W. A. M. Beuken and U. Dahmen discusses the meaning of "רֹאשׁ"; its figurative meanings include chief, tribal chief, family head, and head(s) of people as a whole.

W. A. M. Beuken

W. A. M. Beuken and U. Dahmen, “רֹאשׁ I,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry 16 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 13:248–261 (Logos ed.)

Logos, Eerdmans
W. A. M. Beuken, U. Dahmen
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V. Figurative Usage with Persons

1. Chief. The noun rōʾš is frequently used figuratively to designate a person who is the “chief” or “leader” of a social group. Such an “office” appears to be rooted originally in tribal structures, within which it denotes someone who exercises military and juridical authority. Most important, however, is its integrative function: the chief is responsible for the well-being and common life of the community; Jgs. 11:4–11 even distinguishes the chief from the military commander (qāṣîn). With the disappearance of tribal structures, somehow the title together with its functions—the juridical more than the military—gradually penetrated other social organizations.38 We find the following specific applications:

a. Tribal chief, in combination with words meaning “tribe” or “clan” (rāʾšê hammaṭṭôṯ, Nu. 30:2[1]; 1 K. 8:1; 2 Ch. 5:2; rāʾšê šiḇṭêḵem, Dt. 1:13, 15; 5:23; 29:9; rāʾšê ʾalp̱ê yiśrāʾēl, Nu. 1:16; 10:4; Josh. 22:21, 30), or with the name of the tribe or its eponymous ancestor (Jgs. 10:18; 11:8–11; Mic. 3:1, 9; 1 Ch. 11:42; 2 Ch. 28:12).

b. Family head, usually in combination with words meaning “ancestral house” (bêṯ ʾaḇôṯ, Ex. 6:14, 25; Nu. 1:4; 7:2; 17:18[3]; Josh. 22:14; 1–2 Chronicles passim; or simply hāʾāḇôṯ, Ezr. 2:68; 3:12; 4:2–3; 8:1; 10:16; Neh. 7:70; 8:13; 11:13; 12:12, 22–23), occasionally with additional qualification (Nu. 25:15; 31:26; 32:28; 36:1; Josh. 14:1; 19:51; 21:1; Ezr. 1:5; 2 Ch. 19:8), or in combination with words denoting hereditary professions (priests, Neh. 12:7; Levites, Neh. 12:24), or with the name(s) of the individual(s) in question (Ezr. 8:16–17; 1 Ch. 5:7, 12; 7:3; 9:17; 12:3, 19[18]; 16:5; 23:8, 11, 16, 20, 24; 26:10, 31; 2 Ch. 24:6).

c. Head(s) of the people as a whole (ʿām, Ex. 18:25; Nu. 25:4; Dt. 33:5, 21; Job 12:24; Neh. 10:15[14]; according to Bartlett also 1 K. 21:9, 12; Job 29:25; [benê] yiśrāʾēl, Nu. 13:3; Josh. 23:2; 24:1).

d. Unique expressions are “heads of the province” (meḏînâ, Neh. 11:3) and “heads of the men” (geḇārîm, 1 Ch. 24:4).

When we examine the historical development of official titles, we see that the Chronicler comes to identify śar and rōʾš, using śar in titles that normally require rōʾš and vice versa. The result is an irregular choice of words (cf. 1 Ch. 27:22 with 1 S. 15:17; 1 Ch. 21:2 with Nu. 25:4 and Dt. 33:5, 21; 2 Ch. 36:14 with Neh. 12:7; vice versa in 1 Ch. 12:15, 19, 21; irregular: 1 Ch. 11:6).

2. King. The embryonic monarchy understood the new office of king as a continuation of the ancient office of tribal chief, using the title rōʾš in parallel with meleḵ (1 S. 15:17; cf. Job 29:25), but also in a more restricted sense as a functional term for an office of military or forensic leadership (cf. Jgs. 9:7ff. with 10:18; 11:8) and finally in new combinations such as “head of the nations” (2 S. 22:44). This understanding of the royal office continued to shape later thought (1 Ch. 29:11; 2 Ch. 11:22), perhaps as an implicit attack on the division of the kingdom (Hos. 2:2[1:11]). The title is also used in reference to alien structures of hegemony (neśîʾ rōʾš, Ezk. 38:2–3; 39:1).

Isa. 7:8–9 involves a play on two semantic aspects of the word rōʾš: “capital” and “prince,” corresponding to Damascus and Samaria, Rezin and Pekah, in cynical contrast to God’s own characterization of these kings as “tails” (zanḇôṯ hāʾûḏîm, usually translated “stumps”) in v. 4, presumably an allusion to a proverb (cf. Isa. 9:13–14[14–15]; 19:15; Dt. 28:13, 44: “They shall be the head and you shall be the tail”). The functional peculiarity of rōʾš may explain why it exhibits no diachronic development in combination with either meleḵ or nāg̱îḏ.

3. Commander. The meaning “military commander” also has its roots in the meaning “tribal chief” (Nu. 14:4; Neh. 9:17). Used in this sense, rōʾš can stand by itself (also Ezr. 7:28; 1 Ch. 12:3, 33[2, 32]), be specified in a military sense as “chief” and “commander” (śar, 1 Ch. 11:6; cf. 27:3), or be linked with words for military units such as “chief of the three” or “of the thirty” (2 S. 23:8, 13, 18; 1 Ch. 11:11, 20; 12:19), “chiefs of the thousands” (1 Ch. 12:21[20]), “chiefs of David’s warriors (gibbôrîm)” (1 Ch. 11:10), and “officers of the army (ṣāḇāʾ)” (1 Ch. 12:15[14]).

4. Other. Later, rōʾš loses the sociological overtones of “tribal chief” and comes to signify the highest-ranking functionary of an official group, above all the “chief priest.” This term is always applied to preexilic figures and may retain overtones of juristic authority, as in the ancient tribal office: kōhēn hārōʾš (2 K. 25:18; Jer. 52:24 [cf. in these texts also the “second priest,” kōhēn hammišneh]; 1 Ch. 27:5; 2 Ch. 19:11; 24:11; 26:20) and hakkōhēn hārōʾš (2 Ch. 31:10; Ezr. 7:5), or simply hārōʾš (2 Ch. 24:6). Other examples of this usage occur sporadically: “leader of praise” (Neh. 11:17, reading tehillâ with LXX), “leader of the singers” (mešōrerîm: Neh. 12:46). In Isa. 29:10 “your heads, the seers,” par. “your eyes, the prophets,” is not an instance of technical professional terminology but the explanation of a metaphor. Finally, in Jer. 13:21 and Lam. 1:5, rōʾš has the general sense of “lord” or “master.”

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