🔼The name Helkath-hazzurim in the Bible
The name Helkath-hazzurim occurs only once in the Bible, and that in one of its most irritating paragraphs. During the tumultuous transition period between the monarchies of Saul and David, two military maniacs called Abner (Saul's nephew) and Joab (David's nephew) meet at the pool of Gibeon, each trailing an army of men. Just how maniacal they both are is demonstrated by what follows.
As both captains sit down at opposite ends of the pool, Abner proposes to Joab that their men should do something to laugh for them (the verb is צחק, sahaq, to laugh, like the name Isaac). Twelve from each side are selected, and each grabs his opponent by the head and trusts his sword into his side, upon which both fall dead. And that's how the place became known as Helkath-hazzurim (2 Samuel 2:16).
Whether Abner and Joab found the whole affair sufficiently amusing isn't told, but the cheapness of human life and the corruption of power is celebrated further in a bloody battle in which David's men defeat Abner's. True to form, Abner mysteriously manages to flee the carnage of his men, and even though Joab has to let him go, he manages to kill him much later using a ruse (2 Samuel 3:27). When David hears of Abner's death, he mourns him and calls him a great man (3:38).
David's response, the bizarreness of the suicide sacrifice of the twenty-four soldiers and the numerical significances pertaining to these events seem to suggest that this story has more than one meaning, and the true gist of it escapes the casual reader.
🔼Etymology of the name Helkath-hazzurim
The name Helkath-hazzurim consists of two elements. The first part is an archaic or alternate spelling of either of the nouns חלקה (hlqh), meaning portion or field:
The second part starts with the letter ה (he), which is either the definite article or else a particle of direction. This prefixed letter he is quite common in names that connect a location (field, mountain, house etcetera) to a quality. The final end of the second part of our name comes from a plural form, and the core of it comes from any of the words צר or צור, of which there are many:
The name Helkath-hazzurim isn't easily explainable, and although commentators have suggested widely varying possibilities, none of them truly seems to match the story without a glitch. The meaning of our name is probably as elusive as the deeper meaning of the story at large.
The Septuagint reads μερις των επιβουλων, which roughly means Portion Of Treachery, and the Vulgate has Ager Robustorum, which comes down to Field Of The Mighty. Obviously, neither the authors of the Septuagint and of the Vulgate found it necessary to stay close to the Hebrew.
The compilers of the NOBSE Study Bible Name List appear to assume that the second part of our name has to do with the soldier's weapons and reads Field Of Sharp Flints, which is linguistically sound but practically a bit silly because the swords of iron age soldiers were certainly not made of sharp flints. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names proposes Field Of Swords, even though the Hebrew word for sword is חרב, hereb (see the name Horeb).
BDB Theological Dictionary endorses a few possibilities. S.R. Driver (the D of BDB) proposes Field Of The Sword Edges, again probably because of the verb צרר that may mean to be sharp, but it should be noted that the soldiers didn't cut the other guy with the edge of the sword but rather stabbed him with the point of it. Wellhausen abandoned the צרר cluster all together and assumed that we're dealing with a text error, and that our name should really be spelled חלקת הצדים (with a ד instead of an ר). That would connect our name to the word צד, meaning side (where the soldiers trust their swords into; see the name Zedad). Hence Wellhausen translates our name with Field Of Plotters / Liers In Wait. Besides assuming a text error, Wellhausen also arrives at a meaning that makes no sense, because the whole encounter began with people sitting opposite a pool and commenced upon agreement.