🔼The name Zabbai: Summary
- Given By Yah
- Roaming Aimlessly, or [Armored Like] A Fly
- From (1) the verb זבד (zabad), to give, and (2) יה (yah), the name of the Lord.
- From the verb זבב (zbd), to zip to and fro.
🔼The name Zabbai in the Bible
It's not clear how many different men named Zabbai there are in the Bible, but it's either one or two:
- One of the sons of Bebai, who had married foreign wives and who pledged to divorce them during the purge of Ezra (Ezra 10:28). No further genealogy of this man is submitted and he may or may not be the same as the next Zabbai.
- The father of a man named Baruch (not the famous one), who worked with distinction on Jerusalem's restoration project, in the period just after the return from the Babylonian exile (Nehemiah 3:20). The Masoretes figured that this Zabbai was the same as the Zaccai mentioned in Ezra 2:9 and Nehemiah 7:14, and that Nehemiah 3:20 should read Zaccai. Of the modern English translations, only the JSP version follows this advice and reads Zaccai; all others speak of Zabbai.
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Zabbai
There's no consensus about the origin and etymology of the name Zabbai. It seems to consist of a root word with a final yod attached to it. That yod may either be a sign of an adjective, or it will form my-something or the final yod is a remnant of יהוה, which is YHWH, or Yahweh.
Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) seems to feel that the core of our name comes from the verb זבד (zabad) meaning to give or bestow:
The verb זבד (zabad) means to give and the noun זבד (zebed) means gift. Both these words are used only once, in Genesis 30:20. These words' more common equivalents come from the root נתן (natan).
Unfortunately, we can't be sure what Jones is getting at because he spells the verb as זבב (zbb), transliterates it as zabhadh and then states that it's an unused root, making it impossible to retrace his thoughts. But he figures the final yod to be a mark of the Divine name. Hence Jones translates our name with Clemency Of The Lord
NOBSE Study Bible Name List appears to also go with the verb זבד (zabad), meaning to give or bestow, but translates our name with (God) Has Given. Neither Jones nor NOBSE explain what happened to the letter ד (daleth), which occurs in the verb but not in the name. NOBSE refers to God but the name doesn't. And NOBSE explains Zabbai as a third person single, which also can't be defended.
It's not uncommon for a root with a double consonant to lose the last one in certain constructions. It's therefore much more likely that our name Zabbai comes from the verb זבב (zbb), meaning to zip to and fro, as a fly does:
The verb זבב (zbb) means to zip aimlessly to and fro. Noun זבוב (zebub) describes the fly.
BDB Theological Dictionary doesn't translate our name but does list it under the verb זבב (zbb), and states that the connection between our name and the verb is uncertain. BDB nevertheless proposes that our name may reflect the little body armor a fly seems to have by stating: "perhaps = loricatus". The Latin word lorica means Body Armor and Loricatus is a known Roman name.