Kevin L. Barney klbarney at
Sun Dec 29 10:54:33 EST 2002

As fate would have it, someone on a different list (a more general list,
not devoted to biblical languages at all) recently asked a somewhat
similar question.  I copy below my response (the original question to
which I'm responding can be seen at the bottom of this post.  It had to do
with whether Jerusalem means "New Salem"):

Your question hinges on the etymological relationship
between the cities Salem and Jerusalem.  There is such
a relationship, but it is not the one posited below.

The name "Jerusalem" is first attested in the Egyptian
Execration Texts (19th century B.C.) in the form
Urushalim.  In the Tell El-Amarna letters (diplomatic
correspondence written in Akkadian on clay tablets and
sent to Egypt), the form of the name is Urushalim, and
later Akkadian texts give Urushilimmu.  Scholars
believe that the name we know as Jerusalem is quite
ancient and actually predates the short form Salem.

In the Bible, the Masoretic scribes pointed the text
(IE added vowels) to produce a pronunciation of
Yerushalayim.  In the Aramaic portions, however, the
pronunciation is Yerushalem (the last e is long, as in
English eight), and the Greek transliteration follows
this pronunciation.  The Hebrew ending given by the
Masoretes (the -ayim part) is a dual (IE singular
means one of something, plural means many of
something, but dual means two of something).  Although
it is not entirely clear why they did this, it
apparently has reference to the two parts of the city
(the old city on the hill, and the newer city down

The name Jerusalem is West Semitic and appears to mean
"Foundation of Shalem."  The yeru- element comes from
a verb meaning "to establish," and Shalem (or
Shulmanu) was a Canaanite deity (we know him from the
Ugaritic tablets).

In Genesis 14, Melchizedek is described as King of
Salem.  This is undoubtedly the same place known to us
as Jerusalem, given with a shortened form.  (In
addition to Jerusalem and Salem, the name of the town
is also attested as Beth-shalem, or "House of
Shalem").  In Psalm 76:2, Salem is used poetically as
a short name for Jerusalem.

In later, popular etymology, the -salem element of the
name was recast as being related to shalom, the Hebrew
word for peace.  After all, it would hardly do to have
the name of the holiest city in the world based on
that of a long forgotten Canaanite deity!

So back to your question.  Yes, there is a clear
relationship between Salem and Jerusalem.  But no,
Jerusalem does not mean New Salem (as if it were a
Yankee colony).  Any such account of its naming is not
grounded in history.  The full name Jerusalem actually
predates the shortened form Salem.

--- [name omitted] wrote:
> I heard this from somewhere. I want to find the
> source-if it is true
> there was a city named Salem before the flood. After
> the flood some people
> went and dug the city out of the mud and named it
> the  New Salem
> (Jerusalem)

Kevin Barney
Hoffman Estates, Illinois
klbarney at

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