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Meaning and etymology of the name Mahalalel

Mahalalel Mahalalel

There are two people called Mahalalel in the Bible. The famous Mahalalel is the son of Kenan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve after Cain and Abel (Genesis 5:12). The lesser known Mahalalel is mentioned among the descendants of the famous Perez, the son of Judah, or so it seems (Nehemiah 11:4).

The name Mahalalel is a compilation of two elements. The second part of the name is el, the common abbreviation of Elohim, the genus God.

The first part of the name Mahalalel comes from the root group halal (halal I, II & III), and that's a curious group of words:

The verb halal (halal) denotes what celestial bodies do: shine. This verb occurs a mere five or six times in the Bible (Job 31:26, Isaiah 13:10).

The verb halal (halal II) means to praise or boast. This verb shows up all over the Bible, from praising God in a liturgical setting to letting it rip in an informal bout of worship. It's even used to convey praise for commendable people (Proverbs 31:30). This verb is also the source of the famous word Hallelujah, which occurs in the Bible in various Psalms (135:3, 104:35). The derivation mahalal (mahalel) means praise and occurs only in Proverbs 27:21. This word is as good as identical to the first part of the name Mahalalel.

The verb halal (halal III) means to be insane, or rather irrational. But whether it's truly a completely different verb is topic of debate. BDB Theological Dictionary makes no such distinction and lists the occurrences of this verb that are commonly translated with madness comfortably under halal (halal) meaning to praise (Ecclesiastes 2:2, Psalm 102:9, Jeremiah 25:16).

BDB lists cognates in other languages, proving only that the verbs (and thus the ideas) to shine, to praise and to be insane were widely regarded as adjacent to say the least. It takes no great poetic leap to see symmetry between the shining of a star and the praising of a worshiper, certainly also because in the Bible true believers are compared to stars (Daniel 12:3). Secondly, the step from praising to being nuts is also not so great. In fact, Paul warns his followers to ease up when guests are in the congregation, lest they think the congregants are insane (1 Corinthians 14:23).

For a meaning of the name Mahalalel, both NOBS Study Bible Name List and BDB Theological Dictionary read Praise Of God.



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