🔼The name El-berith: Summary
- God Of The Covenant
- From (1) the word אל ('el), God, and (2) the noun ברית (berit), covenant.
🔼The name El-berith in the Bible
The name El-berith (or the "god Berith" as the King James, Darby and Young translations have it, or Beth-el-berith according to the Septuagint) occurs only once in the Bible. It's the name of the deity to whose temple the ruling elite of Shechem fled after the insurrection of Gaal and Zebul, and Abimelech's subsequent destruction of their town (Judges 9:46). This temple proved to be not a very good place to hide, because Abimelech set fire to it and incinerated them all.
A little earlier, the men of Shechem had purchased Abimelech's allegiance with seventy pieces of silver, withdrawn from the house of their deity Baal-berith, which possibly was the same as El-berith.
🔼Etymology of the name El-berith
The name El-berith obviously consists of two elements, the first one being אל ('el), the prominent Canaanite deity or general word for god or God:
In names אל ('el) usually refers to אלהים ('elohim), that is Elohim, or God, also known as אלה ('eloah). In English, the words 'God' and 'god' exclusively refer to the deity but in Hebrew the words אל ('l) and אלה ('lh) are far more common and may express approach and negation, acts of wailing and pointing, and may even mean oak or terebinth.
The second part of our name is the same as the noun ברית (berit), meaning covenant:
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).
For a meaning of the name El-berith, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads God Of The Covenant (with a lower case g). NOBSE also lists the name Berith separately, and translates that name with Covenant.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names (working off the older English translations) does not feature a separate entree for El-berith, but reads Covenant for Berith.
BDB Theological Dictionary doesn't offer a translation of El-berith, but lists it under אל paragraph II-3, which deals with the word אל in the sense of the "gods of the nations" (see El-berith under II-3-4). BDB does confirm that El-berith is the same as Baal-berith.