Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In 1st Samuel 25, we read about Abigail's first husband, who is named Nabal. Near the end of the story, she pleads with David to save his life:

My lord should not pay attention to this wicked man Nabal. He simply lives up to his name! His name means ‘fool,’ and he is indeed foolish! But I, your servant, did not see the servants my lord sent.—1st Samuel 25:25 (NET)

So there seem to be three possibilities:

  1. Nabal's parents thought it would be a good idea to name their son Fool. (This is perhaps not as unlikely as it seems.)

  2. Nabal didn't mean fool when it was given as a name. (Perhaps the meaning arose from this story or perhaps it came from another language or dialect.)

  3. His name was unrecorded initially and supplied by a later editor.

How should we read this unusual name?

share|improve this question
There is a forth possibility: Nabal is a "nickname" that he was called because of his behaviour (and maybe not to his face). – user551 Apr 27 '12 at 17:44
Nabal is not the only one is he - doesn't Jacob mean 'deceiver'? – Jack Douglas Apr 27 '12 at 18:36
@JackDouglas, Yep. Jacob means "trickster, supplanter, heel grabber (one who gets ahead at another's expense)". He was named Heel-grabber because he was born holding onto Esau's heel. – Frank Luke Apr 27 '12 at 18:47
In cultures like ours it's preferred to give people names with noble or auspicious meanings, but this is not universally the case — in some places and at some times it has been the practice for people to have less positive names. Roman cognomens, though not given names, were often like this (e.g. Claudius 'lame', or Naso 'large-nosed'). In some cultures at least one reason given is to make evil spirits less interested in the child. – Muke Tever Apr 28 '12 at 16:32

The name was probably "Nevel", meaning "Harp". He was apparently a loyalist to the House of Saul living in Judah, which shows you how successful Saul was in maintain discipline in the kingdom, but which did not endear him to the author of I Samuel, who clearly sides with David and sees Nevel as a traitor to the tribe of Judah and calls him Naval. A Saul loyalist might call this a cheap shot.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.