🔼The name Beth-barah: Summary
- Place Of The Ford
- House of Purity, House of Food, House of the Covenant
- From (1) the noun בית (bayit), house, and (2) the verb עבר ('abar), to pass over.
- From (1) the noun בית (bayit), house, and (2) a word from the ברר (barar) or ברה (barah)-stock.
🔼The name Beth-barah in the Bible
The name Beth-barah occurs twice in the Bible, and both times in the same verse. When Gideon calls upon the men of Israel, after he and his 300 braves have the Midianites on the run, his message to his people is, "Come down against Midian and take the waters before them, as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan" (Judges 7:24).
🔼Etymology of the name Beth-barah
The name Beth-barah 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 of our name is harder to place. Scholars seem convinced that the ברה-part of our name is really the word עברה ('abara), meaning ford or wadi. It comes from the familiar root אבר ('abar), meaning to pass over:
The important verb עבר ('abar) means to pass or cross over (a river, border, obstacle or terrain). The derived noun עבר ('eber) describes what or where you end up when you do the verb: the other side or region beyond.
The valiant Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) reports that Beth-barah in "later times" was indeed called בית עברה (beth-araba), which he translates with Place Of The Ferry Boat. But to those upon whom these later times hadn't yet come, the name Beth-barah could hardly be associated with עברה. Instead, a Hebrew audience would probably hear something out of the following root-cluster:
The verb ברר (barar) essentially means to clean, purify or clarify. Usually, whatever needs to be purified is first pulverized and then sorted: the useful elements are gathered and stored, and the fluff, chaff, dust and other garbage is either blown away by wind, washed away by water, burned with fire or simply scooped up and physically dumped somewhere. In the case of metal ore, the material is heated so that the good stuff flows out and separates by its nature from the bad stuff and its nature.
Derived adjective בר (bar) means pure or clean and identical noun בר (bar) denotes a kernel of grain or corn. Noun בר (bor) denotes a kind of material that was used in the metal purification process, and identical masculine noun בר (bor) means cleanness or pureness. Feminine noun ברית (borit) denotes a kind of soap (and is spelled identical to the word meaning covenant; see below). Noun בר (bar) describes a field (perhaps a freshly plowed, cleaned and ready-to-sow one?), and the masculine plural noun ברברים (barburim) denotes a kind of bird known literally and for unknown reasons as "cleany-cleanies".
Verb באר (ba'ar) describes writing on tablets of stone. Nouns באר (be'er), באר (bo'r) and בור (bor) mean well or pit, and obviously not merely refer to physical cisterns but rather to centers of learning and information technology (because yes, writing is information technology and then as hip as blockchain is now).
Verb ברא (bara' I) denotes the creative activity of God, which (as we know from modern cosmology) predominantly has to do with giving elements the freedom to sort themselves into constructions that are deemed stable by the laws that govern creation (and which ultimately describe freedom). Noun בריאה (beri'a) denotes a creation, "an entirely new thing".
Verb ברא (bara' II) means to be fat, and since fat is essentially an organic storage of energy, this verb is in modern terms neatly explained by relativity theory. Since anything unstable falls apart when exposed to energy, only stable compounds can gain mass. Likewise, a fat guy is clearly at peace and well provisioned (and not on the run or forced to labor half starving). Adjective בריא (bari') means fat and consequently healthy and prosperous. Verb ברה (bara) means to eat. Nouns בריה (birya) and ברות (barut) mean food.
Noun ברית (berit) means covenant and occurs all over the Bible. Although it's not wholly clear how it technically relates to the above, the gist of it is clear. A covenant clears up a working relation between parties and leads to peace, prosperity and ultimately more clarity and cleanness between said parties. Note that it is spelled the same as the word for soap (see above, and see our article on Soap in the Old World).
To a Hebrew audience, the name Beth-barah would have meant something like House of Cleanness or House Of Food or even House Of Covenant Making.
Still, for a meaning of the name Beth-barah, both NOBSE Study Bible Name List and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names read Place Of The Ford. BDB Theological Dictionary offers its signature prudent question mark, and the equation with the imaginary name בית עברה, which BDB translates with Place Of Ford.