🔼The name Rabbah: Summary
- From the verb רבב (rabab), to be great or many.
🔼The name Rabbah in the Bible
There are two cities named Rabbah in the Bible, the lesser known one is a city in the territory allotted to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:60).
The most famous Rabbah was also known as רבת בני עמון; Rabbath-bene-ammon or "Rabbath of the sons of Ammon" (Rabbath is really the same as Rabbah, just of an older spelling), which was the major city of Ammon (modern Amman, the capital of Jordan).
It's first mentioned in the Bible as the final resting place of the huge iron bed of king Og of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:11). What Og's bunk was doing in an Ammonite metropolis is a bit of a mystery. Bashan was a kingdom located to the east of the Sea of Galilee, and Ammon country was to the east of the Salt Sea. But Og was the last of the Rephaim (or Zamzummim), and they were expelled by the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 2:20). It appears that the Ammonites had hoisted Og's huge stead to their capital as a trophy.
Even though YHWH had ordered not to meddle with Ammon (Deuteronomy 2:19), the tribes of Gad and Reuben settled in their land anyway. Rabbah is listed as just over the border of Gad, which puts it in or near Reuben, although that's not explicitly mentioned (Joshua 15:25). The reason for this is probably that the Ammonites held out in Rabbah until the time of king David.
While the author of 2 Samuel focuses mainly on David's seduction of Bathsheba, her husband Uriah was engaged with the siege of Rabbah. The author casually reports that the Ammonites were destroyed and Rabbah captured by general Joab (2 Samuel 11:1, 12:26). The gold crown of the Ammonite king weighed a talent and was placed on David's head, and the Ammonites were massacred in the most creative ways (2 Samuel 12:31).
Rabbah was resettled by Israelites (or so we may expect), and when David was on the run from his son Absalom, a man named Shobi son of Nahash from Rabbah was among the leaders of various towns who provided humanitarian aid to David and his people (2 Samuel 17:27). Note that Nahash is also the name of the cruel Ammonite king whom Saul defeated (1 Samuel 11:1). The son of this Nahash, Hanun, provoked David into the siege that ended in Rabbah's ultimate defeat (2 Samuel 10:1).
During the reigns of kings Uzziah and Jotham of Judah, the Ammonites appear to have bounced back somewhat from their demise during the Davidic era, although they were still subjected (2 Chronicles 26:8, 27:5). About two centuries later, the Ammonites were potent enough to inflict their theologies on the tribe of Gad, and to warrant sturdy warning from the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Amos about their imminent deportation and Rabbah's destruction once again (Jeremiah 49:2, Ezekiel 21:20, 25:5, Amos 1:14).
In the third century BC the Hellenistic Egyptian ruler Ptolemy II Philadelphus rebuilt Rabbah and named it after himself: Philadelphia (which is not the same as the Philadelphia of Asia Minor addressed by John the Revelator). Nowadays we call this city Amman; the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Whatever happened to Og's crib is unknown.
🔼Etymology of the name Rabbah
The name Rabbah comes from the verb רבב (rabab) or רבה (raba), meaning to be or become many or great:
The verb רבב (rabab) means to be or become many. Adjective רב (rab) means much, many or great, and the identical noun רב (rab) means chief or captain; hence too the familiar noun ραββι (rabbi), meaning Rabbi. Noun רב (rob) means multitude or abundance. Nouns רבבה (rebaba), רבו (ribo) and רבוא (ribo') mean ten-thousand or myriad. Noun רביבים (rebibim) denotes copious showers.
Noun רבב (rabab), describes a smear of viscous fat, an obvious sign that someone was well off. That same noun was spelled רבד (rabad), which may have helped the formation of the word ραβδος (rabdos), staff, rod or scepter.
Possibly a second yet identical verb רבב (rabab) means to shoot, particularly of arrows. This may very well be a specified usage of our verb since arrows are customarily shot en masse by many archers. Noun רב (rab) means archer, and is identical to the adjective meaning many.
The slightly more common verb רבה (raba) is obviously a by-form of רבב (rabab) and means to be or become great, many, much or numerous. Noun מרבה (marbeh) means increase or abundance. Noun מרבה (mirbah) means much. Nouns מרבית (marbit) and תרבות (tarbut) mean increase, greatness, multitude. Noun תרבית (tarbit) means increment or usury. Fittingly, noun ארבה (arbeh) denotes a kind of locust.
Possibly a second yet identical verb רבה (raba) means to shoot.
For a meaning of the name Rabbah, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Great, Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names has Great City, and BDB Theological Dictionary proposes Great or Populous.