🔼The name Ir-hamelah: Summary
- City Of Salt
- From (1) the noun עיר ('ir), city, and (2) the noun מלח (melah), salt.
🔼The name Ir-hamelah in the Bible
The name Ir-hamelah occurs only once in the Bible. In Joshua 15:62 it's mentioned as one of the cities in the wilderness of the territory allotted to the tribe of Judah. Note that of the modern English translations only the Darby Translation prints Ir-hamelah (or rather: Ir-Hammelah) here. The others speak of the City of Salt.
🔼Etymology of the name Ir-hamelah
The name Ir-hamelah consists of two elements. The first part is the noun עיר (ir) meaning city:
The root ערר ('arar) describes an accumulation in one place that results in an emptiness or barrenness everywhere else — both cities and clouds form from this principle, and indeed any sort of commercial or intellectual fortune. Adjectives ערירי ('ariri) and ערער ('ar'ar) mean stripped, childless or destitute. Noun מערה (me'ara) literally means "place of being stripped" and is the Bible's common word for cave. Noun ערוער ('aro'er) denotes some kind of tree or bush (probably one without leaves).
Noun עיר ('ir) is the Bible's common word for city, which constitutes an accumulation of people and goods, usually in the middle of a wide area without remaining trees. Noun עיר ('ayir) came to specifically denote the wild ass, but apparently stems from the more common behavior of standing around in clusters in the middle of a field that's been grazed clean (in other languages this word also denotes gazelles and such).
Verb עור ('awar) means to be or make blind, and blindness occurs most commonly due to a cataract (which looks like a skin forming over the eye, and is due to a cloudy accumulation of protein in the ocular lens). Adjective עור ('iwwer) means blind. Nouns עורון ('iwwaron) and עורת ('awweret) mean blindness.
Verb עור ('ur I) means to rouse oneself — literally to collect and bundle one's feelings. Noun עיר ('ir) means excitement.
Identical verb עור ('ur II) means to be exposed or laid bare. Noun מעור (ma'or) means nakedness and noun מערם (ma'arom) means naked one. Adjectives עירם ('erom), ערם ('erom), ערום ('arom) and ערם ('arom) mean naked. Noun עור ('or) means skin or hide.
Verb ערה ('ara) also means to be naked or bare. Nouns ערה ('ara), מערה (ma'ara) and מער (ma'ar) refer to bare or exposed places. Nouns ערוה ('erwa) and עריה ('erya) mean nakedness or exposure. Noun תער (ta'ar) denotes a thing that makes bare: a razor or sheath of a sword.
The second part of our name is the noun מלח (melah), meaning salt, or absorber:
The verb מלח (malah) probably means to make dry or to absorb. The noun מלח (melah) would literally mean "dry maker" and was the regular word for salt. Salt, of course, dried food and by doing so preserved it for long periods of time. That means that "salting" something didn't simply mean to give it a salty taste but rather to dry and thus disinfect something (whether with or without actual salt). Noun מלחה (meleha) might mean saltiness but generally means dry or dryness.
The letter ה (he) that sits in front of the melah-part is either the definite article, or else a particle of direction.
The name Ir-hamelah means City Of Salt and may have had to do with salt-mining. This city was located in the south of Judah, possibly near the Salt Sea.