🔼The name Caleb: Summary
- Dog, Unsophisticated Servant
- From the noun כלב (keleb), dog.
🔼The name Caleb in the Bible
There are two men named Caleb in the Bible, both from Judah. The lesser known of the famous Calebs is a son of Hezron, who is a son of Perez, who is a son of Judah and Tamar (1 Chronicles 2:18). This Caleb marries Azubah and Jerioth and Ephrath who becomes the mother of Hur (1 Chronicles 2:19). He also has a concubine named Ephah, who bears him Haran, Moza, Gazez and Jahdai.
The most famous Caleb is a son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and a chief of Judah who joins the contingent that Moses assembles to have the promised land spied out (Exodus 13:6). The other famous member of this group is Joshua, who later becomes Moses' successor (see Exodus 13:8 and 13:16).
The contingent consists of twelve members, ten of whom condemn the ensuing campaign. Joshua and Caleb remind Israel that God is on their side, but the Israelites are not convinced. Only after God intercedes, executes the ten fear mongers and states that none of the Israelites who are then alive, except Caleb and Joshua, will see the Promised Land, they move on (Numbers 13-14).
Caleb is awarded Hebron (Joshua 14:13-14), longevity and a substantial posterity, which in time forms the Judahite sub-clan of the Calebites. Nabal, the man who foolishly opposes David, is a Calebite (1 Samuel 25:3), although it may very well be that he wasn't a Calebite by descent but by behavior. The Hebrew ethnonym is an adjective; the word Calebite, כלבי, would literally mean 'Caleb-like'. Yet, Nabal is called a כלבו, which rather means 'his Caleb(ness)'. Perhaps Nabal was "harsh and evil in his dealings, and a dog of a man" (25:3, rephrased)
Caleb's daughter is called Achsah and she becomes the wife of Caleb's nephew Othniel, after he conquered Debir (Joshua 15:17).
🔼Etymology of the name Caleb
The name Caleb is identical to the Hebrew word כלב (keleb), meaning dog:
The noun כלב (keleb) means dog, but it's not clear what verb it comes from, and thus, essentially, how a dog was seen. But perhaps this verb spoke of the rise of domesticated dogs: when the most willing among wolves became feral dogs, and the most willing among those entered into human captivity. Another word that may derive from this same mystery verb is the noun כלוב (kelub), which describes a basket with fruit or a cage with birds.
And since the pedigree of these words is missing, one may be forgiven to note a resemblance with the particle כ (ke), meaning 'like' or 'as if,' and the noun לב (leb), meaning heart, understanding or courage (the noun לבי, lebi literally means "heart-having" and described the lion). That way the word כלב (keleb = dog) could, somewhat creatively, be understood to mean 'as if it has a heart' or 'as if it understands.'
Across the ancient world, feral canines were regarded with great disdain. In the eyes of humans, canines' obvious cunning served mostly to sneak into camp in the night and purloin provisions and take off either laughing or loudly complaining. Domesticated dogs were appreciated for their willingness to serve, but their lowly origins and were never forgotten and their obvious lack of refinery served many a metaphor for low functioning humans.
It is curious that a Biblical hero is known by a name that is absolutely negative.
A solution to this conundrum may be offered by certain popular theories concerning the origin of an archetypal story that occurs in many cultures, and of which the Osiris saga is an example. The Egyptians appear to have believed that their dead Pharaohs would incarnate as stars in the constellation of Orion.
In the Bible stars have multiple literary functions, one of them being the image of the seed of Abraham (Genesis 15:5, compare to Daniel 12:3). Paul makes it overly clear that this seed of Abraham is Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16), and the Body of Christ comprises the believers in him (Colossians 1:24). In other words: the famous re-birth/ born-again principle of Christianity entails an incarnation into the Body of Christ.
When we then realize that the name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, and that the legendary Orion-figure is always accompanied by a dog (the star we call Sirius), the existence of Caleb in the Joshua cycle may be explained.
The name Caleb means Dog, and by implication Unsophisticated Servant, or a person from very low origins who aims to join the upper human classes but obviously fails to blend in seamlessly.