🔼The name Ir-nahash: Summary
- City Of Serpents, City Of Bronze
- From (1) the noun עיר ('ir), city, and (2) the noun נחש (nahash), serpent, bronze or oracle.
🔼The name Ir-nahash in the Bible
Ir-nahash is an inconsequential town in Judah (1 Chronicles 4:12). This name occurs in a genealogy and at first glance it's the name of a son of someone called Tehinnah. But the Hebrew word אב ('ab), meaning father, is often used to denote a tribal head or a town's or nation's founding father. In that same genealogy occurs the name Ge-harashim, meaning Valley of Craftsmen (4:14).
🔼Etymology of the name Ir-nahash
The first part of the name Ir-nahash is the regular Hebrew word 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 is identical to the name Nahash, which in turn is identical to the root נחש (nhsh):
The most fundamental meaning of the root נחש (nahash) is that of intuitive knowledge and near-accidental skill. It describes an ability to achieve a great technological feat — particularly smelting bronze — but crucially without truly understanding what makes the magic happen: the fire or the prayer, the air blasted into the furnace or the zealous faith of the technicians.
Dictionaries commonly spread the following words out over four separate roots, but to the ancients, these words all expressed the same core meaning:
The noun נחש (nahash) is the Bible's most common word for snake. Snakes in the Bible always represent some kind of mental process, usually intuitive and usually impure or otherwise detrimental.
The identical verb נחש (nahash) means to divine or soothsay. Its derived noun, again identical, נחש (nahash) means divination or enchantment.
Either this same verb נחש (nahash), or an identical other one, also appears to have described the production of bronze. It's not used as such in the Bible but the following derivations are: Noun נחשת (nehoshet) refers to copper or bronze, or items made from bronze. Adjective נחוש (nahush) means bronze. And noun נחושה (nehusha) or נחשה (nehusha) means copper or bronze.
Taking all the above into consideration, the name Ir-nahash can be translated as Serpent City (NOBSE Study Bible Name List) or City Of Serpents (Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names), but with a very big footnote. It also means City Of Bronze, and may both refer to a bronze production facility, or a center of learning where people learned elaborate procedures by heart without knowing which element was actually effective and which elements were mere show.