We read of altars having names (Joshua 22:34, Exodus 17:15, Genesis 33:20, Judges 6:24). Without knowing Hebrew, I don't know if the proper inflection of the reading of the passages is more similar to "the name was" (of course it had to be called by something) or "they actually named it" (it was so special they felt it had to be called something more special than simply 'the altar at...').

To the writer/contemporary, would any given altar be expected to have a name or not? Are there clues in the grammar?


In Gen 33:20 the readers marks (טעמי המקרא) indicate that the reading is "And he put there an alter, and he called it 'El', the God of Israel". This verse does not present a textual difficulty.

In Exodus 17:15 the readers marks indicate "And Moses built an alter. And he called it by the name 'God, my Savior'". No particular textual difficulty.

In Joshua 22:34 the readers marks indicate "And the Reubenites and the Gadites called the alter. Because it is a witness between us that YHVH is God". This verse has a textual difficulty in that it appears that the name of the alter is missing.

In Judges 6:24, the readers marks indicate "And Gideon built an alter there, to God, and called it 'God of Peace', to this day, it is still in Efrat, Avi of the Ezerite clan." The textual problem in this verse is how to interpret the phrase "Avi of the Ezerite clan" at the end.

In the above I have substituted a period for the major stop mark, "atnah", and a comma for the minor stop mark "pasek", and put commas following paired marks that indicate a phrase, such as "maarich" and "tarchah".

Note that the readers marks, which server both as punctuation and as musical notation, were passed as oral tradition and not recorded in writing and canonized until several hundred years into the common era.

Alters had names, just like other places or landmarks, in order to refer to them in the vernacular. There is no clue to this in the grammar, but it is clear from the text in the large number of instances of references to holy places found in the early books of the OT.

The translation above is my own, designed to preserve the phrase order of the masoretic text and the word order where possible, so don't be surprised if it varies from the commonly accepted authoritative translations. HTH.

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  • Thank you for your work on this. I fear I was unclear in my question. You did edit in an answer to my intended question ("just like other places or landmarks, in order to refer to them in the vernacular"), but went on to claim there is no source for this answer. If so, I am destined to be disappointed, but I say that the claim that the "large number of instances" are actually only (primarily) special instances that the authors decided to include. We know that many other altars were created, even if not by Israel, as well as by Israel but not to the God of Israel. Is more detail available? – CWilson Oct 26 '16 at 21:44

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