🔼The name Tirhakah: Summary
- Exalted, Examiner, Dull Observer
- From any resembling Egyptian phrase.
- From θηριακη (theriake), beastly, from θηριον (therion), beast.
🔼The name Tirhakah in the Bible
There is only one man named Tirhakah in the Bible, namely the king of Cush (that's modern Ethiopia) at the time of Hezekiah king of Judah. King Tirhakah was instrumental in deflecting the aggressive attentions of the Assyrians toward Judah. His name is mentioned in one statement that occurs twice in the Bible, namely in 2 Kings 19:9 and Isaiah 37:9.
Traditionally, commentators have sought to equate this king Tirhakah of Cush with Pharaoh Taharqa of Egypt who also reigned over Cush and Arabia around that same time (or about a decade later), and although the similarities between the name Tirhakah and Taharqa are certainly enticing, the Bible's characters are first and foremost literary characters whose function are to the Biblical narrative rather than the historical one.
The Bible is concerned with the evolution of the wisdom tradition, and most specifically with information technology. Around the time of David the alphabet was completed and the period directly after was spent getting used to it, transcribing oral narratives and transliterating stories from earlier writing systems to the hot new alphabet. As we show in our article on the name Shebnah — the scribe whose name goes from the Hebrew-like Shebnah (שבנה) to the Aramaic-like Shebna (שבנא) during the verbal barrage of Rabshakeh — the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians tells of the competition between the Aramaic and Hebrew literary traditions rather than the physical invasion of Assyria's army that facilitated this competition.
Likewise the contributions of king Tirhakah as mentioned in the Bible are not about politics or military activity but rather the role the Cushite scientists played in Judah's transition from using the Paleo-Hebrew script to the Aramaic script we use today.
🔼Etymology of the name Tirhakah
It's pretty safe to say that the literary character Tirhakah was based on the political and historical character Taharqa with the same wide literary freedom that allowed the literary character Tiglath-pileser to be derived from the historical Tukulti-apil-Esarra, the literary character Nebuchadnezzar to be derived from the historical character Nabu-kudurri-usur, and the literary Berodach-baladan from the historical Marduk-apal-iddina.
Critics may offer that Taharqa's reign began a good decade after the story of Tirhakah played, but this criticism fails to take into account that the evolution of information technology has its own axis of progression and discrepancies with the historical timeline are irrelevant. Jesus pointed out that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not the God of the dead but of the living, and this two thousand years after these men breathed their historical last (Matthew 22:32). In a similar matter may one state that the spread of the Greek language throughout the empire of Alexander the Great began with the ascension of Philip II, three years before Alexander's birth. Or that the modern world has embraced Jewish narrative because Hollywood could rise in the void and disillusion created by Nazi ideology (Zechariah 8:23).
The name Taharqa was spelled T-H-R-K in hieroglyphic phonetic letters, and it's apparently a mystery what that might have meant to anybody back then or now, and estimates range from Exalted (Alfred Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names, Smith Bible Dictionary) to Inquirer, Examiner, Dull Observer (Hitchcock Bible Names Dictionary).
The problem with these guesses is that they are boring, and the books of Kings and Isaiah weren't preserved because they weren't saying anything. Much more attractive than any Egyptian meaning of our name is a possible link with the Greek language that would take the world by storm not long after our story plays.
🔼In a den of robbers
While Egypt, Cush and Assyria were vying for power (and trying to have their literary legacies preserved for posterity) Isaiah's interests inclined with substantial favor toward Athens and her experiments with social government. When he wrote his famous assertion that "the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14), he probably spoke of the "crushed virgin daughter of Sidon", and as he told her to "arise, pass over to Cyprus" (Isaiah 23:12), he appears to have referred to the Cypriot syllabary. The Phoenicians had perfected the abjad and the Hebrews had added vowel notation, using the symbols י (y), ה (he) and ו (w), which together formed the name of the deity YHWH, who was worshipped in the temple that Solomon and Hiram had built. From this Semitic alphabet, the Greek alphabet was derived, and from the Greek came the Latin one we use today. Pallas Athena was known as Athena παρθενος (parthenos), or Athena the Virgin and she was the Greek goddess of wisdom.
Our entire modern word was made possible because of the alphabet, and whatever precise role king Tirhakah (תרהקה) played in this is sadly no longer clear. However, the similar Aramaic word תריאקה (tari'aqa) is a variant of תירייקא, which is a transliteration of the Greek word θηριακη (theriake) or theriac, which described a widely acknowledged Greek medicine against snake bites. The actual medicine called theriac was formulated in the first century CE, but the word θηριακη (theriake) means "beastly" or "pertaining to animals" and derives from the familiar Greek noun θηριον (therion), meaning beast. Whenever this word θηριον (therion) appears in the New Testament or the Greek Septuagint, it primarily refers not to physical animals but to the political structures we call nations or empires (Genesis 1:24, Jeremiah 7:33, Mark 1:13, Titus 1:12, Revelation 11:7, 13:1). And this is not slander; the Hebrews realized with calm clarity that humans are in fact animals and that only the degree of their shared wisdom makes any difference between beastly passions, human contemplations and divine considerations (Psalm 73:22, Ecclesiastes 3:18, Jude 1:10).
The Bible is not at all interested in the political or military histories of nations and only in their wisdom traditions. This is why certain historically important battles are not at all mentioned in the Bible (for instance the Battle of Qarqar of 853 BC, during which Israel under Ahab clashed with Assyria under Shalmaneser III), but a relatively minor monarchy such as that of David and Solomon is described in breathtaking hyperbole due to its massive, global and perpetual impact on humanity's handling of information.
One of the reasons why Hitler's regime was doomed from the get go was that it had no respect for independent science, and charged its idiotic Ahnenerbe with creating history in its own image. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, on the other hand, was called the servant of YHWH (Jeremiah 27:6), not because he was such an astute theologian but because his politics allowed for a wisdom class to operate independently of any political interests. Militarily, Babylon fell to Persia but in the Persian empire the people of Judah became the Jews, their Torah was compiled into its present form, the postal service was invented, the Pharisaic class emerged, and the Talmud began to be written. The Biblical narrative tells this transition as emperor Cyrus who decreed, designed and funded the building of the second Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem (Ezra 6:3).
Contrary to how Judah faired in Persia, Assyria gobbled up the ten northern tribes of Israel and they were heard from no more. How, precisely, the doings of the beastly Tirhakah prevented Assyria from also absorbing Judah isn't told but perhaps by swallowing Judah up temporarily, only to spew him out on Babylon's coasts, so to speak?