[b-hebrew] The Name "Simeon"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Dec 6 10:12:51 EST 2007


The name of Jacob’s second son is “Simeon”.  Here is the relevant JPS1917 
translation regarding the name “Simeon”:  “And she [Leah] conceived again, and 
bore a son;  and said:  'Because the LORD [YHWH] hath heard that I am hated, 
He hath therefore given me this son also.'  And she called his name Simeon.”  
Genesis 29: 33
 
In my view, there are four key Hebrew words involved here, as follows:
 
SHIN/SIN-MEM-ayin:  shama’/“heard”
 
SHIN/SIN-NUN-aleph:  sana’/“hated”  [At Genesis 29: 33, the form of this 
word is SHIN/SIN-NUN-vav-aleph-heh.]
 
NUN-tav-NUN:  nathan/“given”  [At Genesis 29: 33, the form of this word is 
yod-tav-NUN.]
 
SHIN/SIN-MEM-ayin-vav-NUN:  “Simeon”
 
There are three key Hebrew true consonants here:  (1) shin/sin, (2) mem, and 
(3) nun, in that order.  I myself see three levels of deliberate puns here, 
with the second level pun being by far the most important.
 
1.  Pun #1:  shama’/“heard”
 
Secular scholars apparently see the name “Simeon” as solely being a play on 
the word shama/“heard”.  Each of Robert Alter and the editors of the JPS1985 
translation say that.  Gesenius sees “Simeon” as meaning “hearing with 
acceptance”.  Gerhard von Rad sees “Simeon” as meaning “God has heard”. 
 
2.  Pun #2:  shama’/“heard” + sana’/“hate”
 
The three true consonants in “Simeon” are shin/sin + mem + nun.  In this key 
pun #2, I see two words as being combined to form the name “Simeon”.  Each 
of the two words starts with shin/sin, and then has only one other true 
consonant.  The first such word, shama’/“heard”, has mem as its other true 
consonant.  Shortly thereafter in the text, the second such word, sana’/“hate”, has 
nun as its other true consonant.  So “Simeon” fittingly starts with shin/sin, 
and then has first mem, and then nun, in that order.  (As always, the 
vowel-type sounds should be ignored completely.  Note that the true consonant sounds 
here match, as with the puns on the name “Reuben”.  Note also that for purposes 
of punning, no distinction is made between shin and sin.)
 
Shama’ + sana’ = “Simeon”.  SHIN/SIN-MEM-ayin/“heard” + SHIN/SIN-NUN-aleph/
“hate” = SHIN/SIN-MEM-ayin-vav-NUN/“Simeon”.  Using “S” to represent a 
shin or sin, we have:  S-M/shama’ + S-N/sana’ = S-M-N/“Simeon”.
 
Thus “Simeon” means “heard, hated”.  As discussed below, this pun #2 is by 
far the most important pun on the name “Simeon”.  It primarily means that 
Simeon “heard” Joseph’s controversial dreams, and Simeon “hated” Joseph for 
that.  “Heard, hated.”
 
3.  Pun #3:  shama’/“heard” + sana’/“hate” + nathan/“given” 
 
The last clause in Genesis 29: 33 can be brought into play with just a little 
stretching.  The word nun-tav-nun/“given” features two nuns.  The tav 
(though it is a true consonant) in the middle of nathan cannot appear in the name “
Simeon”, because that would obscure the main pun on the word “heard”.  But the 
double nun in nathan suggests that the nun in Simeon is in part coming from, 
and reflects, the word nathan, meaning “given”.
 
Now the name “Simeon” can be viewed as encompassing all of what is said at 
Genesis 29: 33:  “(YHWH,) having HEARD [shama’] (that I) am HATED [sana’], 
hath GIVEN [nathan] (me another son)”.  “Heard, hated, given.”
 
SHIN/SIN-MEM-ayin/“heard” + SHIN/SIN-NUN-aleph/“hated” + NUN-tav-NUN/“given”
 = “Simeon”/SHIN/SIN-MEM-ayin-vav-NUN.  S-M + S-N + N-N = S-M-N/“Simeon”.
 
Significance of Pun #2
 
The minor meaning of pun #2 is that it foreshadows Simeon’s key role in the 
bloody incident at Shechem in chapter 34 of Genesis, which is one of the things 
that earns Simeon a final curse from his father Jacob.  Simeon, having “heard”
 that his full-sister Dinah had been with young Shechem (the son of the 
leader of the city-state of Shechem), “hated” all the men of Shechem for that, and 
would not allow his sister Dinah to be “given” to a man of Shechem.  
 
But the critically important meaning of pun #2 is its reference to Simeon 
being the ringleader of the near-murder of his young half-brother Joseph in 
chapter 37 of Genesis.  Simeon, having “heard” Joseph tell everyone Joseph’s 
controversial dreams that seemed to foretell that Joseph would rule over all his 
older half-brothers, “hated” Joseph for that, especially since Joseph alone had 
so conspicuously been “given” the coat of many colors by their father Jacob.
 
Three verses of text at Genesis 37: 4, 5, 8 use the word sana’/“hate” to 
describe the feelings of “hate” that Simeon and Jacob’s other older sons have 
toward their young half-brother Joseph.  And at Genesis 37: 6, Joseph aggravates 
his older half-brothers when he tells them that they must “hear”/shama’ him 
tell them his dream.  Simeon will “hear”/shama’ Joseph tell that 
controversial dream, and then Simeon will almost murder young Joseph in “hatred”/sana’.  
In my view, the name “Simeon”/S-M-N deftly incorporates the two words shama’/“
heard”/S-M and sana’/“hate”/S-N.
 
If one reads first Genesis 29: 33, and then Genesis 37: 4-8, one will see 
this clever Hebrew wordplay, which is truly brilliant.  The words shama’/“heard” 
and sana’/“hate” are explicitly present in both places.  These two words are 
beautifully combined to form the name “Simeon”/S-M-N, who “heard”/shama’
/S-M his half-brother Joseph’s dream, and “hated”/sana’/S-N Joseph for it.  
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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