🔼The name Ptolemais: Summary
- Bellicose, Warlike
- Plow Man
- From the noun πολεμος (polemos), war or battle.
- From the verb תלם (talam), to plow.
🔼The name Ptolemais in the Bible
The name Ptolemais occurs only once in the Bible. It belonged to a coastal city in the north of modern Israel but was in antiquity mostly associated with the Phoenicians.
Ptolemais has been occupied since prehistory and had a variety of names: from Aak and Akka in Egyptian records to Akk in Assyrian and the Hebrew עכו or Acco in Judges 1:31. Its modern name is Acre or Akka, but after the conquest of Alexander the Great it was dubbed Antiochia Ptolemais, which was shortened to Ptolemais upon the partition of Alexander's empire and was known as such until the Muslim conquest.
At the conclusion of his third missionary journey, the apostle Paul and party stayed with unnamed brethren of Ptolemais for a day (Acts 21:7). Then they proceeded to Caesarea, where they were the guest of Philip and his four daughters, and finally arrived in Jerusalem, where Paul was arrested.
🔼Etymology of the name Ptolemais
The name Ptolemais doubtlessly comes from the name Ptolemy, which belonged to one of Alexander's generals and personal bodyguards. When Alexander succumbed, Ptolemy assumed the name Soter (Savior) and seized power over Egypt as Ptolemy I Soter, the founder of the Ptolemaic kingdom (323 BC). This kingdom lasted until it fell to Rome in 30 BC.
The names Ptolemais and Ptolemy is commonly proposed to derive from the common noun πολεμος (polemos), meaning war, battle or combat (the curious alternate spelling with the τ also occurs with the familiar noun πολις, polis, and πτολις, ptolis, both meaning city):
The noun πολεμος (polemos) means war or battle. The verb πολεμεω (polemeo) means to wage war.
The termination of our name would match the Greek feminine adjectival ending.
Some scholars alternatively propose that the names Ptolemais and Ptolemy are related to the Hebrew and Aramaic verb תלם (talam), which means to plow:
The noun תלם (telem) means furrow and is assumed to derive from a verb תלם (talam), to plow or till the soil.
The names Ptolemais and Ptolemy might be taken to Bellicose or Warlike by Greek speakers, or Plow Man by Semitic speakers, particularly those who are not concerned with the letter P with which our name begins and our verb תלם (talam) obviously doesn't.