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In Judges 6:25, Gideon is told to destroy his father's alter to Baal and the Asherah pole next to it. When the people learn the next day that Gideon has broken it down they verbally spar with Gideon's father, Joash, who says Baal should be able to defend himself (6:32):

"If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar." So because Gideon broke down Baal's altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal that day, saying, "Let Baal contend with him."

My Bible has a footnote saying "Jerub-Baal probably means let Baal contend." This would make it seem almost like a curse being placed on Gideon. The Tyndale commentary, however, says it means, "may Baal give increase", which would make it seem like a blessing.

What does the name mean and why does it have such drastically different interpretations?

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  • related: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/2384/…
    – Bach
    Apr 16 '19 at 17:10
  • In Septuaginta Judges 7:1 the word used is Ιεροβααλ that could be translated Yahweh (Ie) speaks/contends/answers (ero) to Baal or the other way around. A parallel can be found in the word ιερέας being the people who talk to Yahweh. So then, given Gedeon is being instrumental in this contest, this name totally makes sense.
    – Diego
    Jun 6 at 17:58
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In fact this is a case of a pretty simple and straightforward verse that has been unnecessarily complicated by its translators. The word in question ירב pretty much translates into fight, contend. See Hosea 4:4, and Strong's concordance. In fact almost all modern translations agree that this is the basic meaning of this word albiet with minor modifications. In this case we may say that the Tyndale commentary is coming from left field!

The Tyndale commentary was apparently unhappy with the conventional trnaslation (the reasons for this is unclear) so he sought ways to alter the meaning of this word. He imagined ירב as a shortening of the common Hebrew word ירבה which means increase, thereby he constructed this odd and awkward phrase, "Let Baal give increase". What the intended meaning is supposed to be, according to this interpretation, is entirely unclear to me. If it is meant as a blessing to Gideon, as the OP understands, then I am left wondering why Baal would give Gideon, his archenemy, his blessing (he just smashed his altar)?

Secondly, if Tyndale wanted to be loyal to the text he should have translated thus: "Let Baal increase in him". Instead he modified it to his liking and got his desired "Let Baal give increase", and ignored the rest! I should also add that it is rare in biblical Hebrew to use the word ירבה in conjunction with a person, it is usually used in conjunction with money, silver and gold, children, etc. but to say it on a person, "let Baal increase him", I think is at best outlandish! Why not tell us what Baal would increase: Money or children? Why leave us hanging in the middle?

So I reiterate, the conventional translation in this case is actually the correct translation of ירב. There is no point in asking why they put a curse on Gideon after he smashed their beloved god Baal, something which is to be expected. There is no need to resort to unorthodox approaches when the meaning is as clear as day.

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The name Jerubbaal (yerubba'al) is clearly a compound word. If we follow the etymology given by the verse, it would have been derived from yarib (fight,, root ריב) + ba'al. But the first etymology seems to have required the name to be * yeribba'al. It seems more likely to have been derived from yarubb (be great, root רבב) + ba'al.

The root רבב admittedly only appears in Biblical Hebrew in the perfect aspect; the imperfect aspect is always conjugated with the root רבי. However, the name could be an archaism, and cognate languages do use רבב in the future (see the same distinction in Arabic رب vs. راب ). That would probably be the reason for Tyndale's translation of the name as "may Baal give increase." I, however, would have understood it as "may Baal be great": the former name sounds strange for the reasons Bach wrote in his answer, and since it would already necessarily be an archaism, the meaning of the root could just as well mean "to be great" which is the meaning of the root in Aramaic and Arabic (equivalent to גדל in Biblical Hebrew). I think that the existence of the name Jeroboam (yarob'am) is one reason to prefer this meaning ("may the nation be great" is a more likely name than "may the nation contend").

The name Jerubbaal is explained in the text itself as יָרֶב בּוֹ הַבַּעַל, which must mean "let Baal contend with him." Obviously the text didn't understand Jerubbaal as a theophoric name for Baal. However, the meaning of the text has to be taken separately from the etymology of the name. This could well be a folk etymology in the spirit of the derivation of the words woman (Genesis 2:23) or Samuel (1 Samuel 1:20) which are untenable etymologically. That just means that the derivation of the name as "may Baal contend with him" is ex post facto, i.e. synchronic rather than diachronic: Although the name is more likely to have been originally derived as I suggested above, that doesn't control what the name meant synchronically, i.e. the perception of Hebrew speakers with regard to the meaning of the name at the time when the story was written/originated. In our culture we tend to use diachronic data for "the" etymology, but the Bible, which gives lots of internal explanations for names, clearly preferred synchronic etymologies.

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  • As usual, great answer, +1! I'm just wondering why you think Tyndale took ירב as a form of רבב? The latter according to you means great (I'm not exactly sure where you found this word in the bible. The word רבבות for example means "thousands" or "myriads", but I doubt you are referring to that) whereas Tyndale translates "increase" which I think points to the more common word root רבה as I have written in my post. Do you think my suggestion is untenable? What your reasons for favoring רבב over רבה as the inspiration for Tyndale's translation?
    – Bach
    Apr 5 '19 at 16:40
  • @Bach The root רבב is used only in perfect aspect. The distinction exists e.g. between רַבּוּ (from root רבב) and רָבוּ (from root רבי). The meaning of the two roots is pretty much identical (increase), except that the conjugation of רבב is defective (i.e. always replaced by רבי in the imperfect aspect). My assumption was that Tyndale would have favored רבב because the derivation is clearer (yarubb), but he would have taken the meaning as it usually is in the Bible (equivalent to רבי). My suggestion of "be great" was based on the meaning in cognate languages, not Hebrew itself
    – b a
    Apr 6 '19 at 17:35
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    @Bach Regarding whether I think your suggestion is untenable, I edited in more explanation in the last paragraph of the answer. I think diachronically your derivation is unlikely but that synchronically it is certainly correct
    – b a
    Apr 6 '19 at 17:58
  • ba I did not ask whether my suggestion (רבה) was likely etymologically or that the biblical author ever thought it was the true etymology of ירב (I made it abundantly clear that the biblical author thought that "let Baal fight" was the real origin of his name). My question was whether it is likely that Tyndale read the bible this way: "let Baal give increase" - ירב בו הבעל, as a conjugation of the root רבה contrary to your suggestion that Tyndale took ירב as a conjugation of רבב.
    – Bach
    Apr 7 '19 at 1:00
  • @Bach I don't want to judge the Tyndale commentary without reading it inside, but my suggestion was that he took ירב In ירבעל as a conjugation of רבב, not ירב in ירב בו הבעל which is less ambiguous
    – b a
    Apr 7 '19 at 9:56

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