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Why is Joshua referred to in the Torah as “bin” Nun?

Why is Joshua referred to in the Torah as “bin” Nun?

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Question:

When the Torah mentions the names of the spies 1, everyone is referred to as “so-and-so ben (son of) so-and-so.” The only exception is Joshua, who is called Joshua “bin” Nun. Why bin and not ben?

Answer:

Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1195–1270) points out this unusual vocalization, and suggests that the two words should be read together as “binnun.” 2 This name, rooted in the Hebrew word binah, means “the understanding one,” and was accorded to Joshua out of respect for his keen intellectual abilities.

Some other explanations that I found:

• The Torah tells us that Joshua was Moses’ student par excellence. “His attendant, Joshua bin Nun, a lad, would not depart from the tent [of study].” 3

We are taught that one’s students are considered as his children.4 Some use this idea to explain why Joshua was called bin Nun. He was Nun’s biological child, but he was, to a certain degree, the son of Moses as well. This “dual parentage” is hinted in the unusual way the Torah refers to his relationship with his biological father.

Chatam Sofer (Rabbi Moses Sofer, 1762–1839) offers another homiletic explanation. According to the Midrash5, when G‑d changed Sarai’s name to Sarah6, the Hebrew letter yud, which was removed from the name (to be substituted with a hei), felt wronged. Why was it no longer part of the name of this holy woman? G‑d placated the letter by promising to make amends at a future date. This was accomplished when Moses added the letter yud to Joshua’s name (Yehoshua), which was originally Hoshea. 7

In its original state, when it was the final letter of Sarai’s name, the yud did not have a vowel—as is the case with most letters which come at the end of a Hebrew word or name. Now, in order to be the yud which begins the name Joshua, it would need the sheva vowel, which is comprised of two dots vertically aligned. These two dots were “borrowed” from the segol vowel which normally is beneath the word ben, which is three dots set up as a triangle. This leaves only one dot for the word ben. One dot is the chirik vowel, which changes the pronunciation to “bin.”

Best wishes,
Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson

Footnotes
2.
In his commentary to Exodus 33:11.
4.
See II Kings 2:12, where Elisha refers to his teacher Elijah as “my father.”
5.
Bereishit Rabbah 47.
Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Gilad Efrat, Israel June 24, 2012

Alice C. Linsley, I'm assuming that your last comment was a response to my comment that the Chatam Sopher was being metaphorical, so I'll answer. I never said that the scriptures are metaphorical, and in fact I agree with you that most of the stories are to be understood literally. However, the Chatam Sopher's interpretation of the Yud was metaphorical, as interpretations of scripture often are. Reply

Alice C.Linsley Lexington June 21, 2012

There is an historical, real time explanation for almost everything in the Hebrew Scriptures. Very little is metaphor. Reply

Ronnie D.Pittman Paterson, NJ June 20, 2012

The topic is very interesting. As posted by Chuck , Margate in Florida, and Brandon C. Allendale in MI USA, I too would like to know and understand the answers to these questions. Very interesting... Reply

Gilad Efrat, Israel June 18, 2012

You guys are taking the Chatam Sopher too literally. He didn't mean that the "Yud" was actually offended. He knew as well as any of us that letters don't have emotions.
He was being metaphorical, and we need to try to understand what he was trying to teach us (as to that, I don't know. But I do know that he was trying to teach us something, not to actually tell us that the "Yud" was offended.) Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA June 17, 2012

I have two comments about this anthropomorphic story of a letter that has human emotions:

1) Would not the letter feel that getting to be the first letter of G-d's name was more important than not getting to be the last letter in Sarah's name?

