🔼The name Cherethites: Summary
- Cretans, Outcasts
- From the name Crete, in turn from the verb כרת (karat), to round up and cut off.
🔼The name Cherethites in the Bible
The first time we hear of the Cherethites, Saul is still king of Israel and the Cherethites appear to be either foreigners or else an un underclass of Judah who live in the Negev or southern extreme of Judah (1 Samuel 30:14). Then, when David is in Jerusalem, the Cherethites form a Judean class of untold standing but have Benaiah son of Jehoiada over them (2 Samuel 8:18, 1 Chronicles 18:17). Benaiah is also over the Pelethites, and is mentioned along David's elite members of government. This still doesn't say much about the status of the Cherethites and Benaiah could very well be the head of a ministry that was comparable to the later American Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In 2 Samuel 15:18, the Cherethites are mentioned along the Pelethites but also the Gittites, who were Philistine refugees from Gath, as all three groups joined David on his flight from Absalom. By the time Sheba of Bichri of Benjamin tries to ignite a rebellion against David, the Cherethites and Pelethites are mentioned along general Joab and the elite Mighty Men as they set out to deal with Sheba (2 Samuel 20:7). In the aftermath of this crisis it becomes clear that the Cherethites and Pelethites are now choice warriors and Benaiah is their general (20:23).
When during Adonijah's attempt to usurp the throne, Zadok the king-maker anointed Solomon as the rightful successor of David, Benaiah and the Cherethites and Pelethites accompanied their new king to Gihon (1 Kings 1:38, 1:44).
By the time of king Josiah of Judah, when the northern and eastern tribes of Israel had already been carted off to Assyria, YHWH spoke through the prophet Zephaniah about a nation of the Cherethites and appears to confirm that the Cherethites, like the Gittites, were a Philistine remnant (Zephaniah 2:5). By the time of Judah's exile to Babylon, YHWH spoke through the prophet Ezekiel and proclaimed the Cherethites doomed, and confirms their origin among the Philistines (Ezekiel 25:16). And since the Philistines themselves originate from Crete, the Cherethites are Cretans.
🔼Etymology of the name Cherethites
The name Crete is of unclear origin, but a Hebrew audience that was familiar with the story of the Cherethites would quickly make a connection to the verb כרת (karat), meaning to round up and cut off:
The verb כרר (karar) is one of a few that describes a circular motion, and particularly a repeated circular motion: a swirl. This verb has the added nuance of amassing something within the circle so formed.
Noun כר (kar) means pasture, a defined region where herds roam and are kept. Identical noun כר (kar) describes a [male] lamb, probably literally as a "unit of herd." Similar noun כר (kor) is a unit of volume. Noun כרכרה (kirkara) is a diminutive and feminine version of כר (kar) and describes some domesticated animal. Noun ככר (kikkar) refers to any "round thing," from a large region to a circular lid or loaf of bread.
Verb כור (kar) means to contain by surrounding or winding about (like a turban). Noun כר (kar) appears to describe a bundle upon a pack animal. Noun כור (kur) describes a smelting pot or furnace; noun כיר (kir) refers to a cooking-furnace, and noun כיר (kir) or כיור (kiyor) describes a cooking pot or laver.
The noun כר (kar) was also used to describe an instrument of war, probably a device that could bundle or leverage force; perhaps a catapult of some sort.
Noun מכרה (mekora) or מכורה (mekurah) literally describes location or agent of the verb כור (kar). In practice it describes the contracting of nomadic social groups into a defining shared cultural identity and ultimately the emergence of a formal nation. Similar noun מכרה (mekera) describes the effect of a sword: probably a forced compliance to a dominating convention.
Verb כרה (kara) emphasizes the accumulative clause of our root. It may describe digging a grave, well or pit but with the understanding that something will be deposited in these holes. This verb may also be used to describe acquisition by means of international trade, or even the concentration of people, goods and merriment in a feast. Noun כרה (kara) refers to the structure created to collect in, and noun מכרה (mikreh) to the act or result of it.
Verb כרת (karat) describes the cutting off what was first rounded up and isolated. This verb may simply describe a cutting down of trees, but it also describes the "cutting" of a covenant. It also describes the social principle by which weaker members of society are isolated and driven out, often to be adopted by another society which not rarely elevates these rejects to an elite class. Noun כריתות (keritut) means dismissal or divorce.
The name Cherethites means Cretans or Outcasts, and that suggests that this name is not specific but generic and rather describes any social underclass that gets hit first in times of crisis. Crete has been peopled since deep antiquity but the island south of Greece was a sure stop and catch-all for people that were driven off the Greek mainland. The Bible contains quite a bit of cultural memory relating to the horrors of the Bronze Age Collapse, when people moved about in panic and the weaker ones were driven into the sea. The word "cretin" describes a fool or deficient person and is officially of unclear origin but it doubtlessly also relates to our verb כרת (karat).
The civilization of Crete was one of the most advanced ones in antiquity, which is probably due to the same reason why Holland became so successful in the 17th century and the United States of America in the 20th. It's because these nations absorbed all the rejects of other nations, which created a huge diversity of people who were desperate to improve their lives.
The Philistines were apparently the weaker class of the Cretans, which caused them to cross over into Egypt. There they were driven out as well and driven northeast, until they found their new homeland in Canaan. There, of course, they were battled by kings Saul and David, who killed them all with the apparent exception of the Cherethites, who appear to have been a weaker class of the Philistines and were slowly adopted into Israel. This process would not be unlike Judah's own future journey from social outcasts to a dominant position in Persia's wisdom elite.