Wright Brothers. The same holds true for the name Orville. While you can probably live your life without meeting anyone named Orville, the name was much more popular back at the turn of the last Century, peaking in popularity around 1910 when roughly 550 out of every million babies were named Orville.



By the 1970s, both Orville and Wilbur had all but died out. Wilbur probably died out because the name became associated with the pig of the children’s book, Charlotte’s Web. Orville died out about the same time, and that name’s demise may have been linked to the rise of pictures of the rather nerdish Orville Redenbacher first advertising on national television at the time.

It’s funny how famous people leave their mark through the fact that some people choose to name their children to honor their favorite celebrities. Take, for example, the names of Presidents. In the 1930s and 1940s, the name “Franklin” peaked in popularity – probably related to the popularity of President Roosevelt. The same is true of the name Theodore which peaked in popularity between 1890 and 1910, probably in honor of the earlier President Roosevelt. The name Dwight? You guessed it, it peaked in popularity in the period from 1940 to 1960 very likely in honor of General turned President Eisenhower.

Celebrities can lead baby names to be more popular. For example, Selena was decently popular as a name, but when Selena Quintanilla-Pérez became popular beginning in 1989 until her tragic death in 1995, the name Selena also became much more popular. Heck, even songs can influence name popularity. The name Rhiannon spiked in popularity during the 1970s and 1980s probably spurred on by the Fleetwood Mac song. The name Layla didn’t make much of a splash after Derek and the Dominos originally released the song in the 1960s, but when the acoustic version was released by Eric Clapton in 2009, the name (which had become increasing popular since the 1990s, peaked becoming the 31st most popular female’s name in 2012.

What does this have to do with Christian apologetics? Perhaps quite a bit.

On March 16, 2019, WatchJerusalem, a website focused on prophetic-centered analysis of world events, published a very interesting article entitled Biblical Names Confirmed through Archaeology. The article looked at the occurrence of certain names in ancient inscriptions (epigraphy), and compared them to the Biblical names and the time-frames in which the people by those names lived. If the name is similar to names used at the time, it add credence to the belief that the account deals with real individuals who had the name referenced.

For example, I wrote a blogpost several years ago entitled Goliath of Gath – Was he a Real Person? in which epigraphy was used to note that the discovery of the names “Alwt” and “Wlt” on an ancient Philistine shard, the “earliest known Philistine inscription ever to be discovered, mentions two names that are remarkably similar to the name ‘Goliath’.” From this bit of evidence, it add credence to the idea that Goliath was an actual living character because his name was similar to the names confirmed from this ancient shard.

To think of it a different way, suppose that a hypothetical ancient culture (for the sake of convenience, I will name them the Lalupians) named all of it’s children with names that began with the letter L. So, everyone in the Lalupian culture would have been named Larry, Leroy, Laverne, Lucy, or similar names. Now, if there was an account about the Lalupians where it was uncertain if the account were true or not but where the story of the individual who was the focus of the story had been named Joe or Bill that would make it less likely that that individual was an actual person because the name doesn’t match the names we would find in the Lalupian culture. But if the name of that person were “Louis”, then that gives credence to the belief that that individual was a real person. Equally importantly, it gives credence to the belief that whoever originally shared the account knew that the Lalupian culture would name it’s children in that style.

So, one of the ways we can help verify whether someone is fact or fiction is to compare the name to other names that were used at the time that the claimed historic figure is suspected to have lived to see if the name fits. Why might this be? Well, in a way, it could be said that ancient names were much like our present names – famous people (leaders, generals, holy men, etc.) could influence what people named their children. But while our 21st culture turns over names much more quickly due to the fact that we have so many more avenues for identifying heroes or celebrities, ancient cultures would commemorate people over many decades with little changes in names.

Thus, if a name used in the Bible (or any other ancient source) fits with the names commonly used in that culture at the time as determined by archaeological evidence, it can help confirm that the individual of dubious historical truth actually did actually live. It may even be that the person whose name we know from the ancient source was the individual who caused the name to become popular.

The article opens up with a statement that I think is very important and should not be overlooked:

It’s a classic question in biblical archaeology: Can this biblical individual be verified through archaeological means? And the past couple hundred years of archaeological discovery have yielded up an incredible amount of evidence. So far, at least 53 people described in the Hebrew Bible have been confirmed through stringent analyses (as documented by Prof. Lawrence Mykytiuk here), along with another 13 listed as “probables.”
The confirmed existence of 53 people, plus the probable existence of another 13 people – all of whom lived 2500 years ago or longer -- is nothing to sneeze at. That demonstrates the reliability of the texts in a pretty amazing way. But the importance of names doesn’t end there. The article uses several names from the Bible to note that the name fits with the usage at the time. For example, the article discusses among other Biblical figures the name of Moses – a key Jewish leader who is cited repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. Is there evidence from epigraphy that Moses was a real person?



