Debir — the City of Books

“And they went from there against those who dwelt in Debiyr — the name of Debiyr was Qiryath-Sepher.”

Names fascinate me. Qiryath-Sepher (or Kiriath-Sepher as many Bibles transliterate) literally means, “The City of the Book” or “The City of Writings.” The Greek translation of this city is Po/liß Gramma/ton (Polis Grammaton) — “The City of Letters (Epistles).” Later, then, this city’s name is changed to Debiyr (Debir in most modern transliterations), which most likely is derived from the Hebrew word, rAb∂d (dabar — meaning, “word”), though ryIb∂d (Dabiyr) is also used to refer to a holy sanctuary — see 1 Kings 6:5, 8:6, Psalm 28:2, 2 Chronicles 5:7 to see the term applied to the Holy of Holies in the Temple.

What adds to the interest is that many digs have been done in the area presuming (by its name) that it would contain a library of sorts — a treasure trove for scholarly research. Such a trove has yet to be found. William Albright, one of the founders of the modern Biblical Archaeology movement, thought that he found Debiyr — a dig that is today referred to as Tell Beit Mirsim. Yet no library was found, though there is evidence of an active weaving industry — potentially a place of trade for travelers. Albright’s view about the location of Debiyr is challenged by some, but archaeology is a constantly changing discipline.

If, though, Debiyr is a reference to a holy place — a monastery of sorts perhaps located there in ancient times — it is perhaps feasible to identify the city not so much as a library of academic pursuits, but a place where various monks (likely pagan) would come to pray — a place where the scrolls were written, not kept. Yet, all this is speculation — how did this city get its name? We just do not know.

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