🔼The name Kadesh-barnea: Summary
- Sacred Desert Of Wandering, Holy Purifying Staggerings
- From (1) the verb קדש (qadash), to be holy, and (2) perhaps בר (bar), desert or empty field, and (3) the verb נוע (nua'), to stagger or shake.
🔼The name Kadesh-barnea in the Bible
The curious name Kadesh-barnea occurs about ten times in the Bible as alternative for just Kadesh, which occurs about sixteen times. The city named Kadesh-barnea was situated in the far south of Canaan (Numbers 34:4), and would be part of the territory allotted to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:3).
🔼Etymology of the name Kadesh-barnea
The name Kadesh-barnea consists of two elements. The first element of our name comes from the קדש (qadash), meaning to be holy:
The verb קדש (qadash) means to be holy, which essentially means to be permanent and unalterable. This verb is the opposite of חלל (halal), to be profane, which actually means to pierce, and thus to alter or use until entirely worn. Over the centuries many items have been declared holy and kept in glass boxes and devoid of any practical usefulness, but despite the best intentions of men, everything falls apart and only the laws of nature are truly holy. The Bible's unique insight in these matters has the human embodiment of natural law pierced rather than preserved behind bullet proof glass. The hallowed alternative, still painfully rampant in our modern world, violates the First Commandment and is destined to be ruined by the very natural law it sought to represent.
Noun קדש (qodesh), meaning apartness or sacredness of items and places. The familiar term קדש הקדשים (qodesh haqodeshim), or Holy of Holies, is formed from this word. Adjective קדוש (qadosh) means sacred or holy. This is also the word for "saint." Verb קדש (qadash) means to consecrate, make or be holy. Nouns קדש (qadesh) and קדשה (qadesha) refer respectively to male and female religious prostitutes. Noun מקדש (miqdash), literally a place of separateness or holiness, denotes a religious place or facility.
The origin of the second part is a bit of a mystery. Both NOBSE Study Bible Name List and BDB Theological Dictionary decline from proposing a meaning and only the valiant Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) has a theory.
Jones thinks that the second element of our name itself consists of two elements. The first one, says Jones, is בר (bar), which is the Chaldean, Syriac and Arabic word for desert. The Hebrews, however, would have doubtlessly drawn this element from the root cluster ברר:
The verb ברר (barar) essentially means to clean, purify or clarify. Usually, whatever needs to be purified is first pulverized and then sorted: the useful elements are gathered and stored, and the fluff, chaff, dust and other garbage is either blown away by wind, washed away by water, burned with fire or simply scooped up and physically dumped somewhere. In the case of metal ore, the material is heated so that the good stuff flows out and separates by its nature from the bad stuff and its nature.
Derived adjective בר (bar) means pure or clean and identical noun בר (bar) denotes a kernel of grain or corn. Noun בר (bor) denotes a kind of material that was used in the metal purification process, and identical masculine noun בר (bor) means cleanness or pureness. Feminine noun ברית (borit) denotes a kind of soap (and is spelled identical to the word meaning covenant; see below). Noun בר (bar) describes a field (perhaps a freshly plowed, cleaned and ready-to-sow one?), and the masculine plural noun ברברים (barburim) denotes a kind of bird known literally and for unknown reasons as "cleany-cleanies".
Verb באר (ba'ar) describes writing on tablets of stone. Nouns באר (be'er), באר (bo'r) and בור (bor) mean well or pit, and obviously not merely refer to physical cisterns but rather to centers of learning and information technology (because yes, writing is information technology and then as hip as blockchain is now).
Verb ברא (bara' I) denotes the creative activity of God, which (as we know from modern cosmology) predominantly has to do with giving elements the freedom to sort themselves into constructions that are deemed stable by the laws that govern creation (and which ultimately describe freedom). Noun בריאה (beri'a) denotes a creation, "an entirely new thing".
Verb ברא (bara' II) means to be fat, and since fat is essentially an organic storage of energy, this verb is in modern terms neatly explained by relativity theory. Since anything unstable falls apart when exposed to energy, only stable compounds can gain mass. Likewise, a fat guy is clearly at peace and well provisioned (and not on the run or forced to labor half starving). Adjective בריא (bari') means fat and consequently healthy and prosperous. Verb ברה (bara) means to eat. Nouns בריה (birya) and ברות (barut) mean food.
Noun ברית (berit) means covenant and occurs all over the Bible. Although it's not wholly clear how it technically relates to the above, the gist of it is clear. A covenant clears up a working relation between parties and leads to peace, prosperity and ultimately more clarity and cleanness between said parties. Note that it is spelled the same as the word for soap (see above, and see our article on Soap in the Old World).
The second element of the second part of our name, according to Jones, comes from the verb נוע (nua'), meaning to shake, stagger:
The verb נוע (nua') means to shake, sway or stagger. Noun מנענע (mena'anea') describes a kind of rattle.
All put together, Alfred Jones translates the name Kadesh-barnea with Sacred Desert Of Wandering. But judging from the grouping of the terms it would probably have fittingly looked like Holy Purifying Wanderings to a Hebrew audience.