🔼The name Kelita: Summary
- Held Back, Cut Short
- From the verb קלט (qalat), to cut short or held back.
🔼The name Kelita in the Bible
The name Kelita occurs three times in the Bible, but it's not clear whether these are one, two or three men:
- One of the Levites who had married foreign wives and who would divorce them in the purge of Ezra. This man was apparently actually called Kelaiah and nicknamed Kelita (Ezra 10:23).
- One of the proto-Rabbis who explained the Law that Ezra read and translated it from Hebrew to Aramaic (Nehemiah 8:7).
- One of the signers of the sealed document (Nehemiah 10:10).
🔼Etymology of the name Kelita
The name Kelita comes from the verb קלט (qalat), to cut short or held back:
The verb קלט (qalat) means to be stunted, cut short or held back. Noun מקלט (miqlat) describes the kind of city that was reserved for accidental man-slayers. These cities are usually called cities of refuge but that's a misnomer. They were holding pens for folks whose fatal blunders were not curbed by the regime of the incumbent high priest.
For a meaning of the name Kelita, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Dwarf. It's not clear whether dwarfism is actually mentioned in the Bible but if it is, it's by means of the verb חרם (haram), which occurs juxtaposed with שרע (sara') in Leviticus 21:20, just like our verb קלט (qalat) is in Leviticus 22:23. The objection to relating these words to dwarfism is that Mosaic Law precluded from the priesthood someone who had some debilitating deformation or defect, and a person with dwarfism is not debilitated, just very small. Unlike our English language, Hebrew reckons entities after their behavior and action rather than after their form and appearance, and someone with dwarfism but otherwise in great shape is in the Hebrew sense perfectly normal. It's more likely that our verbs חרם (haram) and קלט (qalat) describe lame or withered limbs (Matthew 12:10), whereas שרע (sara') describes various forms of elephantiasis.
Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) believes that since Kelita and Kelaiah are the same person, their two names should also have the same meaning. Hence Jones refers to a Chaldean verb קלט (qalat) that conveniently means the same as the Hebrew verb לקט (laqat), namely to pick up or gather. Then somehow Jones sees the יה (yah) of Kelaiah become the א (a') of Kelita, and translates our name with a confident albeit somewhat fetched Congregation Of The Lord.
BDB Theological Dictionary does not translate this name but judging from the alphabetical placement of this name, BDB does seem to favor a derivation from the verb קלט (qalat).
Here at Abarim Publications we very much doubt that a man who was nicknamed after a withered limb would be allowed to function anywhere near Ezra. Of course, Rabbis aren't priests and since Isaiah even eunuchs were welcomed (compare Deuteronomy 23:1 to Isaiah 56:3-5). But Ezra and Nehemiah drew lines where no one had drawn lines before and neither was in any mood to compromise (Nehemiah 13:25). It seems more likely that Kelita came from a Levite family that prior to the exile had run a city of short-cutting, or even more daring, descended from someone who had been incarcerated there after accidentally killing someone. After all, denying an accidental manslayer his utter redemption upon the death of the high priest would transgress God's law, and that neither Ezra nor Nehemiah would ever consider. Finally, since cities of short-cutting were proscribed by Law, Ezra and Nehemiah may have wanted to reinstate them, and may have appointed Kelaiah as their first mayor, upon which he acquired his nickname.