URIAH (Heb. אוּרִיָּה), the name of four biblical figures (in one case in the variant form Uriahu). The most important of these is Uriah the Hittite, listed as one of David's "heroes" in II Samuel 23:39. While Uriah was away on one of David's campaigns (II Sam. 11), the king noticed his young wife *Bath-Sheba bathing on the roof of her house. He had the young woman brought to him and lay with her. When Bath-Sheba informed him that she was pregnant, David had Uriah recalled from the front in an attempt to cover his sin, but the attempt failed because Uriah felt bound by a vow or a general taboo to shun conjugal relations for the duration of the war. David then sent Uriah back to the very thick of the battle in the hope that he would be killed, which is what occurred. David then married Bath-Sheba and incurred the rebuke of the prophet *Nathan for his behavior.

There have been many attempts by scholars to explain the origin and name of Uriah. H. Gunkel dismissed the whole story as a legend having no historical basis. However, the story may have been well based and Uriah could have been one of the original Jebusite inhabitants of Jerusalem. This people, from whom David conquered the city, were probably of Hittite origin. A. Gustavs identified the name as a Hebrew folk etymology of the Hurrian name Ariya. The name would then mean something like king or ruler. B. Maisler (Mazar) suggested that the name could originally have been a compound of the Hurrian element ur plus the name of a pagan god, which then received an Israelite form. S. Yeivin compared the name Uriah with the other Jebusite name mentioned in the Bible, *Araunah (perhaps from the same root), and suggests that Uriah may have been a high official or perhaps the intended successor of that last Jebusite ruler of Jerusalem.

[Daniel Boyarin]

In the Aggadah

Uriah was not a Hittite; the name merely indicates that he dwelt among them (Kid. 76b). It was Uriah who revealed to David how the various suits of armor of Goliath were joined together so that David could remove them and cut off the head of the giant. Uriah did this on condition that David secure him a Jewish wife. David kept his promise and thus it was that Uriah married Bath-Sheba (unknown Midrash quoted by Moses Alshekh on II Sam. 13). Uriah had incurred the death penalty by his refusal to take his ease in his own house in accordance with the king's command (Shab. 56a); this amounted to an act of rebellion. However, the sin of David was that he did not put him to death, but let him be killed by the sword of the Ammonites (II Sam. 12:9) which was an abomination (Zohar Ex. 107a).

The other bearers of the name Uriah in the Bible include a priest in the reign of Ahaz (Isa. 8:2; II Kings 16:10f.), a priest in the time of Nehemiah (Ezra 8:33; Neh. 3:4, 21; 8:4), and with the slightly variant form of the name, Uriahu (אוּרִיָּהוּ no doubt understood as "YHWH is fire [or light]"), a prophet killed by Jehoiakim (Jer. 26:20–23) for prophesying doom like Jeremiah


A. Gustavs, in: ZAW, 33 (1913), 201ff.; Noth, Personennamen, 168; H.L. Ginsberg and B. Maisler, in: JPOS, 14 (1934), 250–61; S. Yeivin, in: Zion, 9 (1944), 49–69; B. Maisler, in: Yedi'ot, 13 (1947), 105ff; URIAH THE HITTITE IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1913), 88, 103, 126; 6 (1928), 252, 256, 264–5.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.