a'-bi, in the composition of names ('abhi, "father"): The Hebrew words 'abh, "father," and 'ach, "brother," are used in the forming of names, both at the beginning and at the end of words, e.g. Abram ("exalted one"), Joah ("Yahweh is brother"), Ahab ("father's brother"). At the beginning of a word, however, the modified forms 'abhi and 'achi are the ones commonly used, e.g. Ahimelech ("king's brother") and Abimelech (by the same analogy "king's father").
These forms have characteristics which complicate the question of their use in proper names. Especially since the publication in 1896 of Studies in Hebrew Proper Names, by G. Buchanan Gray, the attention of scholars has been called to this matter, without the reaching of any perfect consensus of opinion.
The word 'abhi may be a nominative with an archaic ending ("father"), or in the construct state ("father-of"), or the form with the suffix ("my father"). Hence a proper name constructed with it may supposedly be either a clause or a sentence; if it is a sentence, either of the two words may be either subject or predicate. That is to say, the name Abimelech may supposedly mean either "father of a king," or "a king is father," or "a father is king," or "my father is king," or "a king is my father." Further, the clause "father of a king" may have as many variations of meaning as there are varieties of the grammatical genitive. Further still, it is claimed that either the word father or the word king may, in a name, be a designation of a deity. This gives a very large number of supposable meanings from which, in any case, to select the intended meaning.
The older scholarship regarded all these names as construct clauses. For example, Abidan is "father of a judge." It explained different instances as being different varieties of the genitive construction; for instance, Abihail, "father of might," means mighty father. The woman's name Abigail, "father of exultation," denotes one whose father is exultant. Abishai, "father of Jesse," denotes one to whom Jesse is father, and so with Abihud, "father of Judah," Abiel, "father of God," Abijah, "father of Yahweh." See the cases in detail in Gesenius' Lexicon.
The more recent scholarship regards most or all of the instances as sentences. In some cases it regards the second element in a name as a verb or adjective instead of a noun; but that is not important, inasmuch as in Hebrew the genitive construction might persist, even with the verb or adjective. But in the five instances last given the explanation, "my father is exultation," "is Jesse," "is Judah," "is God," "is Yahweh," certainly gives the meaning in a more natural way than by explaining these names as construct clauses.
There is sharp conflict over the question whether we ought to regard the suffix pronoun as present in these names--whether the five instances should not rather be translated Yahweh is father, God is father, Judah is father, Jesse is father, exultation is father. The question is raised whether the same rule prevails when the second word is a name or a designation of Deity as prevails in other cases. Should we explain one instance as meaning "my father is Jesse," and another as "God is father"?
A satisfactory discussion of this is possible only under a comprehensive study of Bible names. The argument is more or less complicated by the fact that each scholar looks to see what bearing it may have on the critical theories he holds. In the Hebrew Lexicon of Dr. Francis Brown the explanations exclude the construct theory; in most of the instances they treat a name as a sentence with "my father" as the subject; when the second part of the name is a designation of Deity they commonly make that the subject, and either exclude the pronoun or give it as an alternative. For most persons the safe method is to remember that the final decision is not yet reached, and to consider each name by itself, counting the explanation of it an open question.
The investigations concerning Semitic proper names, both in and out of the Bible, have interesting theological bearings. It has always been recognized that words for father and brother, when combined in proper names with Yah, Yahu, El, Baal, or other proper names of a Deity, indicated some relation of the person named, or of his tribe, with the Deity. It is now held, though with many differences of opinion, that in the forming of proper names many other words, e.g. the words for king, lord, strength, beauty, and others, are also used as designations of Deity or of some particular Deity; and that the words father, brother, and the like may have the same use. To a certain extent the proper names are so many propositions in theology. It is technically possible to go very far in inferring that the people who formed such names thought of Deity or of some particular Deity as the father, the kinsman, the ruler, the champion, the strength, the glory of the tribe or of the individual. In particular one might infer the existence of a widely diffused doctrine of the fatherhood of God. It is doubtless superfluous to add that at present one ought to be very cautious in drawing or accepting inferences in this part of the field of human study.
Willis J. Beecher