🔼The name Pethor: Summary
- From the verb פתר (patar), to interpret dreams.
🔼The name Pethor in the Bible
Pethor is known as the place where the prophet Balaam is from (Numbers 22:5). Where Pethor is exactly is not known (BDB Theological Dictionary mentions an Assyrian city named Pitru on the west bank of the upper Euphrates). It's obviously in a place called Aram (Numbers 23:7, Deuteronomy 23:4). Numbers 23:7 gives us a direction: mountains in the east. The only geographical reference occurs in Deuteronomy 23:4, where it is said to be in Aram-naharaim (literally meaning Plateau Of Two Rivers), which usually means Mesopotamia (1 Chronicles 19:6), although Aramean territory stretched south onto the northern border of Israel, for instance Aram-zobah (2 Samuel 8:3) and Aram-maacah in the upper Jordan valley (1 Chronicles 19:6).
Because it seems a bit unlikely that the Moabite king Balak sent all the way to Assyria for a prophet, and that Balaam hence came all the way to Canaan on a donkey (although there was plenty traffic between these locations) scholars have been looking for ways to place him closer. In 1967 an extra-Biblical text was found in Deir Alla in the Jordan valley. It mentions the "cursing prophet" Balaam son of Beor, which makes it likely that he lived there and not in Mesopotamia. In 1989 a tablet was found at the same location, which seemed to bear the name Pethor. Many conclude that the Two Rivers mentioned in Deuteronomy 23:4 may very well refer to the Jabbok and the Jordan.
In Joshua 17:11 we find precedential evidence that the name Balaam was used in the Jordanian area. In the western territory of Manasseh — which stretched east of the Jordan, north of the Jabbok, and west of the Jordan into the central hills — is a town called יבלעם (Ibleam; Joshua 17:11 and on) and בלעם in 1 Chronicles 6:70.
English Bibles transliterate this town as Bileam but in Hebrew this name is spelled and pronounced exactly like the name Balaam. (Dutch and German translations read Bileam for both town and prophet. Vulgate reads Bileam for the prophet and Balaam for the town.)
🔼Etymology of the name Pethor
The name Pethor seems to stem from the root פתר (patar), meaning to interpret dreams:
The verb פתר (patar) means to interpret dreams. The noun פתרון (pitron) means interpretation. The interpretation of dreams is of course a very important craft, throughout the Old Testament and into the New.
This same root seems to be embedded in the name Pathros (a transliteration of an Egyptian term meaning South Land, i.e. Upper Egypt), perhaps purely by inconsequential coincidence or else clever manipulation, since Genesis 40 and 41 play in Pathros.
HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament mentions speculations (made by an L. Yaure) that Pethor is not a location but rather a professional title. There are quite a few of these titles in the Bible (see "browse names by category" for a collection of Biblical no-names).
The word pethor looks exactly like a noun derived of the verb patar, and would mean Interpreter.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Interpreter Of Dreams. NOBSE Study Bible Name List does not translate.