Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
Scholars identify no fewer than six separate roots of the form ערב ('rb), although their meanings may be grouped in a slightly smaller cluster. It appears that all the below verbs reflect a kind of intersecting or criss-crossing motion.
Also note that this form uses the same letters as the important verb עבר ('abar), meaning to cross over (hence the names Hebrew and Abarim). It's perfectly conceivable that one of these two forms was artificially constructed from the other by means of metathesis, that is by means of transposing the final two letters.
The root ערב ('rb I) isn't used as verb in the Bible, but in cognate languages it means to mix. In the Bible this root clearly governs an intersecting or criss-crossing motion. Its extant derivatives are:
- The masculine noun ערב ('ereb), denoting a mixed company of people, or rather: a foreign group that intersects a native population (Exodus 12:38, Jeremiah 25:20).
- The identical noun ערב ('ereb), meaning woof (the threads that cross from side to side of a loom, crossing the warp; Leviticus 13:48)
- The masculine noun ערב ('arob), probably meaning swarm (Exodus 8:17, Psalm 78:45). BDB Theological Dictionary suggests that this word in essence denotes a mixture of many flies, but here at Abarim Publications we're guessing that a swarm was known rather for its criss-crossing a country.
The verb ערב ('arab II) means to take or give on pledge or to exchange, and it obviously maintains the criss-crossing motion of the previous root (Genesis 43:9, Nehemiah 5:3, Ezekiel 27:9). Secondarily, our verb may be used to describe a fellowship or togetherness based on this giving and taking (Ezra 9:2, Proverbs 14:10). Its derivatives are:
- The feminine noun ערבה ('arubba), meaning a pledge (1 Samuel 17:18, Proverbs 17:18).
- The masculine equivalent ערבן ('erabon), also meaning a pledge (Genesis 38:17, Job 17:3).
- The masculine noun מערב (ma'arab), meaning merchandise; articles of exchange (Ezekiel 27:9). Note that this noun is identical to מערב (ma'arab), meaning west or westward, from root ערב ('rb V).
- The feminine noun תערבה (ta'aruba), meaning pledge. It occurs only in the phrase בני התערבות (beny hata'aruboth), meaning children of the pledge or rather: hostages (2 Kings 14:14), and see our article on the name Homer for a brief discussion of this word.
The verb ערב ('arab III) is generally translated with to be pleasing, but since we may expect it to also reflect the dominant criss-cross motion of the form ערב ('rb), a better translation would be to be satisfying or even rewarding. It's used to describe the effects of sleep (Jeremiah 31:26), an offering (Malachi 3:4), or meditation (Psalm 104:34).
This root's sole derivative is the adjective ערב ('areb), meaning pleasing (satisfying, rewarding; Proverbs 20:17, Song of Solomon 2:14).
The root ערב ('rb IV) is also not used as verb in the Bible, and it's ultimately unknown what it might have meant to the Hebrews. Most scholars will attest that this root conveys aridness but this is a complete guess and wholly unwarranted. The chances are excellent that this root is not a separate root at all, and simply conveys the same intersecting or criss-crossing motion we've seen in the previous words. Its derivatives are:
- The masculine noun ערב ('arab), generally assumed to denote the arid desert-plateau still known today as Arabia, but that doesn't mean that this word means dry desert. It literally denotes a region that either intersects another region, or, more likely, a region so inhospitable that humans can only exist in it when they stay on the move. It means "nomadia" and occurs only in Isaiah 21:13, where Bible translations commonly transliterate it as Arabia.
- The ethnonym ערבי ('arabi), literally meaning nomad. Translations commonly speak of Arab or Arabian (Nehemiah 2:19, Isaiah 13:20, Jeremiah 3:2).
- The ethnonym ערב ('arab), which is a singular noun literally meaning the nomad, but which in English should be interpreted as a plural: the nomads or the Arabs (Jeremiah 25:24, 2 Chronicles 9:14).
- The feminine equivalent of the aforementioned masculine noun ערבה ('araba), which also refers to certain geographical regions. It may refer to the arid region in south Judah (more commonly known as Negev; 1 Samuel 23:24, Isaiah 51:3), the Jordan valley, either east (2 Samuel 4:7) or west (2 Samuel 2:29), the area south of the Salt Sea (Deuteronomy 2:8), or the north Arabian desert (Isaiah 40:3). It may also refer to an unspecified dry steppe in general (Jeremiah 17:6, Zechariah 14:10). Note that this word is identical to the noun meaning poplar, from root ערב ('rb VI).
The root ערב ('rb V) is also not used as verb in the Bible but its derivatives obviously maintain the core motion of criss-crossing:
- The masculine noun ערב ('ereb), meaning sunset or evening (Genesis 8:11, Deuteronomy 16:6, Job 7:4). Scholars appear to assume that our form came to be used for the setting of the sun because it described the time of day at which the sun has crossed the whole of the sky. Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that also to the ancients it must have seemed that the sun was crossing just as fast at evening as at any other time of day, and we further surmise that our word rather denotes the criss-crossing of folk between their lands, markets and other places of work onto their homes. The phrase בין ערבים literally means 'between criss-crossings' and denotes rush-hour.
- The denominative verb ערב ('arab), meaning to become evening and secondarily, to become dark, black or gloomy (1 Samuel 17:16, Isaiah 24:11).
- The masculine noun מערב (ma'arab), meaning west or westward (Judges 20:33, Isaiah 45:6, 1 Chronicles 7:28). Note that this noun is identical to the noun מערב (ma'arab), meaning merchandise, from ערב ('arab II).
The root ערב ('rb VI) is also not used as verb in the Bible. Its extant derivatives are:
- The masculine noun ערב ('oreb), meaning raven. It may be that a raven was known as a darkling (perhaps even after the previous root; see Song of Solomon 5:11), but more likely the raven was known for its ubiquitousness and its criss-crossing the country (see Genesis 8:7). Ravens are associated with hearing, and particularly with hearing rumors on the grapevine (see our article on the name Cherith). Their counterpart is the dove, which is associated with sight.
- The feminine noun ערבה ('araba), meaning poplar (Leviticus 23:40, Isaiah 44:4). The sources we routinely consult all stay very quiet about the possible reasons why a poplar and a raven should be known by similar words, but it's obviously because of the signature criss-crossed pattern of the poplar's bark. Note that this noun is identical to the one denoting a region where only nomads can live, from root ערב ('rb IV).