There are a good number of cities referred to in Y'hoshua, of course, and a sizable percentage (I'm guesstimating about 5%) of them start with ה־‏‎ (most famously הָעַי‎, I think).

  • What determines which ones do?
  • Does it mean "the"? (Note that the ה־‏ combines with the sh'va prefixes, as in "לָעַי" (Y'hoshua 8:2), which makes it seem like it means "the".)

  • 1/22 is 4.5% so this doesn't seem to be so unexpected. – Double AA Oct 21 '12 at 5:29
  • @DoubleAA, note the final, parenthetical remark in my question. – msh210 Oct 21 '12 at 15:58
  • Isn't that a strange place to put your strongest/only bit of evidence? – Double AA Oct 21 '12 at 15:59

It looks like a lot of them are common nouns that became names of cities. For example, העי literally means "the ruins"; הגדרה, "the fence"; החרמה, "the destruction"; and so forth. Probably each of them was named for some prominent local feature or historical event.

So perhaps indeed any such place became known with the prefixed ה (so as to distinguish, for example, between "The Ruins" and any other ruins).

Though there are some exceptions, such as המכמתת in Josh. 16:6. Perhaps indeed those derive from common nouns in non-Semitic languages, or perhaps there "ha" is part of the root word rather than a prefix.


There is a famous mahlokes in Shelah by the Maafilim who tried to defy the decree on the generation of the Midbar to go in to Eretz Canaan. It says that the Canaani crushed them "ad HaHarmah". Most say Harma was the name of the place and others say it means "until the state of destruction." It is clear that either opinion holds that the heh is a prefix and is not part of the name.

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