🔼The name Beth-aven: Summary
- House Of Plenty Trouble, House Of Plenty Wealth
- From (1) the noun בית (beth), house, and (2) the verb און ('awan), either to be trouble or wealthy.
🔼The name Beth-aven in the Bible
There are two locations that have the name Beth-aven mentioned in the Bible, but one probably gave its name to the other:
- A town east of Bethel, near the city of Ai (Joshua 7:2). It's also close to Michmash, which is where king Saul and the army of Israel camped prior to a battle against the Philistines (1 Samuel 13:5). Right before the battle commenced, king Saul made the disastrous decision to not wait for Samuel and offer to YHWH himself. The result was the undoing of Saul and the coronation of David.
By the time of Hosea there was something fishy about Beth-aven. So much even that the prophet warned is audience no to go there and "take the oath" (Hosea 4:15). Apparently the Beth-avenites had erected an idol in the form of a calf for themselves (Hosea 10:5).
- The wilderness of Beth-aven, which was probably named after the town (Joshua 18:12).
🔼Etymology of the name Beth-aven
The name Beth-aven consists of two elements. The first part is identical to the common Hebrew word בית (bayit) meaning house:
The noun בית (bayit) means house. It sometimes merely denotes a domestic building, but mostly it denotes the realm of authority of the house-father, or אב (ab). This ab is commonly the living alpha male of a household, but may very well be a founding ancestor (as in the familiar term the "house of Israel"). The אב (ab) may also be a deity, in which case the בית (bayit) is that which we know as a temple.
In the larger economy, a house interacts with other houses. These interactions are governed by the אב (ab), or "father" and executed by the בנים (benim), or "sons": those people living in the house, irrespective of any biological relation with the אב (ab). The "sons" combined add up to אם ('em), which means both "mother" and "tribe".
The second part is a little harder to place, also because there are two roots און ('awan), which appear to be each other's opposites:
The verb און ('wn) appears to mean to experience a lot, to be subject to much. It doesn't occur in the Bible but in cognate languages it's either negative and means to be tired and troubled, or it's positive and means to be at rest and enjoy a life of plenty.
Nouns און ('awen) and תאנים (te'unim) are of the first category, and mean trouble, sorrow or toil. Noun און ('on) is of the second and describes an surplus of vigor or wealth and specifically of reproductive powers.
For a meaning of the name Beth-aven, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads House Of Nothingness (Vanity) and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names has the similar House Of Vanity "i.e. of idols".
BDB Theological Dictionary, in a rare bout of generosity, reads "House Of Iniquity or Idolatry? hardly likely unless as an alteration of the original בית און (Beth-on), House Of Wealth or Strength".