🔼The name Mahli: Summary
- Sickness, Entreaty
- From the verb חלה (hala), to be sick or to entreat.
🔼The name Mahli in the Bible
There are two, closely related men named Mahli in the Bible:
- The first Mahli is the brother of Mushi and they are the two sons of Merari, who is a son of Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob and tribal patriarch of Israel (Exodus 6:19). This Mahli is also the patriarch of the Levitical sub-caste of the מחלי, the Mahlites (Numbers 3:33) — in Hebrew the word Mahlite is spelled identical to the name Mahli — and this organizational structure was still in tact after the return from the exile (Ezra 8:18).
- The second Mahli is a son of Mushi, the other son of Merari (1 Chronicles 6:47).
🔼Etymology of the name Mahli
The name Mahli comes from the verb חלה (hala) meaning to be weak or sick:
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.
Our name Mahli is probably a commemorative name, designed to remember a period of illness or (national?) weakness. Perhaps in its intent it also reflects on the name Enosh.
For a meaning of the name Mahli, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Weak, Silly. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names proposes the more formal Infirmity. BDB Theological Dictionary does not interpret our name and also doesn't list it under the verb חלה (hala), but rather under the מ.