🔼The name Kiriath-arba: Summary
- Four City
- From (1) the noun קריה (qiryah), city, from the root קרר (qarar), to compact, and (2) the cardinal רבע (raba'), four.
🔼The name Kiriath-arba in the Bible
The name Kiriath-arba occurs ten times in the Bible, nine times in the construction "Hebron, formerly known as Kiriath-arba," or something to that extent. We hear first of Kiriath-arba as the place where Sarah died (Genesis 23:2). This prompted Abraham to buy the cave at Machpelah near Mamre from Ephron the Hethite as a burial site. Many years later, Abraham's son Isaac also died at Kiriath-arba (Genesis 35:27)
During the conquest of Canaan, we learn that Kiriath-arba was founded by Arba the father of the gigantic Anakim (Joshua 14:15). It was conquered by Caleb, son of Jephunneh, who drove out the three sons of Anak: Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai (Joshua 15:14). They were driven out of their town but survived the battle, and after the death of Joshua, the men of Judah finished them off (Judges 1:10).
The only time that Kiriath-arba is not mentioned in direct conjunction with Hebron is after the Babylonian exile. Nehemiah makes mention of Judaic returnees who moved to Kiriath-arba, or rather Kiriath-ha'arba (קרית הארבע, Nehemiah 11:25), but it's not clear if this is Hebron. It seems curious that Nehemiah would use the antique name of Hebron, which is used only nine times in texts that cover the pre-monarchy period and always together with the name Hebron, while authors of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles use the name Hebron about four dozen times and leave Kiriath-arba out.
Here at Abarim Publications we suspect that Nehemiah's Kiriath-arba is not the same as Hebron, but rather a collective sobriquet of the four cities of the Gibeonites (see our article on the name Kiriath-arim for more argumentation in favor of this proposition).
🔼Etymology of the name Kiriath-arba
The name Kiriath-arba obviously consists of two elements. The first part is an older variant of the Biblical noun קריה (qiryah), meaning city. It derives of the verb קרה (qara), meaning to meet or get together:
Root קרר (qarar) means to cool off in a thermodynamic sense: to go from hot gas to cool liquid to a cold solid. Socially this would describe warring tribes "cooling off" into culturally compatible peoples and liquid trading networks and ultimately the formation of cities and solid nations. Intellectually, diverse viewpoints might congeal into local conventions and ultimately a global standard.
Adjective קר (qar) means cool. Nouns קר (qor) and קרה (qara) mean cold. Noun מקרה (meqera), meaning coolness.
Noun קיר (qir) is one of a few words for wall. It might relate to the root because bricks are congealed mud, and a wall is bricks pieced together (non-standard bricks take some puzzling and pounding). The noun קרקע (qarqa') means floor; earth trampled into a compact state. The verb קרקר (qarqar) means to forcibly compact, to pound down.
Verb קרה (qara), and its by-form קרא (qara'), mean to near, to meet or to happen upon. Noun קורה (qora) describes a rafter or beam; the things that come together to form a roof, and which obviously relate to bricks pieced into a wall. Verb קרה (qara) means to piece beams together and noun מקרה (meqareh) means literally place of beams; beam-work.
Nouns קרה (qareh) and מקרה (miqreh) mean chance or accident, fortune or fate. Noun קרי (qeri) means opposition, contrariness. At a social level, chance meetings and opposition are the very rafters that carry society's roof.
For this same reason, the nouns קריה (qiryah) and קרת (qeret) are the words for city and federation of cities.
Verb קרא (qara'), which is identical to the by-form of the previous, means to call or call near. Adjective קריא (qari') means called or summoned. Noun קריאה (qeri'a) means proclamation. And noun מקרא (miqra') means convocation or called assembly. The noun קרא (qore') describes a partridge; literally "a caller."
The second part of our name is the same as the name Arba, and derives from the root רבע (raba'), which has to do with the number four:
The word רבע (raba') means four, which is where the typically human complex number sense begins. Verb רבע (raba') means to square. Nouns רבע (reba') and רבע (roba') mean a fourth part. Adjectives רביעי (rebi'i) and רביעית (rebi'it) mean fourth, and adjective רבע (ribbea') means "pertaining to the fourth."
The identical verb רבע (raba') is a variant of the verb רבץ (rabas; see next). It means to stretch out or lie down (mostly in a sexual sense).
Verb רבץ (rabas) means to stretch out or lie down (mostly not in a sexual sense). Nouns רבץ (rebes) and מרבץ (marbes) mean resting place.
For a meaning of the name Kiriath-arba, both Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names and NOBSE Study Bible Name List read City Of Arba but NOBSE adds: or Four-Fold City.
BDB Theological Dictionary, surprisingly, forgoes the obvious reference to Arba, the founder of Kiriath-arba, and reads: probably = Fourfold City.
Here at Abarim Publications we suspect that Nehemiah's Kiriath-arba indeed means Four-City or City Of Four, but Kiriath-arba as Hebron means City Of The (Theory Of) Four, or even City Of Calculus. According to Joshua 15:15, Kiriath-arba was situated close to Kiriath-sepher (meaning City Of Books) and these two towns clearly formed a center of learning.