CHERETHITES or CHERETHIM.
Probably the name of a part of the Philistines; usually, however, designating the whole nation, as in Zeph. ii. 5, where "the nation of the Cherethites" evidently means the Philistines in general. Similarly, Ezek. xxv. 16 and xxx. 5 belong here. A. V. translates "the children of the land [that is in] league." But the true reading after the Ethiopic and partly after the LXX. (which omits the word "land") is: "the children of the Kerethi" (compare Cornill's "Ezekiel"). In Ezek. xxx. 5, where "the children of the land that is in league" are mentioned among the allies of Egypt, the whole of the Philistines must be meant. For the original special meaning compare the earliest passage, I Sam. xxx. 14, which mentions the Cherethites as living in a strip in the southwest of Palestine (the Negeb), near the territory of Judah and of Ziklag. This strip is called the "South" (Negeb) of the Cherethites. From verse 16, where the same district is designated as "the land of the Philistines," it may be inferred that the Cherethites belonged to the Philistines, or that the two terms were used promiscuously.
The name is also found in the frequent phrase "Cherethites and Pelethites." By this phrase was designated the corps d'élite and body-guard (thus correctly, Josephus, "Ant." vii. 5, § 4) of David; compare II Sam. viii. 18 (= I Chron. xviii. 17), xv. 18 (with "the Gittites"; i.e., men from Gath), xx. 7 (among "all the mighty men"), ib. verse 23 (Ket., ); I Kings i. 38, 44 (escorting Solomon to his coronation). If the Carites and Cherethites (II Kings xi. 4) are identical, the same troop was still in existence in the time of Athaliah (see Carites). It is evident, especially from II Sam. xv. 18, that this troop consisted of mercenaries recruited from the warlike Philistines. They are different from the special guards (Hebrew, "runners"; mentioned in Saul's time, I Sam. xxii. 17) of the kings (I Kings xiv. 27 = II Chron. xii. 10); compare "Carites" in II Kings xi. 4, R. V. The threat against "those that leap over the threshold" at the king's court (Zeph. i. 9) is usually explained as referring to soldiers and officials of Philistine blood (compare on their superstitious custom I Sam. v. 5), but see the commentaries for different explanations of that passage. "Pelethi" = "Pelethite" is now generally considered as a shortened form of "Pelishti" = "Philistine," adapted to the Hebrew (according to Ewald). This seems to establish a difference between the Cherethites and the majority of the Philistines. The Septuagint, in the Prophets, translates "Cherethite" by "Cretans," and the tradition is found that the "Palestinians" (Stephen of Byzanz; Tacitus, "Historiæ," v. 2, erroneously of the Jews) had come from Crete. This tradition seems to have sprung from the Septuagint; however, see Caphtor on the question of the origin of the Philistines from the "island [of Caphtor?]" and the frequent identification of "Caphtor" with "Crete." Less probable is the explanation of the two names of nations, "Cherethites" and "Pelethites" as appellative nouns; for instance, by Gesenius, "executioners and runners"; or by Targum (Pesh., some Greek MSS.), "bowmen and slingers"; by the Hexapla in Zephaniah, "corrupted people," for "Cherethites"; by Halévy, "the exiles excluded from their nation," etc.
- W. R. Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, ii. 262;
- Driver, Notes on the Hebrew Text of the Books of Samuel, p. 172;
- Kittel, Hist. of the Hebr. ii. 153, No. 164.
The Haggadah, which always endeavors to idealize the ancient history of Israel, takes the to be not David's heathen body-guard, but a designation for the Great Sanhedrin, to which a very early date is thus ascribed. Hence "kereti" () is interpreted as derived from ("to cut off") in the sense of ("to cut off," "to decree"), the men of the Sanhedrin rendering legal decisions. Similarly, , from , meaning "the elect," or those eminent through their doctrines (Ber. 4a, above; Sanh. 16b, above; on the correct reading compare Rabbinowicz, "Diḳduḳe Soferim," to the passage and Midr. Teh. iii.). Pseudo-Jerome, on II Sam. xx. 23, follows the Jewish tradition, according to which "kereti and peleti" means literally "accidentes et vivificantes," and is used to designate the "congregatio Dei." The Targum's rendering of the passage, "archers and slingers," is adopted by Ḳimḥi also, who adds that there were two families so called, who excelled in the use of those weapons of war (commentary on II Sam. xv. 18).