🔼The name Haggedolim: Summary
- The Great Ones, The Greatnesses
- From the verb גדל (gadel), to become strong or great.
🔼The name Haggedolim in the Bible
It's not entirely sure whether Haggedolim is a personal name or not. And even if it were, what this name actually is.
The phrase הגדולים occurs twice in the Bible: in 1 Chronicles 17:8 and Nehemiah 11:14. But only in the latter occurrence, commentators are tempted to see a name in this word. In 1 Chronicles 17:8 our word is commonly translated as "great men" or "great ones" or something to that extent. And the context allows that perfectly. But in Nehemiah 11:14 we read about a priestly-warrior overseer named Zabdiel, who was a son of הגדולים; and the question is now: is Zabdiel a "son of the great ones", or is he the son of his father Haggedolim?
- Our word Haggedolim starts out with what seems the definite article ה (he) (or else a particle of direction, "towards the", or ascription, "of the"). If we leave that out we are left with the word גדולים, which is much more common in the Bible. But it's a plural word and plural words are rarely used as personal names in the Bible.
- It may be that the phrase בן הגדולים (son of the great ones) is a kind of title, a social designation, not unlike the epithet "mighty-men" by which the members of the elite warrior class that served king David were known (2 Samuel 10:7, 1 Chronicles 11:26). And the word בן doesn't only mean son in a biological sense, but also (and just as much) a member of some group — the phrase "son of the prophets" simply means "one of the prophets" (see our article on the word בן, ben)
The various translations struggle to make sense of Nehemiah 11:14: NAS and RV have "son of Haggedolim" but print "the great ones" in the margin. NIV, JSP and ASV have "son of Haggedolim". The King James and Young (and the Septuagint) have "son of [one of] the great men". And Darby goes for the personal name but leaves out the definite article and writes "son of Gedolim".
A similar confusion occurs with the name (Has)sophereth.
🔼Etymology of the name Haggedolim
The name or phrase Haggedolim is a plural form, preceded by the definite article and derived from the verb גדל (gadel) meaning to become strong or great:
The verb גדל (gadel) means to become strong or great, particularly by combining many ordinary elements into a big strong strand or collection of some sort.
The noun מגדל (migdal) or מגדול (migdol) literally describes a place or agent for greatness. It's the word for tower, and a tower is not only a big strong thing consisting of many bricks, it also formed the center of a community around which all houses and all activity unfolded. From their tower people kept lookout over the community's territories, and launched offensives when the community was attacked. A tower could carry a fire and from it folks trumpeted signals. Towers drew its people from wherever they might roam. Over time they developed into central storage houses, banks and seats of government. Towers are buildings around which the greatness of a people forms and in which it becomes manifested.
Participle or adjective גדל (gadel) means a becoming great or growing up. Noun גדל (godel) means greatness or pride. Plural noun גדלים (gedilim) refers to tassels or festoons made from twisted strands. The very common adjectives גדול (gadol) and גדולה (gadola) mean great. Noun גדולה (gedulla) means greatness or great one.
The name Haggedolim literally means The Great Ones, but perhaps it's a personal name of one man and may also be interpreted as The Greatnesses. Perhaps it may even be compared to the semi-name Elohim, which is also a plural word applied to a single person, namely God.
NOBSE Study Bible Name List remarkably forgoes to suggest a meaning, but the NAS text it accompanies prints "the great ones" in the margin. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names never even refers to Haggedolim, which appears to suggest that Alfred Jones regards Haggedolim not as a name but as regular prose. BDB Theological Dictionary does not really discuss our name but does list it under the verb גדל (gadel) meaning to become strong or great.