🔼The name Helkath-hazzurim: Summary
- Field Of Adversaries, Field Of Sharp Flints
- From (1) the noun חלקה (helqa), field, and (2) the verbs צור (sur) and צרר (sarar), to be an adversary or to be sharp; or derivatives thereof.
🔼The name Helkath-hazzurim in the Bible
The name Helkath-hazzurim occurs only once in the Bible, and that in one of its most irritating paragraphs. During the tumultuous transition period between the monarchies of Saul and David, two military maniacs called Abner (Saul's nephew) and Joab (David's nephew) meet at the pool of Gibeon, each trailing an army of men. Just how maniacal they both are is demonstrated by what follows.
As both captains sit down at opposite ends of the pool, Abner proposes to Joab that their men should do something entertaining (the verb is צחק, sahaq, to laugh, like the name Isaac). Twelve from each side are selected, and each grabs his opponent by the head and trusts his sword into his side, upon which both fall dead. And that's how the place became known as Helkath-hazzurim (2 Samuel 2:16).
Whether Abner and Joab found the whole affair sufficiently amusing isn't told, but the cheapness of human life and the corruption of power is celebrated further in a bloody battle in which David's men defeat Abner's. True to form, Abner mysteriously manages to flee the carnage of his men, and even though Joab has to let him go, he manages to kill him much later using a ruse (2 Samuel 3:27). When David hears of Abner's death, he mourns him and calls him a great man (3:38).
David's response, the bizarreness of the suicide sacrifice of the twenty-four soldiers and the numerical significances pertaining to these events seem to suggest that this story has more than one meaning, and the true gist of it escapes the casual reader.
🔼Etymology of the name Helkath-hazzurim
The name Helkath-hazzurim consists of two elements. The first part is an archaic or alternate spelling of either of the nouns חלקה (hlqh), meaning portion or field:
Verb חלק (halaq I) means to divide and apportion. Noun חלק (heleq I) and חלקה (haluqqa) mean portion, tract of land, even one's mode of life. Noun חלקה (helqa I) means field. Noun מחלקת (mahaloqet) describes a division of some organization.
Verb חלק (halaq II) means to be smooth or slippery, either of items such as stones or speech and flattery. Nouns חלק (heleq II) and חלקה (halaqqa) describe smoothness or seductiveness of speech. Adjectives חלק (halaq) and חלק (halluq) mean smooth. The singular noun חלקה (helqa II) and the plural noun plural noun חלקלקות (halaqlaqqot) may describe smoothness, slipperiness, flattery, or pleasant nonsense.
The second part starts with the letter ה (he), which is either the definite article or else a particle of direction. This prefixed letter he is quite common in names that connect a location (field, mountain, house etcetera) to a quality. The final end of the second part of our name comes from a plural form, and the core of it comes from any of the words צר or צור, of which there are many:
- Verb צור (sur I) probably means to lean or incline. Noun צואר (sawwa'r) means neck and צורון (sawwaron) means necklace.
- Verb צור (sur II) means to confine, secure or besiege. Noun מצור (masor) means siege and מצורה (mesura) means stronghold. This verb relates to verb צרר (sarar I).
- Verb צור (sur III) means to be an adversary. It relates to צרר (sarar II).
- Verb צור (sur IV) means to form or fashion. Noun צורה (sura) means form and noun ציר (sir) means image. This verb relates to יצר (yasar).
- Verb צור (sur V) probably relates to verb צרר (sarar III) and probably means to be sharp. The important noun צור (sur) means rock, and is equivalent to the Greek noun πετρα (petra), from which comes the name Peter.
- Verb צרר (sarar I) means to bind and relates to צור (sur II). Adjective צר (sar) means narrow. Nouns צר (sar) and צרה (sara) mean distress and yield denominative verb צרה (sara), meaning to suffer distress. Noun צרור (seror) means bundle or parcel. Noun מצר (mesar) means distress.
- Verb צרר (sarar II) means to show hostility and relates to verb צור (sur III). Noun צר (sar) means adversary. Noun צרה (sara) means vexer or rival-wife. Denominative verb צרר (sarar) means to create a rival wife.
- Verb צרר (sarar III) probably means to be sharp and relates to צור (sur V). Nouns צר (sar), צר (sor) and צרור (seror) mean flint or pebble.
Verb יצר (yasar) means to fashion or form and relates to צור (sur IV). Noun יצר (yeser) denotes that what is formed, and noun יצרים (yesurim) means forms or members.
Verb צרה (srh) probably describes the bleeding of an odoriferous tree. Noun צרי (sari) denotes a kind of costly balsam.
The name Helkath-hazzurim isn't easily explainable, and although commentators have suggested widely varying possibilities, none of them truly seems to match the story without a glitch. The meaning of our name is probably as elusive as the deeper meaning of the story at large.
The Septuagint reads μερις των επιβουλων, which roughly means Portion Of Treachery, and the Vulgate has Ager Robustorum, which comes down to Field Of The Mighty. This suggests that the ancients explained this name by means of צור (sur I and II) and צרר (sarar II and III). Here at Abarim Publications we go with Field Of Adversaries.
The compilers of the NOBSE Study Bible Name List appear to assume that the second part of our name has to do with the soldier's weapons and reads Field Of Sharp Flints, which is linguistically sound but practically a bit silly because the swords of iron age soldiers were certainly not made of sharp flints. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names proposes Field Of Swords, even though the Hebrew word for sword is חרב, hereb (see the name Horeb).
BDB Theological Dictionary endorses a few possibilities. S.R. Driver (the D of BDB) proposes Field Of The Sword Edges, again probably because of the verb צרר that may mean to be sharp, but it should be noted that the soldiers didn't cut the other guy with the edge of the sword but rather stabbed him with the point of it. Wellhausen abandoned the צרר cluster all together and assumed that we're dealing with a text error, and that our name should really be spelled חלקת הצדים (with a ד instead of an ר). That would connect our name to the word צד, meaning side (where the soldiers trust their swords into; see the name Zedad). Hence Wellhausen translates our name with Field Of Plotters / Liers In Wait. Besides assuming a text error, Wellhausen also arrives at a meaning that makes no sense, because the whole encounter began with people sitting opposite a pool and commenced upon agreement.