🔼The name Kiriath-arim: Summary
- City Of Honey Combs, City Of Forests
- Urban Federation
- From (1) the noun קריה (qiryah), city, and (2) the noun יער (ya'ar), forest or honey comb.
- From (1) the noun קריה (qiryah), city, and (2) the noun עיר ('ir), city.
🔼The name Kiriath-arim in the Bible
It's not clear whether a place called Kiriath-arim is actually supposed to exist in the Bible. Some commentators believe this name appears in Joshua 18:28, but that's probably not true and see our article on the name Kiriath for a brief discussion on this. Ezra, however, clearly makes mention of Kiriath-arim as he submits that a combined 743 men from the ex-Gibeonite towns of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah and Beeroth returned from the exile in Babylon (Ezra 2:25). The trouble here is that Kiriath-arim would be an otherwise unknown city (which isn't so bad) but also that Nehemiah submits the same list, and speaks of Kiriath-jearim (קרית יערים). The latter is a well-known city and its name is identical to Kiriath-arim, save for the letter י (yod) in front of the arim-part.
Scholars across the board assume that Ezra's Kiriath-arim is a mistake and should read Kiriath-jearim, but that's by no means certain. If either Nehemiah or Ezra made a mistake, it's far more likely that Nehemiah accidentally changed the name of a relatively unknown town (or a title, see below) into that of a famous one than vice versa. Nehemiah appears to have copied the list from Ezra, and Ezra's statement of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah and Beeroth may in fact mean "the federated (joined) cities Chephirah and Beeroth".
🔼Etymology of the name Kiriath-arim
The name Kiriath-arim obviously consists of two elements. The first part of our name is identical to the Kiriath, which 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 Kiriath-arim is by many considered a text error, which should have read יערים; the plural of the noun יער (ya'ar), meaning forest:
The verb יער (ya'ar) isn't used in the Bible and it's a complete mystery what it might have meant. Noun יער (ya'ar) is the common word for forest or thicket, and the identical noun יער (ya'ar) means honeycomb. It is, of course, perfectly possibly that these two nouns are not two but one, describing something general like a thing that consists of many elements, which contain energetic nutrients (either fruits or honey), and which are patrolled by ferocious animals. The latter noun also occurs as the variant יערה (ya'ra), honeycomb.
The yod in front of a root is usually a sign of an active verb, but in the case of the noun יער it's an integral part of the word and can't be simply omitted while retaining the meaning. The second part of our name, in fact, looks much more like the plural of the noun 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 "name" Kiriath-arim literally means Urban Federation, and may not be the name of a single town. It may be the collective name of Chephirah and Beeroth, or better yet: that of the two missing Gibeonite cities of Kiriath-jearim and Gibeon.
Much more radical, however, (and here at Abarim Publications we're pretty radical) would be to assume that neither Ezra nor Nehemiah made a mistake. The discrepancies between the list of Ezra and Nehemiah could be explained by assuming that these lists don't sum up the people who were travelling with Zerubbabel, but rather the returnees who were in Israel at the time of these two separate censuses. If there had been a considerable time between Ezra's records and those of Nehemiah, deaths and defection could account for the differences. Ezra could have counted the 743 men from among the federated towns of Chephirah and Beeroth, while in Nehemiah's time the town of Kiriath-jearim had been repeopled.
Note also that Nehemiah makes mention of a place called Kiriath-arba, which is the old name of Hebron (Nehemiah 11:25). As old name of Hebron, Kiriath-arba is obviously meant to mean City Of Arba, but it literally means Fourfold City. In every other occurrence of the name Kiriath-arba in the Bible, the name of Hebron is submitted as its modern name, but Nehemiah doesn't do that, and it seems strange that Nehemiah would refer to Hebron's antique name. It's possible that Nehemiah's Kiriath-arba is not Hebron, but the federation of four ex-Gibeonite cities of Gibeon, Kiriath-jearim, Chephirah and Beeroth.