The amazing name Negev: meaning and etymology (2022)

🔼The name Negev: Summary

Dry, Parched
Undulating, Rolling Hills
From and unused verb נגב (negeb), to be dry.
From the verb נגב (negeb), rolling or waving, from the verb גבב (gabab), to be concave or convex.

🔼The name Negev in the Bible

The name Negev is the modern version of the original name Negeb (the Hebrew letter ב, beth, was once probably pronounced as a B but now as a V; that's why today some people are called Avraham instead of the classic Abraham), but it's not clear when the word נגב (negeb) became a name.

The word נגב (negeb) appears to have several meanings and the chances are excellent that we modern readers of the Bible are simply clueless about the whole compass of this word, and thus the name Negev. In Old Testament times, a country in the political sense would be known by border markers (or border towns) at its extremes and a ruler of sorts at its most pronounced city. A "region" would be known by some distinctly different feature, like mountains or a decidedly different climate. It's a bit of a mystery to which region the name or word נגב (negeb) was applied, and why. The area originally known as the נגב (negeb) appears to have been located somewhere in between Egypt and Canaan but the exact borders are quite unclear (Genesis 13:1-3)

Older versions of the Bible (KJV, Young, Darby, JSP) consistently translate our word with "the south" or "South Land" but modern translations (NAS, NIV) treat this word as a proper name when it seems appropriate. This obviously requires the translator to be insightful enough to know what the author meant to say, which isn't always easy. And the result is an unwanted association with the present day Negev region which is arguably not the same as the area named Negeb back then. And then, to modern readers the word negev is foreign and specific but to a Hebrew audience, it was an ordinary word that meant ordinary things and was used to describe many things other than what we call the Negev.

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Here at Abarim Publications we're notoriously unhip, and we prefer to not transliterate the word נגב as the proper name Negeb or Negeb but to translate it as south, South or the South Land.

🔼The South

In Genesis 12:9 our word נגב occurs for the first time in the narrative, and right away it's preceded by the definite article: הנגב, meaning The South, which indicates that our word נגב became used as an identifier for a certain region. And although that region is now pretty much an arid desert, in Biblical times it was forested (Ezekiel 20:46-47) and appears to have contained a considerable human population (Jeremiah 17:26, Zechariah 7:7), spread out over several cities (Jeremiah 13:19, 32:44, 33:13, Obadiah 1:19-20), namely Kadesh, Bered, Arad and Shur and perhaps also Zephath and Gerar, of which Abimelech was king (Genesis 20:2).

Abraham and his family lived in The South, near Beer-lahai-roi, where Hagar had seen the angel (Genesis 16:14) and when Isaac was old enough to marry, Eliezer brought Rebekah to her new home in The South (Genesis 24:62).

By the time of the Exodus, the Amalekites were living in The South (Numbers 13:29) and during the conquest there were Canaanites there (Numbers 21:1). But YHWH delivered up the Canaanites and Israel destroyed the cities of The South and called the whole place Hormah (Numbers 21:3, Judges 1:17).

Just before Moses died, the Lord showed him the Promised Land, including The South, from atop mount Pisgah (Deuteronomy 34:3, or Abarim; Numbers 27:12). Joshua succeeded Moses as leader of Israel and tore through The South and killed every living thing he found in it (Joshua 10:40, 11:16).

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Caleb promised his daughter Achsah to whoever would capture Kiriath-sepher (also known as Debir), and that became Othniel son of Kenaz. So Othniel captured Kiriath-sepher and kept it and also received Achsah who made him ask Caleb for a field. Achsah, remarkably, concluded that she (not Othniel) now had been given The South and also asked for some springs from Caleb and received them (Joshua 15:19). After Joshua's death, there appeared to still be some fightable Canaanites living in The South (Judges 1:9).

The South is also mentioned in the curious story of Jonathan's three arrows. In 1 Samuel 20:41 it reads that after Jonathan had shot his arrows and instructed his boy to "hurry, be quick, do not stay," David arose from The South and he and Jonathan said their emotional goodbyes. It's a mystery why the men couldn't have met right away in the first place, and it's pretty clear that there's much more to this story than traditional exegesis lets on.

The final time The South is mentioned in the narrative is in 2 Chronicles 28:18, where we read that while the Assyrians were expanding their empire at the cost of various other nations, the Edomites attacked Judah from the east and the Philistines attacked The South from the west.

