🔼The name Paddan-aram: Summary
- Ultimate Upgrade, New Aramaic Standard
- From (1) the verb פדה (pada), to upgrade the operating standard, and (2) the verb רום (rum), to be high.
🔼The name Paddan-aram in the Bible
Paddan-aram is an area in Mesopotamia where Abraham was born and where his brother Nahor lived (see Genesis 24:4, 24:10 and 25:20) and also where Isaac's wife Rebekah and Jacob's wives Leah, Rachel and Bilhah and Zilpah came from (Genesis 25:20, 28:5). The origin of Israel is therefore much rather Babylon than Palestine.
Our name is spelled with the particle of approach stuck to the paran-part, פדנה ארם (Paddanah-aram), in Genesis 28:2-7, and without, פדן ארם (Paddan-aram), everywhere else.
🔼Etymology of the name Paddan-aram
The name Paddan-aram obviously consists of two parts. The first part, פדן (paddan), is a noun that does not occur in Hebrew, but HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament reports that the Akkadian word padanu means route. However, when the prophet Hosea recounts the adventures of Jacob, he says that Jacob fled to the 'field' (שדה, sadeh) of Aram (Hosea 12:12), which brings to mind the difficult verb פדה (pada), to redeem or ransom, or rather to abandon an old standard and assume a new, much more constrictive but liberating one:
The verb פדה (pada) describes a letting go of an old standard (say, phonetic spelling) and assuming a new one (standardized spelling). The new standard may appear more restrictive at a personal level but it allows a much greater precision and thus basin of exchange and thus liberty at the collective level.
This verb speaks of an individual price paid for collective freedom and is as such often translated as to ransom or redeem. In the stories of the Bible, the old standard often appears as captor or abductor or slave-driving task master.
Nouns פדוים (peduyim), פדות (pedut), פדיום (pidyom), פדיון (pidyon) and פדין (pidyon) all mean ransom or price of redemption.
The second part of the name is the same as the name Aram, and comes from רום (rum) meaning to be high, rise up:
The verb רום (rum) means to be high or high up in either a physical, social or even attitudinal sense, and may also refer to the apex in a natural process: the being ripe and ready-for-harvest of fruits. Subsequently, our verb may imply a state beyond ripe (higher than ripe, overripe), which thus refers to rotting and being maggot riddled. This means that to the ancients higher did not simply mean better, and an arrogant political status that was higher than it should be equaled rot and worms (Acts 12:23).
Derived nouns, such as רום (rum) and related forms, describe height or pride. Noun רמות (ramut) describes some high thing. The noun ארמון ('armon) refers to a society's apex: a citadel or palace. The noun ראם (re'em) describes the wild ox, which was named possibly for the same reason why we moderns call a rising market a "bull" market. The similar verb ראם (ra'am) means to rise.
The important noun רמון (rimmon) means pomegranate and the pomegranate became the symbol for harvest-ready fruit (see our full dictionary article for more on this). Overripe items might suffer the noun רמה (rimma), worm or maggot, or the verb רמם (ramam), to be wormy.
The link with the word שדה (sadeh), field, appears to lead both NOBSE Study Bible Name List and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names to read Plain Of Aram for a meaning of the name Paddan-aram.
To a Hebrew audience, the name Paddan-aram may have sounded like Elevated Ransom, or better yet: Ultimate Upgrade, or simply: New Aramaic Standard.
Note that the Hebrew Scriptures the way we have them are not written in Hebrew letters but in Aramaic block letters. In history, many a tyrant has outlawed the language of the vanquished, and one way to keep one's mother tongue alive is to transcribe one's library into another, safe alphabet. This appears to have happened to the Hebrew Scriptures, and it's also the source of the legend of the Magdalene escaping to France pregnant with the child of Jesus.