🔼The name Kenite: Summary
- Nestling, People Of The Spear, Senatorial
- From the noun קן (qen), nest, or קין (qyn), spear, from the verb קין (qyn), to forge or put together.
🔼The name Kenite in the Bible
There seem to be two different peoples called Kenites in the Bible. Although NOBSE Study Bible Name List makes no distinction, both BDB Theological Dictionary and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names separate the Kenites into:
- A Canaanite tribe whose territory God promises to Abraham (Genesis 15:19). A famous Kenite of the first order is Hammath, the founder of the house of Rechab, which included the three scribal families that lived in Jabez of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:55).
- A people living in the territory of the Amalekites, descended from Hobab (and thus Jethro), the father in law of Moses. A famous Kenite of the latter order is Heber, the husband of Jael, who killed Sisera (Judges 4:17). These Kenites are collectively referred to as Kain (קין, spelled the same as the name Cain) in Numbers 24:22 and Judges 4:11.
🔼Etymology of the name Kenite
The name Kenite seems to be an ethnonym derived of the name Cain, suggesting that the Kenites are the Cainites. The name Cain comes from the noun קין (qyn), meaning spear, from the verb קין (qyn), meaning to forge or put together:
The verb קנן (qanan) isn't used in the Bible but it appears to tell of the weaving of many strands into a dynamic and interlocked network. These strands may be reeds and twigs that a bird weaves into a nest, or it may be acts of trade and routes of commerce that together combine into a bustling economy. Noun קן (qen) means nest, and verb קנן (qinnen) means to make a nest.
Verb קנה (qana) means to obtain, i.e. to acquire or in some instances to create. It's the regular verb for a commercial purchase. Noun קנין (qinyan) describes an item acquired (or created). Noun מקנה (migneh) means cattle (as unit of commerce). Noun מקנה (miqna) means purchase or purchase-price. Noun קנה (qaneh) denotes some herb on a stalk, or any rod, reed, branch- or stalk-like item (in this sense, a plant "acquires" its branches).
The verb קין (qyn), which isn't used in the Bible, occurs in cognate language with the meaning of to fit together, fabricate or forge (often of metal things). In the Bible occurs only the noun קין (qayin), meaning spear. Note that our modern word "franchise" comes from a word that meant spear, and originally denoted a free man, i.e. one who had the authority to bear arms, own property and thus conduct trade. The earliest republican government of Rome was called curia, literally spear-bearers, and the link between bearing a spear or other such ceremonial weapon and a senatorial government (a government by tribal elders) appears to have been pretty much globally understood throughout history.
Noun קינה (qina) denotes a kind of sad poem; a dirge or lamentation, which both had to be fabricated and could, presumably, pierce a person's soul like a spear (which is an obvious Biblical figure of speech; see Luke 2:35). The denominative verb קונן (qonen) means to do a dirge, which could be either to chant or compose one.
The verb תקן (taqan) means to make or become straight.
NOBSE Study Bible Name List translates the name Cain with smith, or more specifically coppersmith and hence finds the Kenites to be Pertaining To Coppersmiths.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names takes a completely different approach and abandons the possible relation with the name Cain all together. Jones refers to Balaam's remark that the Kenite has his nest set in the cliff (Numbers 24:21), and the Hebrew word for nest is קן (qen), meaning nest. Hence Kenite means Nest, says Jones, with which he appears to ignore the final י (yod); more complete would be Nestling.
But immediately after his reference to the Kenite and their nest, Balaam speaks of a certain Kain (that's Kenite without the ethnonym -ite part), which is spelled identical to the name Cain (Numbers 24:22, same as in Judges 4:11). Of course Cain and his line were blotted out in the flood of Noah, but somehow the patriarchies of Jabal and Jubal survived.
One solution to this continuity conundrum might be offered in the possibility that the wives of Noah and his sons were lyre-plucking and tent-dwelling Cainites. Another solution comes with the assumption that these stories are not primitive myths but rather highly advanced commentaries on the fundamental qualities of human cultural evolution. In that case the Kenites might be understood to embody a similar social experiment as what carried Athens into Greece's fabled golden age (see our article on Mary).