🔼The name Moab: Summary
- Who Is Your Father?, Water Of A Father
- From (1) מי (mi), who, or מי (may), "water of ...", and (2) the noun אב ('ab), father.
🔼The name Moab in the Bible
Moab is the incestuous son of Lot with his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:37). Moab is the father of the Moabites. A famous Moabite is Ruth, the ancestor of Jesus. In similar fashion Lot's youngest daughter bore Ben-ammi, the father of the Ammonites.
The proper ethnonym מואבי occurs only in Deuteronomy 23:3 and 1 Chronicles 11:46. The proper plural, מואבים (Moabites) occurs only in Deuteronomy 2:29. Nehemiah 13:1 and Ezra 9:1 speak of a מאבי or Mabbite, and this form's plural, מאבים (Mabbites), uniquely occurs in Deuteronomy 2:11.
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Moab
The etymology and original meaning of the name Moab is unknown. The word moab is foreign to Hebrew and, reports BDB Theological Dictionary, Moab is known in other ancient languages as Ma'aba, Ma'bu, Mu'aba, etc.
However, to a creative Hebrew audience, the name may have sounded like a compilation of two elements: the interrogative particle מה (me), what or מי (mi), who:
The interrogative pronoun מה (ma) asks "what?" Its counterpart מי (mi) asks "who?" The latter pronoun is spelled the same as the construct-plural form of מים (mayim) and thus also means "waters of ...". Its opposite, namely dry land, signifies certainty and mental footing. A similar particle מו (mo) combines with the usual prefixes to form poetic equivalents of these particles.
The second part of the name Moab may remind of the very common word אב ('ab), meaning father:
The noun אב ('ab) means father, but describes primarily a social relationship rather than a biological one. That social fatherhood was the defining quality of the community's alpha male, the one around whom all economy revolved and from whom emanated all instructions by which the 'sons' (בן, ben) operated. It's unclear where this word אב ('ab) comes from but the verb abu means to decide.
Thus the name Moab would carry the meaning of Who's Your Daddy? or What's Your Father? a rhetorical question to which the story may easily give rise.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names takes a different approach and goes with the word מי (may), meaning water:
The noun מים (mayim) means water, or rather: waters. It's a plural word for which there is no singular form. But if there were it would be מי (mi), which is identical to the common particle of inquisition, מי (mi), meaning "who?". In constructions (waters of such and such), the final ם (m) drops off, and what remains is identical to our particle of inquisition.
Water represents the great unknown from which the dry land (ארץ, 'eres) of the known emerges. The ancients knew that vapor rises from the seas and becomes rain and compared this cycle to that of cognition (Isaiah 55:10-1). The words for rain and teacher are the same: מורה (moreh), which are closely related to the familiar word Torah.
Thus Jones reads Water Of A Father, and explains this to mean seed or progeny. The problem here is that semen is never referred to as a father's waters.