🔼The name Horite in the Bible
There are two men named Hori in the Bible, and also one people: the Hori, or as we say in English, the Horites. The Hori's of the Bible are:
- Hori the Horite (no really: חרי החרי; hori hahori), who was a son of Lotan, who was a son of the famous Seir the Horite, who gave his name to Mount Seir, and that's the mountain where Esau and his Edomites took up residence after they dispossessed the Horites (Genesis 36:22, Deuteronomy 2:12).
Older translations (such as the King James Version) derive the Horite king list of Genesis 36:29-30 from Hori the Horite (in stead of the Horites in general), but that would require chiefs Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon and Anah to be sons of both Seir and Hori (while Hori himself never made chief). Modern translations read "Horite" in stead of "Hori" in Genesis 36:29-30.
We don't really know who the Horites were, because other than the Bible, we have no records of these people. The Book of Genesis mentions them as early as Genesis 14:6, when kings Amraphel, Arioch, Chedorlaomer and Tidal overran them in the War of Four against Five Kings, and it seems that when Esau ousted them, he also ran them off the historical records. Apart from parallel texts in Chronicles, the Horites aren't mentioned after Deuteronomy 2:22.
- The father of Shaphat of Simeon, who represented his tribe in the all-tribe contingent that Moses sent out to investigate Canaan (Numbers 13:5). In that same passage, Joshua the son of Nun of Ephraim makes his first appearance (Numbers 13:8, 13:16).
🔼Horites or Hivites?
The text of Genesis 36 poses a problem. In Genesis 36:2 we read that Esau took several wives, among whom Oholibamah, the daughter of Anah, who was a child of Zibeon the Hivite (see for a discussion on whether Anah was male or female our article on the name Anah). And in Genesis 36:12 we learn that Esau's son Eliphaz acquired a concubine named Timna. But these same four names occur also in Genesis 36:20-25. Zibeon was a son of Seir the Horite. His son was indeed named Anah, and his daughter was indeed Oholibamah, and his sister was named Timna. All Horites.
Most commentators will state that this confusion is due to a scribal error, and that the women Esau acquired for himself and his son were in fact Horites. That would certainly explain why the genealogies of Esau and that of Seir the Horite are always mentioned side by side. But, attractive as the sleepy-scribe hypothesis may seem to some, it doesn't solve the problem at all.
Esau lived with his parents at Mamre of Kiriath-arba, also known as Hebron, where his brother Jacob joined them at the end of Isaac's life (Genesis 35:27). Hebron was situated just south of Jerusalem, in the southern extension of Hivite country (Shechem, for instance, was Hivite, and Shechem was situated more to the north, to the west of the Jordan, at a latitude between the Salt Sea and the Sea of Galilee; see Genesis 34:2). It was there that Esau acquired his Hittite, and Hivite (collectively known as Canaanite) wives and also married his cousin Basemath of Ishmael (Genesis 36:2-4). Genesis 36:4-6 lists the sons of Esau, who were born to him in Canaan. Then we are told that Esau took his family and his enormous herds and moved to another land, away from his brother Jacob (verse 6). And that's how he ended up in the hill country of Seir, which was located to the south-east of the Salt Sea, and about as far south as the Salt Sea is long.
Whether patriarch Seir was happy with this mass immigration we're not told. The descendants of Esau (the Edomites) would eventually displace the Horites, but before they did, Seir appears to have wanted to honor and appease his mighty (and no-doubt customarily murderous) new neighbor by naming his own children after the family of the wives of Esau. His son he named Zibeon, his son and grandson Anah and his great-granddaughter Oholibamah. Zibeon's sister he named Timna, after the concubine of Esau's son Eliphaz. The alternative would be (apart from having to adhere to the sleepy-scribe hypothesis) that Esau while still in Canaan, managed to marry Seir's crispy great-granddaughter Oholibamah, while he gave Seir's aging daughter to his son.
The Horites produced chiefs until the generation of Oholibamah the Horite. After that, the chiefs of that region are all Edomites (note, by the way, the Edomite chiefs Timna and Oholibamah; Genesis 36:40-41). The Horites were extinguished, but the Hivites are mentioned until the time of the kings of Israel (1 Kings 10:9, 2 Chronicles 8:7)
🔼Etymology of the name Horite
The name Hori(te) appears to be drawn from the following root-group:
Traditionally, the names Hori and Horite have been explained after חר or חור meaning cave or cavern. Hence, for a meaning of the name Hori(te), both BDB Theological Dictionary and NOBSE Study Bible Name List read Cave Dweller. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names proposes the slightly more fancy but similar Troglodytes (which means "A member of a people, esp. in prehistoric times, inhabiting caves or dens; a cave-dweller," says the Oxford Dictionary).
But it's by no means certain that the traditional Neanderthal interpretation of the name Horite does justice to these people.
Caves are plentiful in the Levant, and they certainly were used by humans. But in the Bible, caves are used to temporarily hide in (Genesis 19:30, Joshua 10:16, 1 Kings 19:9), or to bury the deceased in (Genesis 23:19). The Bible doesn't mention anywhere that the Horites customarily lived permanently in caves. In fact, the genealogy of Seir the Horite and that of Esau are invariably mentioned in one breath, making it seem that the Horites and the Hebrews were compatible peoples, semi-nomadic herdsmen. Anah, son of Zibeon the Horite, found hot springs while pasturing donkeys (Genesis 36:24), and all around the Horites were peoples who lived in villages. The Horites were organized in a social structure that maintained centralized rule, and which named and honored their patriarch, and even remembered the name of his daughter Timna, which shows an almost exceptional level of sophistication.
Although the personal name Hori and the ethnonym Hori(te) are spelled the same, they don't necessarily need to be the same word. In Hebrew, as a rule, in an ethnonym the final י (yod) creates an adjective. This always works the same; a person from ישראל (Israel) would be called ישראלי (Israeli), and someone from מואב (Moab) would be called מואבי (Moabi, which we call Moabite). The ethnonym Hori(te) therefore could be based on any of the words חר:
- The noun חר (hor), meaning nobleman.
- The noun חר (hor), meaning hole.
- The noun חר (hor), meaning a hollow.
The final yod of the personal name Hori, may create a proper adjective, or a possessive form (my hor), or may be a remnant of יה (Yah) = יהו (Yahu) = יו (Yu), which in turn are abbreviated forms of the Tetragrammaton יהוה, YHWH, or Yahweh.
And the base of our name may come from any of the words חר:
- From חר (hor), meaning nobleman. Our name Hori would then mean Noble
- From חר (hor), meaning hole. Hori would then mean Perforated
- From חר (hor), meaning a hollow. Hori would then mean Hollow
The personal name Hori could also come from a perfectly permissible contraction of either of the חור-words:
- חור (hor), also meaning hole or rather cavern.
- חור (hur), meaning something white, or white stuff. In that case, Hori could mean Whitey, and be similar in meaning to the name Laban.
But the personal name Hori could also be a facsimile of either of the existing words חרי:
- The noun חרי (hori), meaning a burning, which would make the name Hori similar to that of Ham.
- The noun חרי (hori), meaning white bread or cake.
It may be that Hori the Horite was Cavy the Caveman. But he may also have been Whitey the Nobleman or (oh, why not?) Burning Hole, or any combination of the above.