By: Emil G. Hirsch
Plural of ; occurs as transliteration of the Hebrew in the English translation of Zeph. i. 4, and also as the marginal reading both in A. V. and R. V. to II Kings xxiii. 5 and Hosea x. 5, where the text renders the Hebrew by "idolatrous priests" and "priests." In Zeph. i. 4 the Septuagint omits it, and this in connection with the parallelism goes far to indicate that there it is an interpolation. But Wellhausen and others have, by emending the passage in Hosea iv. 4, , to read (my people like its idolatrous priests), claimed for the word another passage in old Hebrew writings.
The meaning of the word is well assured to be "priests." It occurs with certainty in this acceptation in Semitic inscriptions (Halévy, in "Rev. Sém." 1896, pp. 280, 282; "C. I. S." ii. 170), and possibly as "kamiru" on the El-Amarna tablets (Bezold, "Oriental Dipolmacy," p. 92). In the Aramaic and in the Peshiṭta "kumra" stands for "priest" without tinge of evil sense. In Neo-Hebrew designates a Catholic priest and monk. In the passages quoted above, the term without doubt carries a by-flavor of disrepute. It is the "idol-worshiping priest" that is so denominated. And in this sense the appellation is very frequent in the Talmud (, 'Ar. 30b; , Pesiḳ. R. 65c).
The etymology, however, is not so clear. Usually it is associated with the verb "kamar," to be black. Ḳimḥi, among others, is of this opinion, and derives the meaning "priest" from the circumstance that the "priests wore black garments." Others connect the root with the idea to be sad, "kumra" being a sad person; i.e., an ascete, monk, priest. Delitzsch, in "Assyrisches Handwörterbuch," holds it to have sprung from "kamaru," to overthrow, to prostrate, the "priest" being he who prostrates himself before the idol. Perhaps the meaning of in the Nif'al (" to grow hot") best explains the transition to "priest" with a by-sense of "reprobate." The old Semitic idols were without exception worshiped by intemperate (sexual) excesses. The "hot" "exciting man" was the priest κατ' ἐξοχήν.