🔼The name Arabah: Summary
- From the root ערב ('arab), to criss-cross or traverse.
🔼The name Arabah in the Bible
It's not wholly certain whether Arabah is supposed to be the proper name of a specific region or rather a general term (like "the Boondocks" or "the Bad Lands"). The various English translations seem somewhat arbitrary about when they transliterate ערבה as Arabah or translate it with words like plain or desert (for instance: KJV, Darby and Young read "the plain" in Deuteronomy 1:1, while NAS, NIV, JSP and ASV read Arabah, yet in Zechariah 14:10, NAS, KJV and Young read "a plain," whereas NIV, JSP, ASV and Darby have Arabah).
The "name" Arabah is the feminine version of the Hebrew name for Arabia and is applied to the region east of the Jordan (Deuteronomy 1:1, 1:7, 3:17, 2 Samuel 2:29), to the region west of the Jordan (Deuteronomy 11:30, Joshua 8:14), apparently also to the region close to Mount Seir (Deuteronomy 2:8), and the area south of Gennesaret (Joshua 11:2, 12:3).
The Salt Sea, or Dead Sea, was known as the sea of Arabah (Deuteronomy 4:49, Joshua 3:16, 2 Kings 14:25). The Arabah was conquered by Joshua (Joshua 11:16, 12:8), and a place called Beth-arabah would mark the territory of Judah, west of the Jordan (Joshua 15:6, 15:61). The tribe of Benjamin was assigned territory within the lands of Judah, and Benjamin's land bordered on the Arabah (Joshua 18:18) and included Beth-arabah (Joshua 18:22).
The Arabah, apparently, was notoriously barren and desolate (Isaiah 33:9, 35:1, 35:6, Ezekiel 47:8) but also a fine place for hiding, as David and his men hid there while on the run from Saul (1 Samuel 23:24). It contained a brook (Amos 6:14), and possibly a permanent population called the Arbathites, of whom David's mighty-man Abi-albon was one (2 Samuel 23:31).
🔼Etymology of the name Arabah
The name or term Arabah comes from the cluster of roots that have the form ערב ('rb):
The root ערב ('arab) means to criss-cross or to traverse and covers multiple separate word groups. Noun ערב ('ereb) refers to the woof (the thing that zips over-and-under the warp when weaving). Noun ערב ('ereb) denotes a foreign group that intersects a native population and likewise noun ערב ('arob) denotes a swarm of invading insects.
Verb ערב ('arab II) means to take, give or exchange on pledge. Nouns ערבה ('arubba), ערבן ('erabon) and תערבה (ta'aruba) mean pledge. Noun מערב (ma'arab) refers to merchandise; articles of exchange.
Verb ערב ('arab III) means to be pleasing in the sense of rewarding or satisfying. Adjective ערב ('areb) means pleasing in that same sense.
Verb ערב ('rb IV) is probably the same as the first one and would most literally mean to be a nomad. Noun ערב ('arab) refers to the region now known as Arabia (i.e. "Nomadia"). The noun ערב ('arab) would literally mean nomad as does the ethnonym ערבי ('arabi), Arab or Arabian.
Verb ערב ('rb V) appears to describe the journey of the sun across the sky. Noun ערב ('ereb) means sunset or evening, and the derived verb ערב ('arab) means to become evening and secondarily, to become dark, black or gloomy. Noun מערב (ma'arab) means west or westward.
What verb ערב ('rb VI) may have meant isn't clear. Noun ערב ('oreb) means raven, i.e. a proverbial dark bird or else one that criss-crosses the land. Ravens are additionally associated with hearing; doves are with sight. Likewise the noun ערבה ('araba) means poplar possibly named after the patterns of its bark.
The name Arabah, like Arabia, literally means Nomadia.