🔼The name Ir-hatamarim: Summary
- City Of Palms, City Of The Free Market
- From (1) the noun עיר ('ir), city, and (2) the noun תמר (tamar), palm tree.
🔼The name Ir-hatamarim in the Bible
The name Ir-hatamarim is one of the few names in the Bible that always get translated for some reason (some others are Yam-hamelah, Qoheleth, and of course YHWH). It's another name for the city of Jericho and is used four times, twice directly following the name Jericho (Deuteronomy 34:3 and 2 Chronicles 28:15, only here spelled with a maqqep: עיר־התמרים) and twice on its own (Judges 1:16 and 3:13).
🔼Etymology of the name Ir-hatamarim
The name Ir-hatamarim consists of two parts, the first being the common 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 preceded by the letter ה (he), which is either the definite article or else a particle of direction, and appears quite commonly in names of the structure "something-of-something". The rest of the second part of our name is a regular masculine plural form of the noun תמר (tamar), meaning palm tree:
The noun תמר (tamar) means palm tree but it's not immediately clear from what verb it comes, and thus how the ancients saw the palm tree — in the Bible all trees (oaks, figs, olives, and so on) relate to certain aspects of the wisdom tradition. Female judge Deborah had her seat under a palm tree, which seems to suggest that the palm tree related to a kind of popular court.
Noun תמר (tomer) also means palm tree but secondarily refers to a kind of sign post or pillar. Nouns תמרה (timora) and תימרה (timara) refer to palm-like artistic expressions; the first word describes an image of a palm tree and the second a palm-like pillar. Since the word "palm-like" does not necessarily mean to look like a palm, but merely to imitate some kind of signature quality of the palm, it's debated what a palm-like item might actually be.
It appears that the palm tree reminded the ancients of a social focal point that was spontaneously and organically established (rather than by some decree or violence or trickery). A palm is like paths that form in an open field with a well at the center, or it's like the effects of a free market, which drives society to unknown heights that no single trader could have imagined.
The name Ir-hatamarim indeed literally translates as City Of Palms, but perhaps it was known as such not because of any signature vegetation, but rather because of some kind of famous regulatory system, i.e. the sort of system that allows for the least restricted flow of goods, services and ideas. Such as system is largely self-organizing and leads to the greatest possible diversity, the most liquid exchanges and ultimately the fastest progress and stable economy. Of course, this famous system was made even more famous when it became the first system to fall at the invasion of Israel. What the real-world equivalent of this magnificent capitulation might have been is still a bit fuzzy, but it appears to have had to do with the invention of vowel notation.