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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Definition of Hebrew Names


By Jeff A. Benner

And Leah said, God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband: and she called his name Issachar. (KJV, Genesis 30:18)

The name יִשָּׂשכָר (yis-sakhar, Strong's #3485) is one of the more difficult names from an etymological perspective. This name is written as יִשָּׂשכָר in the Masoretic Hebrew text. The first ש (the letter shin) in this name includes the dot on the top left, indicating that it is pronounced with an "s" (if the dot were on the right it would be pronounced with a "sh"). There is also a dot inside this letter (called a dagesh) which doubles its sound. Therefore, the first two letters in this name is pronounced "yis-sa…" The second ש is a little problematic as it does not have a dot on top (The letter shin always carries the dot, either on the left or the right to indicate its pronunciation as "s" or "sh"). This unusual use of the letter shin is a mystery with no etymological answer. The standard pronunciation of the name is yis-sa-khar, and the second shin is simply ignored as if it was spelled יִשָּׂכָר.

The next problem with this name is its meaning. It may be a form of the Hebrew word יִשָּׂכָר (yis-kor) meaning "he will hire." However, this meaning ignores the second shin found in the name יִשָּׂשכָר. We must also remember that the dots and dashes added above, below and inside Hebrew letters (called nikkud in the singular and nikkudot in the plural) are of fairly recent invention and were not included in the original spelling of Hebrew words. Therefore, if we take the name as it was written - יששכר, other possible interpretations are possible. The first is the combination of two words, יש and שכר. The word יש (yeysh, Strong’s #3426) means "there is." There are two possible translations of the word שכר. One is "liquor" (sha-khar, Strong’s #7941) giving us the meaning of יששכר as "there is liquor." The other possibility is "wage" (sa-khar, Strong’s #7939) giving us the meaning "there is a wage."

We know have three possible meanings for the name Issachar – "he will hire", "there is liquor" and "there is a wage." If we look at the context of how this name was formed in Genesis 30:18 we can determine the most likely intended meaning of the word. In Genesis 30:18 Leah says (literally from the Hebrew), "Elohiym gave my wage." The best meaning of Issachar would then be "there is a wage." This then provides us with a possible original pronunciation of this word – yeysh-sa-khar.

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