🔼The name Elon-meonenim: Summary
- The Diviners' Oak, Dumb Clouds
- From (1) the noun אלון ('allon), oak or folly, from the verb אלל ('alal), to be egregious, and (2) the verb ענן ('anan), to divine or to be a cloud.
🔼The name Elon-meonenim in the Bible
It's not entirely clear whether Meonenim is actually supposed to be considered a name or not. The New American Standard doesn't think so and neither does the New International Version. But the King James does, and so do the American Standard, Darby and Young. The Jewish Society Publication doesn't only think that Meonenim is a name, it figures it's in fact Elon-meonenim. It's unclear, and the jury will probably be out forever.
Our "name" occurs only once in the Bible, namely in Judges 9:37, where the insurrectionist Gaal points out to mayor Zebul that Abimelech and his gang are on a rapid approach: people are coming down from the heartlands and one head comes down אלון מעוננים road. The question is: is that road known by a proper name or by a description?
🔼Etymology of the name Elon-meonenim
The whole phrase אלון מעוננים (alon me'onenim) consists of two parts. The first part is the word אלון ('allon), probably meaning oak:
The root אלל ('alal) predominantly describes a protruding or sticking out. This may be positive (when one leads a collective), neutral (when one is a tree), or negative (when one fails convention). The latter sense in particular describes foolishness, or at least a failure to live up to cognitive standards or common codes of conduct.
Nouns אלון ('allon), אלה ('alla) and אלה ('elah) refer to oaks or terebinths but note the similarities with the demonstrative pronoun אלה ('elleh), "these," and אלה ('eloah) meaning god or God.
Nouns אליל ('elil) and אלול ('elul) mean worthlessness or a worthless thing (a thing that sticks out of the economy of useful things). Adjectives אויל ('ewil) and אולי ('ewili) mean foolish, and noun אולת ('iwwelet) means foolishness or folly. Noun אול ('ul) may mean belly or leading man.
Nouns אולם ('ulam) and אילם ('elam) mean porch. The former is identical to an adverb that means "however" or "but." Another adverb אולי ('ulay) means "perhaps."
Noun איל ('ayil), "protruder," refers in the Bible to a ram, a pillar, a chief and, yet again, a terebinth. Noun איל ('ayyal) means stag or deer — hence the panting deer of Psalm 42 also describes an ignoramus longing for instruction — and its feminine counterpart אילה ('ayyala) means doe.
The verb יאל (ya'al) means to be foolish, gullible or even simply compliant and pleased to go along in no particularly negative way.
The second part of our phrase appears to come from the verb ענן ('anan), and there are two of those:
The verb ענן ('nn) appears to describe the deriving of solid theories out of hardly related observations. It's used to mean to divine, and noun ענן ('anan) means cloud (which appears like a solid object but is really a bunch of barely relating droplets).
Verb עון ('wn) probably means to conceal or cover. Nouns מעון (ma'on) and מענה (me'ona) refer to the lair, refuge or hideouts of animals, but often too to the habitation of the Creator, which is heaven. And that links this word back to the previous word meaning cloud.
The letter מ (mem) with which the second part of our phrase starts is probably a prefix that means either "from," or else "place of". Note that the term מעוננים (me'onenim) also occurs in Micah 5:12, and is there commonly translated with 'fortune-tellers' or 'soothsayers'.
The whole phrase אלון מעוננים could mean The Diviners' Oak (NAS) or The Soothsayers' Tree (NIV). But it may just as well mean Dumb Clouds. In fact, it may very well be that the story of Abimelech at Shechem is also about the power that may arise from an effective organization around an inert belief system. It's very obvious that a large group of fanatical people don't necessarily have to believe in something powerful to be powerfully united because of it. The author of the epistle of Jude seems to warn us for just that (Jude 1:10).