🔼The name Pharpar: Summary
- Many Splits, Divisions Upon Divisions
- From the verb פרר (parar), to split or divide.
🔼The name Pharpar in the Bible
The name Pharpar occurs only once in the Bible. It's the name of one of two rivers which the leprous Aramean general Naaman evoked in his explanation of why he wouldn't bathe in Jerusalem's Jordan: "Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?" (2 Kings 5:12).
Naaman's statement is curious, to say the least, because Naaman's own master, the king of Aram, had sent his general to the king of Israel in the obvious understanding that Israel had something to offer that Aram didn't. The king of Israel, in turn, forwarded Naaman to the prophet Elisha, for presumably the same reason. After Naaman's healing and return to Aram, the king of Aram declared war on Israel (2 Kings 5:8), which ended in an enormous festive banquet given by Israel for the Aramean army (2 Kings 6:23).
This complicated and thoroughly entertaining story teems with layers of meaning, and in our article on the name Abanah we took a look at the motive of the "wisdom of the servants" to which this story owes much of its momentum. Another important theme is that of water and rivers.
Because early human civilizations invariably arose near rivers, the great rivers of the Bible are deliberate associated with the societies they supported: from the four rivers of Eden that spanned the entire early world (from the Gihon in Cush to the Pishon in India), the Nile of Egypt, and the Euphrates and Haddakel of Mesopotamia. The signature river of Israel was the Jordan, which drained the Galilee into the Dead Sea, which is significant because that's an endorheic lake and doesn't drain into the world ocean.
And since a society's culture is closely linked to its wisdom (its science, technology and arts), the Hebrew verb for to flow, namely נהר (nahar) applies both to light and water. The words יורה (yoreh) and מורה (moreh) both mean rain, but the latter also means teacher. Closely related to these words is the familiar noun תורה (tora), or Torah or Law. The word for sea, מים (mayim) looks like a plural form of the common particle of inquisition מי (mi), who, what, how?
The disease from which Naaman was suffering was leprosy, or the disease of whiteness:
The verb לבן (laben) means to be or become white. Contrary to modern understandings of white as a symbol, in the Bible white either denotes a blank state (and thus emptiness or stupidity) or the state of greatest resistance to the absorption of light, which comes down to pride, stubbornness and more stupidity. Hence leprosy, or the "white disease" signifies unwarranted pride and arrogance.
Contrary to popular conception, black and white are both dark, but black things absorb light and become hot (or smart), whereas white things reflect light and stay cold (or stupid).
Adjective לבן (laban) means white (i.e. blank, un-written upon: stupid). Noun לבנה (lebanah) refers to the moon. Nouns לבנה (lebonah) and לבונה (lebonah) describe frankincense. Noun לבנה (lebneh) describes the poplar. Noun לבנה (lebenah) means brick, and the denominative verb לבן (laban) means to make bricks.
The cure for the whiteness of Naaman could only come if it was washed away in a river that stored its contaminants in the deepest vault from which it couldn't emerge and contaminate the wider world ocean (Micah 7:19).
🔼Etymology of the name Pharpar
It's unclear where the name Pharpar comes from; there is no river in Damascus called such, and it's possibly not even a physical river but a reference to some element of Aramean theology. A Hebrew audience would have probably associated our name to the verb פרר (parar), to split or divide:
The verb פרר (parar) means to split, divide and usually make more, expand or multiply. This root belongs to an extended family that also contains פרץ (paras), to break (through), פרש (paras and parash), to spread out or declare, פרס (paras), to break in two or divide, and פאר (pa'ar) means to branch out or to glorify.
The Bible is not concerned with political goings on and only with the evolution of the wisdom tradition, and thus with the rise of information technology (from cave paintings to blockchain). That said: our word "science" comes from the Greek verb σξιζω (schizo), which means to split, divide and make more.
Verb פרה (para) means to bear fruit or be fruitful. Noun פרי (peri) means fruit in its broadest sense. Noun פר (par) means young bull and פרה (para) means young heifer. Note that the first letter א (aleph) is believed to denote an ox-head, while its name derives from the verb אלף (aleph), to learn or to produce thousands. The second letter, ב (beth) is also the word for house (or temple or stable). The familiar word "alphabet," therefore literally means "stable of bulls" or "house of divisions" or "temple of fruitful learning".
Noun פרא (para') is a word for wild donkey. The young bovines were probably known as fruits-of-the-herd, but donkeys in the Bible mostly symbolize lone wanderings and humility.
Noun פור (pur) means lot (hence the feast called Purim). Noun פורה (pura) denotes a winepress and פרור (parur) a cooking pot.
Our name looks like a repetition of an otherwise unused word פר (par), division, and repetitions serve in Hebrew to mark an emphasis.
For a meaning of the name Pharpar, NOBSE Study Bible Name List rather lamely suggests Haste and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names has Most Swift. BDB Theological Dictionary gives no interpretation.
Here at Abarim Publications we guess that the "river" Pharpar denoted a signature element of Aram's wisdom tradition, perhaps something akin to a folly that plagues our modern world as well, namely the idea that a statement can be "scientifically proven" to be true. What most modern scientists know is that science only proves false.
The scientific method demands that we (1) make observations, (2) attempt to explain the observations by means of a hypothesis, and (3) test the hypothesis in an experiment. If our hypothesis proposes that all swans are white, we have no idea whether this is true or false, even when we've observed a million white swans. When we see the first black one, we have ascertained that our hypothesis is false. We now know that swans are not always white. We have no idea, however, whether swans might be pink or green also.
Certainty can only be scientifically obtained about falsehood, and any confidence about truth (about any natural law, which is God's law) is very likely to be shattered at some point, and has to be shattered in order to make any kind of progress. The only righteous attitude toward knowledge is doubt, humility and hope. Any certainty, and particularly certainty in regards to natural law and theology is most likely to produce only shame and disappointment (and a lot of damage). Blessed is the man whose most intimate certainties are washed away to never resurface. Happy is the man who sheds his arrogance and lifts up his eyes to the utterly unimaginable (Isaiah 65:17, 1 Corinthians 2:9).