🔼Etymology of the name Negev

The word נגב appears to be part of a cluster of roots that mostly mean hollow, convex or elevated:

Excerpted from: Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary


The verb גבב (gabab) doesn't occur in the Bible but it appears to have meant to be concave or convex; to be bulbous or hollow. Noun גב (gab) denotes anything that is bulbous (hills, buttocks).

The verb גוב (gub) means to dig. Noun גב (geb) means pit or ditch. This verb appears to be associated with the verb יגב (yagab), meaning to till (what a farmer does). Noun יגב (yaqeb) probably refers to the field where the farmer tills.

Noun גבא (gebe') appears to describe a hollow in which water collects and is commonly translated with cistern, pool or marsh.

Verb גבה (gaba) means to collect. Nouns גב (geb), גוב (gob), גבי (gobay) and גובי (gobay) refer to locusts. Possibly a whole other verb גבה (gabah) means to be high, exalted or lofty, although this verb could actually describe a person who collected a heap, or who plunders a society like a swarm of locusts. In the Talmud the word for tax collector was derived from this verb. Adjective גבה (gaboah) means high or haughty. Noun גבה (gobah) means height or haughtiness. And noun גבהות (gabhut) means haughtiness.

Verb גבע (gabay) appears to mean the same as גבב (gabab), to be concave or convex. The very common noun גבעה (gib'a) means hill.

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The unused verb גבן (gaban) probably meant to be curved, contracted or coagulated. Adjective גבן (giben) means humpbacked. Noun גבינה (gebina) means curd or cheese. Noun גבנן (gabnon) means peak or rounded summit.

A certain grammatical construction that creates a sort of continuous tense of the verb גבב (gabab) is formed from prefixing a נ (nun) and making the double ב (beth) a single one. The result, a verb נגב (nagab) would mean to undulate, to wave, to have shifting dunes. That verb doesn't exist, but a mysterious noun נגב (negeb) does. This noun would thus denote a region with rolling hills, and came to be synonymous with "south".

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🔼Negev meaning

For a meaning of the name Negev, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Dry, Parched, "denotes southern Palestine". Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) works off the older translations and doesn't recognize Negev as a proper name. BDB Theological Dictionary declares that נגב derives from an unused verb נגב meaning to be dry or parched and was initially a designation of the country south of Judah. After that this word came to mean south or southern.


What does the name Negev mean? ›

The name is derived from the Hebrew verbal root n-g-b, “to dry” or “to wipe dry.” The Negev is shaped like a triangle with the apex at the south. It is bounded by the Sinai Peninsula (west) and the Jordan Valley (east).

What does the word Negev mean in the Bible? ›

Negev (a desert in southern Israel) is mentioned several times in the Bible. Negev (or Negeb) is derived from the Hebrew root "dry land". Some biblical passages use "Negev" to mean south because the Negev lay south of Judah. In the Septuagint (Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) Negev is translated as "desert."

What is serpent in Hebrew? ›

The Hebrew word נָחָשׁ (Nāḥāš) is used in the Hebrew Bible to identify the serpent that appears in Genesis 3:1, in the Garden of Eden. In the first book of the Torah, the serpent is portrayed as a deceptive creature or trickster, who promotes as good what God had forbidden and shows particular cunning in its deception.

What does the name amorite mean in the Bible? ›

The term Amorites is used in the Bible to refer to certain highland mountaineers who inhabited the land of Canaan, described in Genesis as descendants of Canaan, the son of Ham (Gen. 10:16).

Where is Negev mentioned in the Bible? ›

Biblical reference

According to the Book of Genesis chapter 13, Abraham lived for a while in the Negev after being banished from Egypt (Genesis 13:1,3). During the Exodus journey to the Promised Land, Moses sent twelve scouts into the Negev to assess the land and population (Numbers 13:17).

Is the Dead Sea in the Negev? ›

The Dead Sea, known in Hebrew as Yam Ha-Melakh (the Sea of Salt) is the lowest point on earth. It's surrounded by the stunning landscape of the Negev Desert.

Who are the people of the Negev? ›

The Bedouin people are the indigenous inhabitants of the Negev desert, arriving in waves from the Arabian Peninsula over the last hundreds and thousands of years.

What is so special about the Negev desert? ›

Natural Beauty. As well as the well renowned Dead Sea and ancient fortress of Masada in the east of the Negev, the desert has another unique geological formation. These are the makhteshim, unique crater-like land-forms which are only found in the Negev and its extension into Egypt's Sinai.

Is Negev in Egypt? ›

The Sinai–Negev erg occupies an area of 13,000 km2 in the deserts of Egypt and Israel.

