🔼The name Mahlah: Summary
- Disease, Entreaty
- From the verb חלה (hala), to de sick or to entreat.
🔼The name Mahlah in the Bible
There are two Mahlahs in the Bible; one is a woman but the other one we're not sure about. Actually, the only reason we're not sure is that it's not explicitly said that the mystery Mahlah is a lady, and in Scriptures, that's usually suspicious. But, all suspicion aside, the name Mahlah is the feminine version of the masculine name Mahli, so that gives us a clue that this might be a feminine name. On the other hand, there are two words in Hebrew that look just like this name, and one is masculine and the other is feminine. The bottom line is that we don't know whether Mahlah the child of Hammoleketh (who is probably a granddaughter of Manasseh) is a boy or a girl (1 Chronicles 7:18).
🔼Etymology of the name Mahlah
The name Mahlah comes from the root group חלה (hala):
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.
The name Mahlah may come from any of these verbs and nouns but for some reason the consulted sources all prefer the root that means to be sick. It may seem odd that in antiquity people would call their children after sickness but it should be noted that in the times of the Bible names worked differently than in our day and age. By naming his daughter Sickness, Zelophehad probably didn't want to say that he thought his daughter was a disease, but perhaps that she was born during a period of infirmity, or else to remind himself and others that sickness is always among us. Compare for instance the meanings of the names of the children of Hosea: Jezreel (God sows — 1:4) and Lo-ruhamah (no mercy — 1:6), or Isaiah's son Maher-shalal-hash-baz (swift is the booty, speedy is the prey — Isaiah 8:3).
For a meaning of the name Mahlah, both NOBSE Study Bible Name List and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names read Disease.