🔼The name Gebal: Summary
- Mountain of God
- From the verb גבל (gabal), to border or bind.
- From (1) the noun גב (gab), hill, and (2) the word אל ('el), God.
🔼The name Gebal in the Bible
There is probably only one place called Gebal in the Bible, and it's the same as the city later called Byblos, just north of Beirut in Lebanon. It's mentioned in Ezekiel 27:9 and Psalm 83:7, but since the Masoretes pointed this name in the psalm slightly different, some commentators took this to refer to a whole other place called Gebal (or Geball). The people of Gebal, the Gebalites (גבלי, gebali) are mentioned once, in Joshua 13:5.
Gebal was the first major Phoenician city, which in time would be overshadowed by Sidon and Tyre but which in the Egyptian period was a de facto Egyptian colony, known proverbially for two feats: ships and learning. And since both are rooted in international trade, they arose from the same motivations and were known by much the same templar terminology (as temples were both central banks and academies; see our article on the word ναος, naos, meaning temple).
But the strongest claim to fame of Gebal is its link to the papyrus trade. Papyrus (hence our word "paper") was manufactured in Egypt but shipped to Gebal for access to the huge Phoenician merchant market, from whence it found its way to the entire whole known world and probably beyond. Like the color purple (πορφυρα, porphura), the paperworks of Gebal became proverbial for the Phoenician soaring sophistication. The Greek word for book, namely βιβλος (biblos), derives from Gebal by swapping the G for a B and adding the Greek suffix for locations. Hence too our word "Bible".
🔼Etymology of the name Gebal
There are two ways to arrive at the name Gebal. Most obviously, our name relates to the verb גבל (gabal), to bind or border:
The frequently used nouns גבל (gebul) and גבלה (gebula) mean border or boundary, and the denominative verb גבל (gabal) means to border or bound. Rather than theoretical lines on maps, these words describe real forces (cultural, military, physical) within which people were really bound together within an autonomous collective identity.
Traditionally, however, our name was thought to derive from a combination of elements. The final element would be the word אל ('el), 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.
And the first element of our name would come from the broad root גבב (gabab), and specifically the noun גב (gab), hill:
The verb גבב (gabab) doesn't occur in the Bible but it appears to have meant to be concave or convex; to be bulbous or hollow. Noun גב (gab) denotes anything that is bulbous (hills, buttocks).
The verb גוב (gub) means to dig. Noun גב (geb) means pit or ditch. This verb appears to be associated with the verb יגב (yagab), meaning to till (what a farmer does). Noun יגב (yaqeb) probably refers to the field where the farmer tills.
Noun גבא (gebe') appears to describe a hollow in which water collects and is commonly translated with cistern, pool or marsh.
Verb גבה (gaba) means to collect. Nouns גב (geb), גוב (gob), גבי (gobay) and גובי (gobay) refer to locusts. Possibly a whole other verb גבה (gabah) means to be high, exalted or lofty, although this verb could actually describe a person who collected a heap, or who plunders a society like a swarm of locusts. In the Talmud the word for tax collector was derived from this verb. Adjective גבה (gaboah) means high or haughty. Noun גבה (gobah) means height or haughtiness. And noun גבהות (gabhut) means haughtiness.
Verb גבע (gabay) appears to mean the same as גבב (gabab), to be concave or convex. The very common noun גבעה (gib'a) means hill.
The unused verb גבן (gaban) probably meant to be curved, contracted or coagulated. Adjective גבן (giben) means humpbacked. Noun גבינה (gebina) means curd or cheese. Noun גבנן (gabnon) means peak or rounded summit.
A certain grammatical construction that creates a sort of continuous tense of the verb גבב (gabab) is formed from prefixing a נ (nun) and making the double ב (beth) a single one. The result, a verb נגב (nagab) would mean to undulate, to wave, to have shifting dunes. That verb doesn't exist, but a mysterious noun נגב (negeb) does. This noun would thus denote a region with rolling hills, and came to be synonymous with "south".
For a meaning of the name Gebal, NOBSE Study Bible Name List goes with the second reading, but leaves out the element אל ('el) and has Mountain. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names goes with the first and reads Boundary. BDB Theological Dictionary lists our name under the root גבל (gbl) but offers no interpretation other than it being the same as the Greek name Byblos.