2) The written vowels did exist then. If you look in a Torah scroll, there are no vowels. Everything in Hebrew was spelled without vowels until approximately 1000-1400 years ago (well after the destruction of the second temple). There was no need to "borrow" dots from a "two dots were “borrowed” from the segol" to create a sheva is absurd, because neither the segol nor the sheva would be invented for another 2000 years! Reply

Gabriella Elkaim New York June 14, 2012

That's an interesting idea, Alice, but I dont think it fully answers the question. If the word bin is just Arabic then why is it reserved only for Joshua and not used in reference to any other characters in tanach? I don't think I understand the connection you're drawing between Joshua and Onn. Are you implying that the Torah means to attribute to Joshua some of demigod status? Also, it leaves unclear why the Arabic term 'bin' is used, because Onn is an Egyptian, not an Arabic, god. Lastly, I'm not sure that your assertion that Arabic is older than Hebrew is accurate. Certainly there were other semitic languages that pre-existed Hebrew or existed at the same time, and though Arabic may have descended from one of those languages, it may not have actually been spoken at the time. Lastly, since Onn is a sun god, this reminds me of a comparison I once heard between Moshe and Joshua in which Moshe is compared to the sun and Joshua to the moon. Perhaps your explanation could be the source. Reply

Shifra Feldman New York June 13, 2012

Love your parsha website Reply

Brandon C. Allendale, MI, USA June 13, 2012

For example, Ibn Ezra. Although Saʻadiah ben Yosef Gaon has the Arabic names- Saʻīd bin Yūsuf al-Fayyūmi, Sa'id ibn Yusuf al-Dilasi. However, Given the time frame for beginning of the writing of the first five books (reign of Hezekiah and Josiah), Arabic would not have been used, the more likely is Aramaic. Though Aramaic has some influence in Late Biblical Hebrew, but definitely with Rabbinic/Mishnaic Hebrew), though Arabic loanwords would could have found their way into Rabbinic Hebrew and even more so into Medieval Hebrew.

Gilad makes a great point with that all the other usage for son are 'ben', yet only in one instance is 'bin' used for just one person, and no other (as far as I am aware). Again, given the time frame for teh book it would be more suited to have Aramaic or other Northwest Semitic loanwords rather than Southern Semitic loan words.

Shalom.

A great scholary resource is Prof. Angel Saenz-Badillos' book, "A History of the Hebrew Language". Reply

Anonymous June 13, 2012

Given that son is "ibn" in Arabic as somebody pointed out, is it possible that Joshua came from somewhere where son was pronounced "bin" in local dialect? Or is that not possible based on what the Torah says? Reply

Gilad Efrat, Israel June 13, 2012

Alice C. Linsley, the Arabic word for son is "ibn", not "bin".

Also, even if it was Arabic, why would one Arabic word somehow find its way into the Hebrew Bible? And why were all the others referred to as "ben"? Reply

Chuck Margate , florida June 13, 2012

You indicated that the letter Yud felt left out
of Sarah with a substitution of of the final vowel. Does yud mean prayer as is indicated by my Orthodox prayer book?
Am I on the right path here? Do you think Hashem means a substitution here ?
Yes you gave us the idea that was added to Joshea was a YUD. And what did Joshea do that was outstanding? Study. Reply

Brandon C Allendale, MI, USA June 13, 2012

That is in interesting take on the topic. I have a question, are you referring to the spoken language or the writing system of Hebrew (the Aramaic script or the Phoneician-Cannanite script) that is younger than Arabic? On what documentation, or resources has have you come acrossed that this is the case?
I am curious, because I am currently doing a project on the history of the hebrew language. However, I am not one who believes that the G-d spoke the world using Hebrew, or that the first language was Hebrew.

Nonetheless, I am curious as pertaining how Arabic is an older language and script?

Shalom! Reply

Alice C. Linsley Lexington, Ky June 12, 2012

It is also possible that Joshua was the bin (Arabic word for son) of Nun and that Nun is a variant spelling of Onn (Heliopolis). Arabic is older than Hebrew. Reply

Shlomo ben Baruch June 12, 2012

I have to say that Chatam Sofer's explanation is strained and far-fetched. The other explanations, especially the dual parentage reasoning, are very interesting. Thanks for this enlightenment. Reply

Gabriella Elkaim New York June 11, 2012

Thanks so much for posting this! I had been wondering about that for a long time myself, but i had not been able to find any sources that directly address it. Of note, I have heard that Nun was not really the name of Yehoshua's father, but is a reference to something. I don't recall what, or where I heard this, but it may also be related to the extra yud. Reply

Anonymous vienna March 19, 2010

what a nice explanantion, i am currently learning jehoshua and i was always wondering about this detail, thank you. Reply