The name Kenite in the Bible
There seem to be two different peoples called Kenites in the Bible. Although NOBSE Study Bible Name List makes no distinction, both BDB Theological Dictionary and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names separate the Kenites into:
- A Canaanite tribe whose territory God promises to Abraham (Genesis 15:19). A famous Kenite of the first order is Hammath, the founder of the house of Rechab, which included the three scribal families that lived in Jabez of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:55).
- A people living in the territory of the Amalekites, descended from Hobab (a.k.a Jethro), the father in law of Moses. A famous Kenite of the latter order is Heber, the husband of Jael, who killed Sisera (Judges 4:17).
Etymology of the name Kenite
The name Kenite seems to be a ethnonym derived of the name Cain, suggesting that the Kenites are the Cainites. The name Cain comes from the verb קנה (qana (2039), get, acquire, create:
And since the name Canaan became synonymous to merchant, the Kenites are the Buyers.
NOBSE Study Bible Name List however renders the name Cain with smith, or more specifically coppersmith (possibly because of the vocation of Tubal-cain) and finds the Kenites to be Pertaining To Coppersmiths.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names takes a completely different approach and abandons the possible relation with the name Cain all together. Jones refers to Balaam's remark that the Kenite has his nest set in the cliff (Numbers 24:21), and the Hebrew word for nest is קן (qen), meaning nest. This noun yields the verb קנן (qinnen), meaning to make a nest (Isaiah 34:15). Hence Kenite means Nest, says Jones.
But immediately after his reference to the Kenite and their nest, Balaam speaks of a certain Kain (that's Kenite without the ethnonym -ite part), which is spelled identical to the name Cain (Numbers 24:22, same as in Judges 4:11). Of course Cain and his line was supposed to be blotted out in the flood of Noah, but somehow the patriarchies of Jabal and Jubal also survived. One solution might be offered in the possibility that the wives of Noah and his sons were lyre-plucking and tent-dwelling Cainites.
This name-group contains mystery upon mystery, and perhaps it carries all these meanings at once.