What is the snake called in the Bible? ›

According to the Bible, Nehushtan was a metal serpent mounted on a staff that Moses had made, by God's command, to cure the Israelites of snake bites while wandering in the desert. The symbol of snakes on a staff or pole is a motif that is widespread in both the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean.

What do snakes represent spiritually? ›

Snake spirit animal

The serpent's meaning as a spirit animal is that of transformation and change. Few creatures embody the process of spiritual transformation so well as the snake, who must repeatedly shed its skin in order to grow. A snake is also a powerful healer and a symbol of death and rebirth.

Are serpents and snakes the same? ›

snake, (suborder Serpentes), also called serpent, any of more than 3,400 species of reptiles distinguished by their limbless condition and greatly elongated body and tail.

What God did the Amorites worship? ›

Amurru, also known under the Sumerian name Martu, was a Mesopotamian god who served as the divine personification of the Amorites.

Why did God destroy the Amorites? ›

Why Did God Destroy the Amorites? The main sin of the biblical Amorites was idol worship. They provoked God to judgment with their idol worship. God was patient and gave them plenty of time to change their ways, but they did not.

Where are the Amorites today? ›

Definition. The Amorites were a Semitic people who seem to have emerged from western Mesopotamia (modern-day Syria) at some point prior to the 3rd millennium BCE.

Who lives in the Negev desert? ›

Roughly 200,000 Bedouins live in the Negev Desert of Israel, all of them citizens and most of them concentrated in an area around the city of Beersheva.

Who was the god Nebo in the Bible? ›

Nabu, biblical Nebo, major god in the Assyro-Babylonian pantheon. He was patron of the art of writing and a god of vegetation. Nabu's symbols were the clay tablet and the stylus, the instruments held to be proper to him who inscribed the fates assigned to men by the gods.

What is the meaning of sheaves in the Bible? ›

Sheaves of grain are revered in the Bible and in ancient cultures. The bundles were appreciated for the hard work that went into growing, harvesting and drying out these beneficial crops. It was the focus of a popular gospel song in the late 1800s.

Why is it called the Dead Sea? ›

Despite its name, the Dead Sea is actually not a sea, but a hypersaline lake. Why is it called the Dead Sea? Because no life forms (plants or living creatures) could survive in its waters, although it does contain microbial life.

What was Israel called in biblical times? ›

The region was known, historically, as part of Canaan, as Phoenicia, as Palestine, Yehud Medinata, Judea and, after the Romans destroyed the region in 136 CE, as Syria-Palaestina.

What did the Romans call the Dead Sea? ›

The Romans, too, referred to the Dead Sea as “Palus Asphaltites” (Asphalt Lake).

How do you pronounce Negev in the Bible? ›

How to Pronounce Negev? (CORRECTLY) - YouTube

How many Bedouin does the Negev have? ›

The Bedouin population in the Negev numbers 200,000–210,000. Just over half of them live in the seven government-built Bedouin-only towns; the remaining 90,000 live in 46 villages – 35 of which are still unrecognized and 11 of which were officially recognized in 2003.

How many unrecognized villages are in the Negev? ›

At one point, there were 46 unrecognized Bedouin villages. Following the State's recognition of 11 of them, 35 villages in the Negev remain unrecognized.

What does Egypt mean in Hebrew? ›

Mizraim (Hebrew: מִצְרַיִם‎ / מִצְרָיִם‎, Modern Mīṣrayīm [mitsˈʁajim] Tiberian Mīṣrāyīm / Mīṣráyīm [misˤˈrɔjim] \ [misˤˈrajim] ; cf. Arabic مصر, Miṣr) is the Hebrew and Aramaic name for the land of Egypt, with the dual suffix -āyim, perhaps referring to the "two Egypts": Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt.

What is the meaning of Kadesh? ›

Kadesh or Qadesh or Cades (in classical Hebrew Hebrew: קָדֵשׁ, from the root קדש‎ "holy") is a place-name that occurs several times in the Hebrew Bible, describing a site or sites located south of, or at the southern border of, Canaan and the Kingdom of Judah in the kingdom of Israel.

What does Hebron mean in Hebrew? ›

The name "Hebron" appears to trace back to two Semitic roots, which coalesce in the form ḥbr, having reflexes in Hebrew and Amorite, with a basic sense of 'unite' and connoting a range of meanings from "colleague" to "friend". In the proper name Hebron, the original sense may have been alliance.


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