Why does Laban’s name mean “white”?

For years, I’ve never seen any commentary on why Laban is called “whitie” (literally “white” in Hebrew).  “Lavanah” is one of the names of the moon in Hebrew, because it is white.

So often in literature, white is seen as good, and black with evil. Laban is associated with evil, yet his name is “Lavan”, which means “white” in Hebrew. A phrase from the Passover Seder says: “Go and realize what Laban the Aramean wished to inflict on Jacob, our patriarch. Pharaoh decreed against the males only, however Laban wish to uproot all.”

If you read “LaVaN” backwards, you get “NaVaL”, which means “villian” or “fool (intellectually and/or morally)” (Job 30:8, Deut 32:6, II Sam 3:33). Yet in the Tanach, “white” connotes purity, cleanliness, and celebration.

Not until 1666, Isaac Newton discovered that white light is a mixture of all colors. According to Wikipedia:

White light refracted in a prism revealing the color components.

Until Newton’s work became accepted, most scientists believed that white was the fundamental color of light; and that other colors were formed only by adding something to light. Newton demonstrated this was not true by passing white light through a prism, then through another prism. If the colors were added by the prism, the second prism should have added further colors to the single-colored beam. Since the single-colored beam remained a single color, Newton concluded that the prism merely separated the colors already present in the light. White light is the effect of combining the visible colors of light in suitable proportions (the same present in solar light).

Haim Shore, in his book “Coincidences in the Bible and Biblical Hebrew” suggests as light is a mixture of color, Laban is a character who mixes things, namely 1) his parents, 2) his children, 3) religious faiths, 4) languages, 5) property. What does it mean to “mix his parents and children”? Laban is the son of Betuel (JPS Genesis 28:5 And Isaac sent away Jacob; and he went to Paddan-aram unto Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean). Genesis 24:50 “Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said:”. Note that the son is listed before the father, and in Hebrew, the verb is singular. Out of respect, one would expect the father to speak. Yet publicly, he is known as the son of Nahor. JPS Genesis 29:5 And he said unto them: ‘Know ye Laban the son of Nahor?’ Thus Laban mixes his father and grandfather as though they are of no consequence. You are probably more familiar with the story where Laban mixes or exchanges his daughters, giving Leah to Jacob for his seven years of work, when the agreement was for Rachel.

In Genesis 31:53 Laban is continues his speech: “The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us.” (Note: Elohei can be translated “God of” or “gods of”). Here, he “mixes” the two concepts of God and religions, as if they were equal, i.e. mixing monotheism and paganism.

Genesis 31:47-48 “And Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha; but Jacob called it Galeed. And Laban said: ‘This heap is witness between me and thee this day.’ Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;”. Galeed or “Gal-Ed” in Hebrew literally means “a testimony pile of stones”, but Laban calls it by the Aramaic name: “Yegar Sahaduta”, thus using language interchangeably without consequence.

And finally, Laban mixes property. In Genesis chapters 30-31, he tricks Jacob, and any attempt by Jacob to separate his cattle from Laban’s is responded to with deceit, and Laban does his utmost to obstruct such separation.

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One Response to Why does Laban’s name mean “white”?

  1. Mike says:

    Just found your site, I appreciate your efforts. I am reading in Genesis 31 and was interested if Galeed was a known location. Do you know?

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