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I've noticed that most translations render the gentile prophet's name Balaam, while the Hebrew is Bilaam (difference in first vowel). JPS does this in its translation, and people even do it here on Mi Yodeya. I understand that names sometimes get transformed on their way into English-language discourse (like Yitzchak to Isaac) and I don't know why, but Bilaam to Balaam seems a particularly minor transformation -- but a transformation nonetheless. Why does that one vowel get changed so much? Is there some place where the Hebrew is Balaam?

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Just an interesting thing my brother showed me once "Billam-William". – Hacham Gabriel Jun 23 '13 at 22:56
Same as Isaac, Samson, Moses, Solomon, Ezekiel, Isaiah, etc. I heard that it's from the septuagint. – Shmuel Brin Jun 24 '13 at 0:50
@ShmuelBrin, some of those I can see a path -- if people don't understand that shin is "sh" you get Samson (which should be Simson in that scheme, granted), and yuds tend to get weird, and maybe gutterals are hard to convey to English speakers. I singled out Bilaam because (a) it's that time of the year and (b) in this case in particular I can't see what is gained by changing the first vowel. I'm also assuming that JPS doesn't care about the Septuagint. (I'm actually working on the broader question for BH in another tab right now...) – Monica Cellio Jun 24 '13 at 0:56
@msh210, oops, you're right. I should be writing Bil'am. – Monica Cellio Jun 24 '13 at 3:51
What the heck is a 7eith, 3yeen, saAna? Please try to use spellings that people here are likely to understand; if nobody can understand you, you're not accomplishing your goal of sharing knowledge. – Monica Cellio Jun 24 '13 at 16:30
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Like many Anglicized versions of biblical names, the name Balaam comes through the Greek language of the Septuagint, which renders בלעם as βαλααμ.

The reason the Septuagint spells it so differently from the Hebrew MT may either be due to limitations of the Greek language to accurately represent Hebrew, changes in the way Greek and/or Hebrew vowels were pronounced, or the grammatical requirements of Greek (such as declension). It might also be that the writers of the Septuagint followed a different masorah as to how בלעם is read.

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JPS (and Judaica Press, the source used on the Chabad Rashi site) care what the Septuagint has to say? Wow, I wonder why. – Monica Cellio Jun 24 '13 at 13:09
@aaron the writers of the Septuagint were rabbonim from the gamoro's time or I think before I forget. – MoriDoweedhYaa3qob Jun 24 '13 at 13:13
@monica-cellio the Christian bible was translated from it and therefore the English translations are used with the English translations of the Christian bible ad not to get people confused(my common sense) – MoriDoweedhYaa3qob Jun 24 '13 at 13:15
@MoriDoweedhYaAgob, I would be surprised if "deference to Christians" would trump "deference to people who know Hebrew" in a Jewish translation. We haven't given up our calendar, our understanding of when the day begins, and other things just because non-Jews don't understand them, have we? – Monica Cellio Jun 24 '13 at 13:17
@Monica Cellio, It is not that Jewish publications care what the Septuagint says, but the popularized versions of Hebrew names in English took their current form from the Septuagint. I suspect these familiar spellings are intended to make the translation accessible to a wider audience. If the assumed audience is "people who know Hebrew," then why a translation at all? Nonetheless, I too would prefer a purely Hebrew-based rendition of the names. – Cislunar Jun 24 '13 at 13:45

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