🔼The name Moriah: Summary
- Yah Is Awesome, Yah Is Teacher, Place Of Reverence Of Yah
- Seen By Yah
- Bitterness Of Yah, Myrrh Of Yah
- From (1) the verb ירא (yara'), to fear or revere, and (2) יה (yah), the name of the Lord.
- From the verb ראה (ra'a), to see, and (2) יה (yah), the name of the Lord.
- From the verb the verb מרר (marar), to be bitter or strong, and (2) יה (yah), the name of the Lord.
🔼The name Moriah in the Bible
The name Moriah occurs only twice in the Bible, which is rather curious because it belongs to a place of supreme prominence. The first time we hear of Moriah (spelled מריה) is in Genesis 22:2, where YHWH instructs Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac in the land of Moriah, on one of the mountains there. At the last moment, Isaac was spared and a replacement ram was provided for, and this mechanism became a central concept in Hebrew and especially Christian thought (John 1:29).
The second time the name Moriah (now spelled מוריה) is mentioned, it appears to have been assumed by one specific mountain — which is generally considered to be the same as the mountain on which Abraham and Isaac endured their trial — namely the mountain upon which Solomon built the temple of YHWH (2 Chronicles 3:1). Again, the temple of YHWH became central in both Hebraic and Christian theologies (John 2:19).
🔼Etymology of the name Moriah
The name Moriah consists of two elements, the final one being יה (Yah), which is an abbreviated form of the Tetragrammaton יהוה, YHWH, or Yahweh.
Where the first part comes from isn't clear, and it may very well be that the meaning of this name is not restricted to one proper etymology but rather reflects the whole range of possibilities. Especially the spelling with the central ו (waw) may have reminded some of the noun מורה (moreh), which means both early rain and teacher, and is closely related to the familiar noun תורה (tora) or Torah. Or the highly similar noun מורה (mora), meaning terror or something awe-inspiring, from the verb ירא (yara' I), meaning to fear or revere:
The verb ירה (yara) describes the bringing about of a unified effect by means of many little impulses (arrows, stones, words, instructions, rain drops, and so on). Noun יורה (yoreh) refers to rain that falls during the first period of the agricultural year, when seedlings bud but don't bear fruit yet. Noun מורה (moreh) may either also refer to early rain, or it means teacher, who is a person who teaches children who can't think for themselves yet. Noun תורה (tora), refers to any set of instructions (hence the familiar word Torah).
The verb ירא (yara') describes the same process, but rather from the perspective of the receiving "soil": to revere, to pay heed to, and in extreme cases: to fear. Nouns יראה (yir'a), מורא (mora') and מורה (mora) cover the broad spectrum between reverence and fear, between anything awe-inspiring and anything terrifying.
Some scholars derive the second part of our name from the verb ראה (ra'a), meaning to see:
The verb ראה (ra'a) means to see, and by extension to understand. It may mean to become visible (of, say, an angel) or to become understandable (of, say, a theory). Noun ראה (ro'eh) means either seer, or prophetic vision, and noun מראה (mar'a) means either vision as means of revelation, or mirror. Nouns ראית (re'ut) and ראות (re'ut) mean a looking. Nouns ראי (ro'i) and מראה (mar'eh) mean sight or appearance. Adjective ראה (ra'eh) means seeing.
Here at Abarim Publications we are particularly struck with the similar dual spelling of our name Moriah — מוריה and מריה — and that of the word for myrrh: מור and מר. Myrrh, obviously, was a crucial symbol of the union of God and man, which was celebrated in the Temple, and later of course manifested in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (read for an explanation of the myrrh-Christ connection our article on the name Nicodemus). The word מור and מר comes from the verb מרר (marar I), meaning to be bitter or strong:
The verb מרר (marar) means to be strong or bitter and can be used to describe tastes and smells, and hard or difficult situations.
Adjectives מר (mar) and מרירי (meriri) mean bitter. Nouns מרור (maror) and מרורה (merora) refer to any bitter thing, the former specifically to a certain bitter herb, and the latter to gall or poison.
Noun מררה (merera) also means gal. Nouns מרה (morra), מרה (mora), מרירות (merirut), ממר (memer), ממרור (mamror) and תמרור (tamrur) mean bitterness. The latter noun is spelled identical to the noun תמרור (tamrur), meaning marker or sign post, from the root תמר (tamar), meaning to be stiff or erect.
And speaking of such, the nouns מר (mor) and מור (mor) mean myrrh, a bitter and fragrant spice that was originally used to mark the tabernacle, but which came to be used to proclaim, olfactorily, the consummation of marriage. Hence, despite its links to words that mostly describe hardship, myrrh oil was known as the "oil of joy."
Verb מרה (mara) means to be contentious or rebellious, particularly against God. Noun מרי (meri) means rebellion.
The verb מור (mor) means to change. Perhaps the connection between the previous is coincidental but perhaps these words are indeed linked, as change is often reaction to bitterness or opposition. The noun תמורה (temura) means exchange.
Neither NOBSE Study Bible Name List nor BDB Theological Dictionary dares to suggest an interpretation of our name Moriah. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names determines that it derives from the verb ראה (ra'a), meaning to see and translates it as Visible Of The Lord, and narrows that down to a dubious Chosen Of The Lord.
Here at Abarim Publications we suspect that the name Moriah reflected a divinely ordained "point of bitterness" and that with the purpose of driving people towards a new creation. It's at this point of bitterness that Abraham received the order to sacrifice his son, and where David instructed his son to build the temple. This same son of David, now named Qoheleth, declared that in much wisdom is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain (Ecclesiastes 1:18).
Our interpretation of the name Moriah is Bitterness Of YHWH. Also note the similarity with the Greek noun μορια (moria), meaning dimness.