🔼The name Pelethites: Summary
- Special Forces, Refugees
- From the verb פלה (pala), to be distinguished or separated.
🔼The name Pelethites in the Bible
The Pelethites are a tribe of unclear pedigree, who may or may not descend from either of the two men named Peleth — a Reubenite whose son On perished with Korah, and a Judahite who descended from Jerahmeel (who fathered the Jerahmeelites), and who in turn came from Hezron (who fathered the Hezronites).
We hear first from the Pelethites in a review of David's most intimate governmental core, right after his final defeat of Israel's native opponents. The Pelethites are then part of a contingent that also include the Cherethites, another group of unclear origin that originated in Judah's southern Negev. These two groups are captained by Benaiah son of Jehoiada (2 Samuel 8:18, 1 Chronicles 18:17).
When David takes his court on the run from Absalom, the Pelethites and Cherethites are joined by a group of 600 surviving Gittites, from the subdued Philistine city of Gath (2 Samuel 15:18). When general Joab gives chase to Sheba of Benjamin, he takes the Pelethites and Cherethites with him (2 Samuel 20:7), and the author explains that Joab was the general of Israel's entire army whereas Benaiah was over the Pelethites and Cherethites (2 Samuel 20:23). This suggests that they were special forces.
Benaiah and his Pelethites and Cherethites are present when Zadok anoints Solomon as the rightful heir to the throne of Israel (1 Kings 1:38 and 1:44), but after that we hear from neither Pelethites nor Cherethites.
🔼Etymology of the name Pelethites
The name Pelethites derives from the name Peleth, which, quite fittingly is of unclear origin. It may come from an otherwise unused verb that would be spelled פלת (palat), and which exists in Arabic with the meaning of to flee or be swift. It may also derive from the Hebrew verb פלה (pala), to be distinguished or separated:
Root פלל (palal) is all about distinguishing and discerning, and often emphasizes representation of something unseen or not present. It's frequently used in the sense of to entreat or pray on someone's behalf.
Noun תפלה (tepilla) means prayer. Noun פליל (palil) describes an inspector or umpire and noun פלילה (pelila) refers to the place at which an umpire operates; a judge's office. Adjective פלילי (pelili) means "for a judge" or "to be judged" and noun פליליה (peliliya) means verdict or assessment. Noun פול (pol) means beans (and was probably imported but fits right in).
Verb פלה (pala) means to be distinct or separated. Pronoun פלני (peloni) refers to "a certain person/place."
Verb פלא (pala') means to be extraordinary. Nouns פלא (pele') and מפלאה (mipla'a) refer to extraordinary things or deeds. Adjective פלאי (pil'i) means extraordinary.
Verb אפל ('pl) means to disappear, depart or set (of the sun). Nouns אפל ('opel), אפלה ('apela), מאפל (ma'apel) and מאפליה (ma'pelya) mean darkness. Adjective אפל ('apel) means gloomy. Adjective אפיל ('apil) means late or belated (i.e. long unseen).
Verb נפל (napal) means to fall (down, down to, into or upon). The plural form נפלים (napalim) literally means 'fallen ones' or 'settled ones'.
Noun נפל (nepel) refers to an abortion or untimely birth. Noun מפל (mappal) describes that what falls. Nouns מפלה (mappala) and מפלה (mappela) mean ruin, and noun מפלת (mapplet) refers to a ruined thing or a falling.
The Pelethites were obviously Special Forces but their proximity to the Cherethites and Gittites suggests that they were Refugees and a remnant of a larger society that was somehow destroyed.