🔼The name Kiriath-arba in the Bible
The name Kiriath-arba occurs ten times in the Bible, nine times in the construction "Hebron, formerly known as Kiriath-arba," or something to that extent. We hear first of Kiriath-arba as the place where Sarah died (Genesis 23:2). This prompted Abraham to buy the cave at Machpelah near Mamre from Ephron the Hethite as a burial site. Many years later, Abraham's son Isaac also died at Kiriath-arba (Genesis 35:27)
During the conquest of Canaan, we learn that Kiriath-arba was founded by Arba the father of the gigantic Anakim (Joshua 14:15). It was conquered by Caleb, son of Jephunneh, who drove out the three sons of Anak: Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai (Joshua 15:14). They were driven out of their town but survived the battle, and after the death of Joshua, the men of Judah finished them off (Judges 1:10).
The only time that Kiriath-arba is not mentioned in direct conjunction with Hebron is after the Babylonian exile. Nehemiah makes mention of Judaic returnees who moved to Kiriath-arba, or rather Kiriath-ha'arba (קרית הארבע, Nehemiah 11:25), but it's not clear if this is Hebron. It seems curious that Nehemiah would use the antique name of Hebron, which is used only nine times in texts that cover the pre-monarchy period and always together with the name Hebron, while authors of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles use the name Hebron about four dozen times and leave Kiriath-arba out.
Here at Abarim Publications we suspect that Nehemiah's Kiriath-arba is not the same as Hebron, but rather a collective sobriquet of the four cities of the Gibeonites (see our article on the name Kiriath-arim for more argumentation in favor of this proposition).
🔼Etymology of the name Kiriath-arba
The name Kiriath-arba obviously consists of two elements. The first part is an older variant of the Biblical noun קריה (qiryah), meaning city. It derives of the verb קרה (qara), meaning to meet or get together:
The second part of our name is the same as the name Arba, and derives from the root רבע, which has to do with the number four:
For a meaning of the name Kiriath-arba, both Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names and NOBSE Study Bible Name List read City Of Arba but NOBSE adds: or Four-Fold City.
BDB Theological Dictionary, surprisingly, forgoes the obvious reference to Arba, the founder of Kiriath-arba, and reads: probably = Fourfold City.
Here at Abarim Publications we suspect that Nehemiah's Kiriath-arba indeed means Four-City or City Of Four, but Kiriath-arba as Hebron means City Of The (Theory Of) Four, or even City Of Calculus. According to Joshua 15:15, Kiriath-arba was situated close to Kiriath-sepher (meaning City Of Books) and these two towns clearly formed a center of learning.