The article notes that Moses is traditionally believed to have lived around the 15th Century B.C. The inscription evidence from that time tells us this:

He was famously found in a floating basket, adopted, and named “Moses” by an Egyptian princess, “because I drew him out of the water” (Exodus 2:10; click here for parallel evidence for this account). As it turns out, Moses—interchangeably Mosis, Moshe or Mose—was an important name element in royal Egyptian society, dating primarily to right around the 15th century b.c.e.! The name Moses means, in Egyptian, born of—again, just as is inferred in the above-quoted scripture. Moses may have had a longer name to represent the full phrase “born of water.” This was the case with his contemporaries, such as Tuthmose or Tuthmosis (“born of Tuth”), Ahmose, Amenmose, Ramose, Kamose, Wadjmose (etc, etc). Again, all these name types are from the same period—contemporary with Moses. So it would only make sense for a princess of the royal “-mose” family to call her adoptive son by the same name.
I am hoping the reader can see the importance of the naming of Moses as Moses in light of the use of the name in royal Egyptian circles. First, the use of the name is consistent with the usage at the time Moses is suspected to have lived. Second, the use of the name actually adds credence to the idea that Moses was, in fact, really adopted into the Egyptian royal family as described in Exodus 2. Finally, at minimum, the usage of the name shows that whoever first shared the story of Moses knew of the custom of the Egyptian royal family to use “Mose” or Mosis” or “Moshe” as the basis for such names. This alone helps prove once again the falsity of the belief in some circles that the stories from the earliest chapters of the Bible (especially the accounts of the Exodus) were fictions created by the people who would become the Jewish people while they were being held captive in Babylon as a way to create a national identity. (How would someone living in slavery in or around the 6th Century B.C. have known the naming practices of the Egyptian royal family nine centuries earlier? It is extremely unlikely that easy access to historical records would not have been available in that culture – especially to those held in captivity.)

The article is a worthwhile read and includes looking at names like Adam, Eve, Jacob, Shiphrah, and Jabin. It even makes a reference to the evidence that can be discerned from the failure to name the Egyptian Pharoahs in some of the earliest books of the Bible. Regardless, the comparison of Biblical names to the names of people living in the cultures at the time as disclosed by archaeology creates a fascinating additional way to add more credence to the truth of the Biblical narratives.

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If you want to have fun looking up the statistics for yourself, I highly recommend using the name voyager option that can be found at babynamewizard.com. While some names remain popular over time (like Elizabeth or Mary), other names rise or fall and it is fun to imagine the reason for the rise and fall of names.

Comments

don't forget Wilbur Post he didn't exost sometime between 1925 and 1980s. you can see him not existing on Mr Ed in 1962.
BK said…
Yeah, I had thought about Wilbur from Mr. Ed. But what do you mean he didn't exist in this context?
he didn't exist in real life His name was chosen because it was out of date,
Anonymous said…
BK: I am hoping the reader can see the importance of the naming of Moses as Moses in light of the use of the name in royal Egyptian circles.

Thisa is like reading a book set in France and concluding it must be true because all the characters have French names.

Pix
Pix I think your reductio ad absurdum is unfair because BK is not saying its a hard and fast rule that if a name is inik with the times then the word must be historical. I think he is saying the use of a an outmoded name might be one indication that it is not historical. That is one clue a textual critic might look for, but in and of itself is doesn't mean much.
Weekend Fisher said…
Say, I tried to follow the main link to the March 16, 2019, WatchJerusalem article, & didn't get to the article, the link went elsewhere.

& in another random note: the Book of Mormon and at least one of the alternative gospels make mistakes of the variety "exactly what language do you think people were speaking in that time and place?" that show up in their usage of names.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF
BK said…
Hey Joe, of course it is unfair. Pix, I wonder if you ever consider what you write before you post. I am not saying that the mere use of the name proves the character's actual existence -- and if you had taken the time to consider seriously what I wrote rather than merely looking for something to attack you would know that. I am pointing out just one more bit of evidence (and admittedly, it is a small bit of evidence) that points to the fact that the details we can find in the Old Testament fit in very well with the times that they are purported to have occurred. The proof of the truth of the Bible is based on multiple lines of evidence and this is another line of evidence.
Anne not sure which article you mean whats the End note number?
The Pixie said…
BK: Pix, I wonder if you ever consider what you write before you post. I am not saying that the mere use of the name proves the character's actual existence -- and if you had taken the time to consider seriously what I wrote rather than merely looking for something to attack you would know that.

Right. You chose to call the post "The Wright Brothers, Selena, Layla, Moses, and the Truth of the Old Testament", but really it is not about the "the Truth of the Old Testament"... At least, not if someone actually calls you on it.

Here is the thing. I actually DID read the post. I read, for example: That demonstrates the reliability of the texts in a pretty amazing way.

So you think it "demonstrates the reliability of the texts in a pretty amazing way" but yet it does not show the character actually existed? When I read things like this, I realise I do not have the mental agility to be a Christian; I could never do the mental gymnastics required to believe something "demonstrates the reliability of the texts in a pretty amazing way" without also showing the characters in the text exist.

And what about this: This alone helps prove once again the falsity of the belief in some circles that the stories from the earliest chapters of the Bible (especially the accounts of the Exodus) were fictions created by the people who would become the Jewish people while they were being held captive in Babylon as a way to create a national identity.

You specifically said the names "alone" help to "prove" the OT stories are true, but apparently they do not show the character's involved even existed!

Sorry, but it looks very much to me like you were indeed claiming that the use of contemporary names supports the claim that the Bible is true (maybe not prove, but I did not use that word). And yes, even after reading the whole thing, it still looks that way. That you now want to distance yourself from that claim indicates to me that on some level you know that is nonsense.
Pix: "So you think it "demonstrates the reliability of the texts in a pretty amazing way" but yet it does not show the character actually existed? When I read things like this, I realise I do not have the mental agility to be a Christian; I could never do the mental gymnastics required to believe something "demonstrates the reliability of the texts in a pretty amazing way" without also showing the characters in the text exist."

Px I think "demonstrates the reliability of the texts in a pretty amazing way" might be a bit of an oversell. But I think it can demonstrate consistency with the cultural epoch without proving that specific charters lived.
Weekend Fisher said…
About the link, I don't see an endnote number, but where the article says "prophetic-centered analysis of world events, published a very interesting article entitled Biblical Names Confirmed through Archaeology." -- the link doesn't go to an article of that name.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

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