Naming John the Baptist

Articles 6 Comments

The naming of a child at his circumcision ceremony, as presented in Luke 1, is also mentioned in Luke 2:21 regarding the naming of Jesus. In fact, naming a child during the circumcision ceremony is still accepted Jewish practice. The naming rite includes a prayer for the child’s well-being.

…and she [Elizabeth] gave birth to a son…. On the eighth day when they came to circumcise the child they were going to name him after his father, but his mother interrupted, “No, his name will be John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has that name.” Then they made signs to his father to find out what he wished to name him. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” (Luke 1:57-63)

The naming of a child at his circumcision ceremony, as presented in Luke 1, is also mentioned in Luke 2:21 regarding the naming of Jesus. In fact, naming a child during the circumcision ceremony is still accepted Jewish practice. The naming rite includes a prayer for the child’s well-being:

May this little one, [the child’s name], be great. Just as he has entered into the covenant of circumcision, may he also enter into the Torah, the marriage canopy, and into good deeds.

Apparently this prayer is quite ancient since part of it is found in the Samaritan ritual as well.

Earliest Reference

Nevertheless, the first reference in Jewish literature to the custom of naming a child at his circumcision is found in Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer, a late rabbinic work dating to the beginning of the seventh century C.E.:

The parents of Moses saw that his appearance was like that of an angel of God. They circumcised him on the eighth day and called him Yekutiel. (Chapter 48)

Yekutiel, a compound of yekuti, apparently from the root יקה (yakah, to obey), and the word אֵל (el), means “obedient to God.” Yekutiel is found in 1 Chronicles 4:18, and according to both the midrash (rabbinic homilies on the Bible) and targum (Aramaic translations of Scripture) of this verse, it refers to Moses. He was named Yekutiel because he looked like an angel, an obedient servant of God.

Premium Members
If you are not a Premium Member, please consider becoming one starting at $10/month (paid monthly) or only $5/month (paid annually):

One Time Purchase Rather Than Membership
Rather than a membership, you may also purchase access to this entire page for $1.99 USD. (If you do not have an account select "Register & Purchase.")

Login & Purchase

issue20

For a free PDF download of the Jerusalem Perspective issue in which this article originally appeared, click here.

 


  • Shmuel Safrai [1919-2003]

    Shmuel Safrai [1919-2003]

    Professor and Rabbi Shmuel Safrai died on July 16, 2003. He was buried the following day in a section of Jerusalem's Har ha-Menuhot Cemetery reserved for faculty of the Hebrew University. His grave is only a few feet from the grave of his close friend…
    [Read more about author]

  • Online Hebrew Course

    Do you want to learn Hebrew? Check out our online Hebrew course Aleph-Bet: Hebrew Reading and Writing for Christians in 17 Easy Lessons.