Hormah (Zephath)—Judges 1:17

In its account of the Israelite conquest of the land of Canaan, the book of Judges mentions a city with two different names, one from before the conquest and another afterward. “Now the children of the Kenite, Moses’s father-in-law, went up from the City of Palms, with the children of Judah into the Wilderness of Judah, which lies in the South near Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people. And Judah went with his brother Simeon, and they attacked the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. So the name of the city was called Hormah” (Judg. 1:16, 17). From then on, the Old Testament uses the name Hormah.

Hormah may relate to the Hebrew word ḥrm meaning “devote to destruction,” which might point in the conquest narrative in Judges to the total destruction of the site and its eventual rebuilding by the Israelites. Such a practice was common in the ancient Near East. For instance, Shalmaneser III renamed the city of Til Barsip as Kar-Shalmaneser. Neo-Assyrian documents listed the town as Bit-Adini, and the Arameans changed their original Luwian name of Masuwari to Til Barsip and made it their capital. The Danites also renamed the city of Laish as Dan (Judg. 18:29). The conquest of the city in Judges is reflected in references to Hormah in Numbers and Deuteronomy (Num. 14:45; 21:3; Deut. 1:44). Some, however, propose that the term was used as an adjective rather than a proper name due to the definite article used with the word. The city has also been associated with biblical Arad.

Focusing upon its connection with Arad, some have attempted to identify Zephat either with Tel Masos and Tel Malhata, sites located west of Arad. Another candidate is Tel Halif, based upon that site being in the western Negev and its proximity to biblical Ziklag. It is a large mound located between the coastal region, the desert, and a mountain range, giving it a wide view of neighboring areas.

In summary, when the book of Judges refers to the site of Hormah by its Canaanite name Zephath, it alludes to the ancient Near Eastern tradition of renaming cities to imply a new era in their occupation and the beginning of a new ruling power.


Aharoni, “Zephath of Thutmose,” 110-122.

Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Judges.

Baumgarten, “Mount Miẓpe Yammim,” The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 1061-1063.