🔼The name Mahalath: Summary
- Sad Song
- From the noun מחלה (mahaleh), disease, from the verb חלה (hala), to be weak.
- From the noun מחלת (mahalath), which possibly denotes a kind of sad song.
- From the noun מחולה (mehola), dance, from the verb חול (hul), to writhe.
🔼The name Mahalath in the Bible
Mahalath is the name of two women in the Bible:
- A daughter of Ishmael (Genesis 28:9).
- A granddaughter of David, who becomes the wife of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:18).
This name is identical to a musical term found in the headings of Psalm 53 and Psalm 88.
🔼Etymology of the name Mahalath
Most scholars and commentators derive the name Mahalath from the roots חלה (hala I or II):
The verb חלל (halal) means to pierce. Adjective חלל (halal) means (fatally) pierced. Noun חלה (halla) denotes a kind of donut. Noun חלון (hallon) describes a deliberate hole in a wall for ventilation and illumination. Noun חליל (halil) denotes a holed musical instrument like a flute or pipe, and the denominative verb חלל (halal) means to play the pipe. Noun מחלה (mehilla) appears to refer to a kind of geological depression or hollow comparable to a cave.
Special or fancy items were typically not damaged in any way, and piercing or otherwise compromising or altering items demonstrated their commonness or profaneness. Noun חל (hol) means profaneness or commonness. Adjective חלל (halal) and noun חלילה (halila) both mean profaned. The noun תחלה (tehilla) means beginning or first, which seems to argue that a whole new thing can only be brought about when an old way or old situation (no matter how highly regarded) is pierced and profaned.
Verb חלה (hala) means to be skewered in the sense of to be weak, sick or wounded. Noun חלי (holi) means wound or sickness. Noun מחלה (mahaleh) means disease.
Perhaps a whole other verb חלה (hala) means to appease or entreat, although entreating and piercing may be considered similar actions. Noun מחלת (mahalath) is a kind of song, perhaps a piercing, entreating affair, or perhaps some profane ditty, a song about common things, or perhaps even a song that was typically meant to be altered or build upon or expanded at any artist's discretion.
Perhaps a whole third verb חלה (hala) may have spoken of adorning, although most adorning was obviously achieved by piercing holes in things to hang them up. Prior to the invention of glue, items such as beads and brooches were attached by merit of strings and bores. Nouns חלי (hali) and חליה (helya) refers to ornaments and jewelry.
Similar to the first of the verbs חלה (hala), verb חלא (hala') means to be sick or diseased. Plural noun תחלאים (tahalu'im) means sickness(es) or disease(s).
Perhaps a whole other verb חלא (hala') may have meant to defile. It's not used in the Bible but it would explain the noun חלאה (hel'a), rust or filth.
BDB Theological Dictionary, however, suggests relations with מחולה (mehola), dance, from the verb חול (hul I):
- Verb חול (hul I) denotes a whirling in circular motions. It comes with quite a cluster of derivatives, most notably the noun חל (hol), meaning sand; the noun חל (hil), meaning pain so bad that it makes one writhe (specifically childbirth); the noun חל (hel), which denotes a (circular) rampart, and the nouns מחול (mahol) and מחולה (mehola), which describe (whirling) dances.
- Verb חול (hul II) means to be strong, and the important derived noun חיל (hayil) means might.
- A by-form of the previous: the verb חלם (halam I) means to be strong.
- Verb חלם (halam II) means to dream, and its derived noun חלום (halom) means a dream.
These curious parallels suggests that the Hebrews saw dreaming as something cyclic; see our full dictionary article on these words for a closer look at dreams in the Bible. Also note the similarities in form with the חלל (halal) cluster.
NOBSE Study Bible Name List goes with מחלה (mahaleh) from root חלה I and reports that both the name and the musical term mean Sickness. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names goes with the same root, and casually explains that certain grammatical constructions allow a word that usually means being sick, now means to be smooth or polished. Jones then translates the name Mahalath with Harp or Wind Instrument.
Since Psalms 53 and 88 both express deep anxiety, the musical term Mahalath possibly has to do with sadness or entreaty. But it goes a bit far to translate it and the name Mahalath with sickness. In this case Sad Song would be more appropriate; Hebrew Blues.
On the other hand, the term מחלת occurs three more times in the Bible (albeit with a slightly different Masoretic punctuation), all with the meaning of Dancing: Exodus 15:20, 32:19 and Song of Solomon 6:13.