🔼The name Purah: Summary
- From the verb פרה (para), to bear fruit.
- From the verb פאר (pa'ar), to branch or glorify.
🔼The name Purah in the Bible
There is only once Purah in the Bible and he's mentioned twice in only once scene, namely in the familiar story of Gideon's miraculous engagement of the Midianite invaders plus their Amalekite and unnamed allies (Judges 7:10-11).
Just after Gideon has whittled his 32,000 volunteers down to a mere 300 by appealing to the men's understandable dread, YHWH points out Gideon's own fears and invites him to listen in on a conversation about a portent dream that two Midianite soldiers are having in their camp. That's in itself not a very mysterious turn of events, but why YHWH insists that Gideon's servant Purah should accompany Gideon is less clear. This man is not otherwise mentioned and it's ultimately unclear what his role might have been in Gideon's nightly mission.
The dream whose report Gideon overheard told of the defeat of the Midianite alliance, and this strengthened Gideon's confidence. This obvious adds to the mystery since this seems to suggest that Gideon put more stock in the nightly banter of two yapping guards than the Word of YHWH who had been directing Gideon's actions for quite a while at this point. Arguably, the Gideon cycle emphasizes the importance of scientific confirmation and elevates it from its original connection to doubt to a sound precaution that protects the wise from any possibly delusion. Gideon, after all, performed one of the first recorded scientific experiments in order to confirm the Word of God, and God did not disapprove of this (Judges 6:36-40).
🔼Etymology of the name Purah
It's not wholly clear where our name comes from, although its form is similar to the verb פרה (para), meaning to bear fruit:
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 (alpeh), 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.
But for some reason, most commentators appear to be more amoured by the difficult verb פאר (pa'ar), which means both to glorify and to branch out:
The verb פאר (pa'ar) means to glorify. Noun פאר (pe'er) refers to an ornate headdress, like a turban. The more abstract noun תפארה (tip'ara) means beauty or glory.
It seems that our verb's most essential meaning is that of branching out or even to diversify into a spectrum of glorious nuances. Noun פארה (po'ra) means branch (of a tree or vine). The denominative verb פאר (pa'ar) would literally mean to branch but in practice describes a progression in the direction in which a branch grows (rather than the reverse). Noun פארור (par'ur) appears the describe a spectrum of facial expressions.
For a meaning of the name Purah, both NOBSE Study Bible Name List and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names go with the verb פאר (pa'ar) and read Branch. BDB Theological Dictionary offers to explanation of this name.
Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that the sudden appearance of the "servant" named Purah is a reference to an element of the scientific method. In our modern times, procedures are often so common that we forget that even logic itself had to be invented. A pagan people might imagine that every morsel of data is uploaded into the pliant minds of pious followers of the deity who's doing to uploading, and putting inspiration to the test is rather ungrateful and might actually result in curses and disaster rather than certainty.
Part of the lesson of the story of Gideon is that a combination of observation and confirmation is precisely what sets the people who search diligently for the laws of the Creator apart from the people who worship the dogmas yielded by imagination.