Bible Review 20:2, April 2004

Caleb the Dog

How a Biblical Good Guy Got a Bad Name

By John S. Crawford

It’s hard to imagine any parents calling their child Dog. But that’s just what the Bible tells us Jephunneh and his wife did: They named their son Caleb—from klb, the Hebrew root for “dog.” Is it just an unfortunate appellation? Or did the biblical authors have a reason to identify this great leader, who helped scout out the Holy Land for Moses (Numbers 13:2, 6), with a canine?

Throughout the Bible, names carry symbolic meaning. The first mother bears the name Eve, meaning “life”; Adam means “man.” Ishmael is called “God hears” because God hears his mother, Hagar, cry out in the wilderness (Genesis 16:11).

Many biblical bad guys are given bad names. The name of David’s antagonist Nabal means “boor” or “fool.” Saul’s fourth son, another of David’s enemies, is referred to as Ish-bosheth, “man of shame.”1

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