🔼The name Kiriath-sepher: Summary
- Record City, Scribe Town
- From (1) the noun קריה (qiryah), city, and (2) the noun ספר (seper), record.
🔼The name Kiriath-sepher in the Bible
Kiriath-sepher was the original name of a city later called Debir (Joshua 15:15), and apparently it was also known as Kiriath-sannah (Joshua 15:49). When the boundaries of the land of Judah were established, Caleb son of Jephunneh received his own territory, and Debir (or Kiriath-sepher) was in it.
Caleb proclaimed that whoever would capture Kiriath-sepher would receive his daughter Achsah for a wife. Caleb's nephew Othniel, son of Kenaz, rose up to the challenge, captured the city and became Caleb's son in law (Joshua 15:17, Judges 1:12). While Othniel had his mind set on warring and bedding, Achsah opted for settling down, and asked her father Caleb for a field with springs, which she promptly received (Joshua 15:19, Judges 1:15).
It's probably no coincidence that the author of the story depicts the man who conquers the "city of learning" as one who retires from combat and begins to listen to his wife. Othniel became Israel's first judge. He successfully battled the oppressing king Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim and governed the land for forty peaceful years (Judges 3:9).
🔼Etymology of the name Kiriath-sepher
The name Kiriath-sepher consists of two elements. The first part is the same as the name 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 our name comes from the word group that formed around the noun ספר (seper), meaning record:
The root ספר (spr) has to do with information technology: the efficient storage, retrieval and sharing of data. Long before fiction and recreational reading was a thing, record keeping was mostly a mathematical and economical enterprise, mostly conducted by specialized priests. The invention of the alphabet made writing easy and elevated every common man to the priestly level, and allowed everybody to study whatever they wanted. This allowed a deluge of original thought to enter collective consciousness, which in turn raised the level of human diversity, and thus complexity and thus cultural bliss.
Noun ספר (seper) denotes any kind of record, historical records, legal documents, prophetic messages, and so on. Noun ספרה (sipra) means book or a bundled collection of records. Denominative verb ספר (sapar) means to write or produce a ספר (seper): to carefully observe, to recount, to record. Noun ספר (sopor) or ספור (sopor) means scribe; someone who produces a ספר (seper). Noun ספר (separ) means census. Noun ספרה (sepora) means number, sum or amount. And noun מספר (mispar) means number.
For a meaning of the name Kiriath-sepher, both NOBSE Study Bible Name List and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names read City Of Books. Although the word sepher is not technically a plural form, in this case "books," or rather "records" is the proper translation (as, say, Dog Town would be a town of many dogs rather than one).
BDB Theological Dictionary proposes "perhaps" Scribe Town for a meaning of Kiriath-sepher. And the Septuagint doesn't transliterate this name but translates it as Πολις γραμματων (Polis Grammaton; City Of Writing).