🔼The name Tartan: Summary
- Scrounging Jackal
- From an Assyrian or even Sumerian phrase tur-ta-nu or unclear meaning.
- From (1) the verb תור (tur), to seek out or explore, and (2) תן (tan), denoting some carnivorous scavenger.
🔼The name Tartan in the Bible
Tartan is not really a name but a title, much like Caesar in Rome or Candace in Nubia. Tartan was the title of the Assyrian commander-in-chief and is mentioned twice in the Bible, namely in 2 Kings 18:17 and Isaiah 20:1.
🔼Etymology of the name Tartan
The title Tartan, or tur-ta-nu in Assyrian, is probably very old and of Sumerian origin (says Ellicott's Bible Commentary). Its original etymology and meaning are obscure but the Hebrew transliteration appears to go beyond a phonetic impression and forwards a stylized commentary of what the ancient scribes thought of the Assyrian commander-in-chief.
The first part of our title looks like it was to remind of the verb תור (tur), meaning to seek out or explore:
The verb תור (tur) means to explore or survey and associates with a broad, circular or sweeping motion. Noun תור (tor) or תר (tor) appears to describe a circular braid of hair. Noun יתור (yetur), seems to mean a searching or range. Noun תר (tor) or תור (tor) means dove or turtledove.
Note that likewise the Greek word for dove, namely περιστερα (peristera), appears to be derived from the prefix περι (peri) meaning around or about. This suggests that to the ancients the dove stood symbol for abundance and being all around and everywhere, which explains the bodily form of the Holy Spirit.
Verb תאר (ta'ar) means to outline or trace. Noun תאר (to'ar), means shape or form. Verb תאר (ta'ar), meaning to draw an outline.
The second part of our name was made to resemble the noun תן (tan), denoting a carnivorous scavenger:
The root תנן (tanan) speaks of luring and scavenging and preying upon the weak and gullible. Verb תנה (tana) means to hire (predominantly of a prostitute) and nouns אתנן ('etnan) and אתנה ('etna) describe the hire of a prostitute.
It should be noted that societies were considered "houses" and their central governments their "house-father". The Bible often uses the prostitute to describe a society, which would typically be a society without central rule and which maintains its fading identity by means of shifting allegiances with neighboring states.
Still, on rare occasions this verb is also used to describe how God displays his splendor in the heavens, presumably to lure humanity to him, even though humanity does not accept the formal knowledge of natural law (that's the Word of God) as their king.
The noun תן (tan) describes some kind of predatory animal, possibly a jackal. Noun תנין (tannin) refers to a mythological aquatic serpentine creature, which appears to dwell in the caustic undertows of human society.
The unused verb יתן (yatan) probably denoted the permanence of flowing water (it does so in cognate languages). The adjective אתן or איתן ('etan) means perennial or ever-flowing.
The noun אתון ('aton), from an assumed root אתן ('atan), describes a female donkey or she-ass. In the ancient world camels signified international trade (like our trucks), horses signified military might (our jeeps), oxen signified heavy farm work or local commerce (our tractors and lorries), and donkeys, particularly female donkeys, signified the spontaneous congress of peaceful and free civilians (our Volkswagens and campers).
Female donkeys were the units of social networks and symbolized both the freedom, peace and prosperity, and the curiosity about and concern for one's neighbor upon which any social network is based. This is why mankind's King rides a donkey (Zechariah 9:9): donkeys mostly carry stories, and mankind's King, obviously, is the Word of God, or the formal manifestation of natural law.
Whatever the title Tartan may have meant to the Assyrians, to a Hebrew audience it would have sounded like Scrounging Jackal.