Q&A: Nabal the Fool
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Wikipedia, the source of all truth, says that Nabal in 1 Samuel 25:25 is “euphemistically translated as fool.” So far as I can tell, it’s always translated as fool or something similar. I can’t seem to find a dirty meaning for “nabal” anywhere. Is that because mainstream scholarship is too prudish or is Wikipedia talking nonsense?
I’ll complain about Wikipedia another time, for now just noting that I took a look at the article and I could find very little right about it.
I don’t think that “fool” is a euphemism here.
In general, it’s hard to know the exact nuances of works like naval, which is why we see translations that include “fool,” “simpleton,” etc. It looks like there are other, possibly related meanings for naval, too, including “sacrilegious person” (which may be why someone thought that “fool” is a euphemism). What’s clear, though, is that it is a derogatory term.
In I Samuel 25, “Nabal” is a person’s name, and the text even observes (25:25) that “he is just like his name,” then using the related n’vala (“disgrace”?) to describe him.
What’s most interesting about naval, though, is its possible connection to nevel, which is a musical instrument — probably a harp or a lyre. Both nevel and nabal come from the root N.B.L, which also gives us n’vela, “carcass” that’s not fit to eat; and n’vala, which we just saw.
Similarly, a “flute” is a chalil. It comes from the root Ch.L.L, and from the same root we get the verb chilel, “to profane”; chalila, “God forbid”; and halal, a slain person.
It might be coincidence, but it doesn’t look like it. Rather, it looks like the names of some musical instruments reflect a decidedly ambivalent attitude toward music.