🔼The name Baal-tamar: Summary
- Lord Of The Palm Tree, Boss Of The Free Market
- From (1) the verb בעל (ba'al), to be lord, and (2) the noun תמר (tamar), palm tree.
🔼The name Baal-tamar in the Bible
The name Baal-tamar features in one of the most horrendous stories of the Bible. In the city of Gibeah, a group of Benjaminites gang-rape a woman from Bethlehem to death. At first they wanted her man, but he shoved her out the door.
When he finds her body the next morning, he cuts her into twelve pieces and sends them to the tribes of Israel. That causes the other tribes to go to war with Benjamin, and the battle that virtually wiped out the tribe of Benjamin took place at Baal-tamar (Judges 20:33).
🔼Etymology of the name Baal-tamar
The name Baal-tamar consists of two parts. The first part is the familiar word בעל (ba'al), Baal, meaning lord or master:
The verb בעל (ba'al) means to exercise dominion over; to own, control or be lord over. The ubiquitous noun בעל (ba'al) means lord, master and even husband, and its feminine counterpart בעלה (ba'ala) means mistress or landlady.
God is obviously called 'lord' all over the Bible and the sin of the Baal priests (1 Kings 18:40) was not that they called upon some other deity but rather their incessant howling of the word 'lord' without any further responsibility or effects (see Matthew 7:21 and 11:4-5).
The second part of our name is the noun תמר (tamar), meaning palm tree:
The noun תמר (tamar) means palm tree but it's not immediately clear from what verb it comes, and thus how the ancients saw the palm tree — in the Bible all trees (oaks, figs, olives, and so on) relate to certain aspects of the wisdom tradition. Female judge Deborah had her seat under a palm tree, which seems to suggest that the palm tree related to a kind of popular court.
Noun תמר (tomer) also means palm tree but secondarily refers to a kind of sign post or pillar. Nouns תמרה (timora) and תימרה (timara) refer to palm-like artistic expressions; the first word describes an image of a palm tree and the second a palm-like pillar. Since the word "palm-like" does not necessarily mean to look like a palm, but merely to imitate some kind of signature quality of the palm, it's debated what a palm-like item might actually be.
It appears that the palm tree reminded the ancients of a social focal point that was spontaneously and organically established (rather than by some decree or violence or trickery). A palm is like paths that form in an open field with a well at the center, or it's like the effects of a free market, which drives society to unknown heights that no single trader could have imagined.
For a meaning of the name Baal-tamar, NOBSE Study Bible Name List proposes Lord Of The Palm. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Having Palm Trees or Place Of Palm Trees. And BDB Theological Dictionary has Possessor Of Palms.
The title Lord of the Palm Tree is obviously a mock title since the palm tree is symbol for the unrestricted flow of goods, services and ideas. Obviously, every free market requires some degree of regulation to retain its freedom, and that's probably what Deborah signifies. But no male can explicitly rule a free market, and that makes Baal-tamar a silly joke-name, somewhat similar to Baal Zebub, or Lord of the Flies (flies have no boss, and trying to govern flies is idiotic).