🔼The name Beth-horon: Summary
- House Of The Hollow, House Of Freedom
- From (1) the noun בית (beth), house, and (2) the noun חר (hor), hollow or freeman.
🔼The name Beth-horon in the Bible
There are two towns named Beth-horon in the Bible: Upper and Lower Beth-horon, which were built by Ephraim's daughter Sheerah (1 Chronicles 7:24). Much later king Solomon would fortify both Beth-horons (2 Chronicles 8:5).
The region of the Beth-horons was close to Makkedah, which featured a cave large enough for five Amorite kings to hide in (Joshua 10:10, 10:16). That happened in the awesome battle in which YHWH threw stones at the enemy, and the sun and the moon stood still while the battle raged (Joshua 10):
- Upper Beth-horon was situated somewhere at the southern end of the territory of Ephraim of Joseph (Joshua 16:3), and later this village was given to the Kohathite Levites (1 Chronicles 6:68).
- Lower Beth-horon marked the northern border of Benjamin, which is the border between Benjamin and Ephraim (Joshua 16:3).
At the Battle of Beth-horon of 66 AD, Jewish rebels pelted the Twelfth Legion with darts and stones and finally destroyed it. Upon this defeat, Vespasian invaded Galilee and his son Titus besieged and sacked Jerusalem in 70 AD (for more on this second Battle of Beth-horon, see our article on the name Legion).
The name Beth-horon is spelled בית־חורן in Joshua 10:10-11 and 16:3, the same but without a maqqep (בית חורן) in Joshua 16:5 and 21:22 and 1 Samuel 13:18, בית־חרון in Joshua 18:13-14, בית חרן in 1 Kings 9:17, בית חורון in 1 Chronicles 6:68 and 2 Chronicles 8:5 and 25:13, and the same but with a maqqep in 1 Chronicles 7:24.
🔼Etymology of the name Beth-horon
The name Beth-horon 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 seems to come from the following root cluster:
The root חרר (harar) describes a society's central and enclosed source of heat. It thus may express a geographical depression, but more so a being hot and ultimately a being a ruler (whether by might, political clout or wisdom).
Verb חרר (harar I) means to be hot, burned or charred. Noun חרר (harer) denotes a parched place and noun חרחר (harhur) describes a violent heat or fever. The unused verb חרר (harar II) means to be free in cognate languages, which is the opposite of being a slave. Noun חר (hor) means noble or nobleman. The unused verb חרר (harar III) appears to refer to the enclosure of kilns and ovens, as the first ones were most likely built in natural hollows. The nouns חר (hor) and חור (hor) mean hole or cavern, but obviously relate to the previous word in that freemen surround themselves with walls and armies.
Verb חרה (hara) means to burn or ignite (in the Bible solely in an emotional way: to get angry). Noun חרון (haron) describes the burning of anger. Noun חרי (hori) refers to a general burning.
Verb חור (hawar) means to be or grow white (like ash or baked bricks). Nouns חור (hur) and חורי (huray) refer to any white stuff, including garments and linen, and noun חרי (hori) describes white bread or cake.
Verb נחר (nahar) looks very much like a passive or reflexive version of חרר (harar) or its participle. This verb isn't used in the Bible but nouns נחר (nahar) and נחרה (naharah) describe the vigorous snorting of a horse, and noun נחיר (nahir) means nostril (which in turn reminds of a cavern).
Because the area of Beth-horon had at least one major cave, scholars assume that the horon-part comes from the word חר (hor), meaning hollow or hole, or else חור (hur), meaning cavern. The ון-extension is a common device to personify or localize the word it's attached to. In this case horon would thus mean: of the hor.
For a meaning of the name Beth-horon, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads House Of The Hollow, and Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names), who sees the ון extension as a mere intensifier, suggests Place Of The Great Cavern. BDB Theological Dictionary is unsure as always, and proposes Place Of A Hole or Hollow?
But the name Beth-horon obviously also means House Of The Free Men or rather House Of Freedom or House Of Personal Sovereignty, which ties in neatly into the redemptive essence of the Christ (John 8:32), and which wouldn't have escaped the commentators of old.