🔼The name Nineveh: Summary
- Unclear but perhaps: Ninus' Place, Fish Place, Offspring's Habitation or Strong Propagation Of The Seat Of Government.
- From (1) the verb נון (nun), to propagate strongly, possibly combined with (2) the verb נוה (naweh), to be a seat of government.
🔼The name Nineveh in the Bible
Nineveh was situated on the eastern bank of the river Haddakel (= Tigris), opposite the modern city of Mosul. Expanded by various Assyrian kings and finally Sennacherib, it became the largest city in the world for about fifty years. It was destroyed in 612 BC by a coalition of Medes, Persians, Babylonians and some other nations that were supposed to be subjected to Assyria.
In the Bible the city of Nineveh features most predominantly in the Books of Nahum and Jonah. The latter is much more than the story of a wayward prophet and a great fish. Coming from a subject of the realm, the author of Jonah committed high treason, initially against the Assyrian empire, but then, when showing God's counter-intuitive compassion on Nineveh, against the people that Assyria suppressed including his own.
The name Nineveh appears also in the Greek New Testament, but only in the context of the sign of Jonah and the resurrection, when the men of Nineveh (spelled Νινευι, Nineui, or Ninevites Νινευιτης, Nineuites) will judge the generation of Christ (Matthew 12:41, Luke 11:30 and 11:32).
🔼Etymology of the name Nineveh
In cognate languages the city of Nineveh was known as Nina, Ninua (Ninwa) or Ninu, so the Hebrew rendering of Nineveh should be expected to be a meaningless transliteration more than a deliberate name. However, the form Nineveh may have reminded a Hebrew audience of a combination of נין (nin) and נוה (naweh):
The verb נון (nun) means to propagate or greatly increase. Noun נין (nin) means offspring or posterity.
There are either three separate verbs נוה (nawa), or one that simultaneously means (1) to be high or eminent, (2) to beautify, and (3) to be or be in an abode. If this cluster of assumed roots is indeed just one, it obviously deals with perfect societies, splendid palaces and seats of benevolent government. Particularly the third meaning is associated with shepherding, which relates to the idea of a king as shepherd of his people.
From the first meaning comes the noun נה (noah), eminency or distinction. From the third comes the noun נוה (naweh), abode, pasture, habitation, country or area of residence. This noun used as a verb means to dwell or abide. Used as adjective it means abiding. Noun נוה (nawa) means pasture or meadow.
The verb נאה (na'a) means to be beautiful, and is closely related to the verb נוה (nawa II), to beautify. Its derived adjective נאוה (na'weh) means beautiful.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Offspring's Habitation, or Habitation Of Ninus, where Ninus is a powerful, historical figure, who remains otherwise unmentioned by the Bible. See our article on the related name Nun for a look at why these two names may also have to do with deities in the form of fish.
NOBSE Study Bible Name List and BDB Theological Dictionary do not translate.