[b-hebrew] The Name "Simeon"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Dec 7 10:53:49 EST 2007


Pere Porta:
 
1.  In analyzing the names of Jacob’s 12 children, one must distinguish 
between (i) an objective etymological analysis that would be done by a linguist, 
and (ii) clever Hebrew puns being done by the author of the Patriarchal 
narratives, which deftly foreshadow what such sons’ most important actions in the 
future will be.
 
This is easy to see with the name “Reuben”.  As scholar Gerhard von Rad 
noted, one obvious possible etymology of the name “Reuben” would be that it means 
“Look, a son!”.  No linguist would say that the name “Reuben” derives from 
a reference to a deity “looking upon my affliction”.  But the author of the 
Patriarchal narratives is not giving us an objective, scientific etymology of 
the names of Jacob’s 12 sons.  No, he is making clever Hebrew puns that show 
how these sons’ very names can be imaginatively construed as foreshadowing what 
they will end up doing in the rest of the text.
 
As to the name “Simeon” that you discuss, I do not actually disagree with 
the argument that an objective etymology of such name might be based solely on 
the word shama’, meaning “heard”.  As to the ending “-on”, the first word 
that comes to my own mind is “Hebron”.  I think that the suffix “-on” can have 
as one of its possible meanings “place” (as in geographical locale).
 
But the author of the Patriarchal narratives is not doing an objective 
etymology of the name “Simeon”.  Rather, he is using a series of explicit, 
imaginative puns to provide a much more profound meaning for the name “Simeon”.  God 
did not just HEAR about Leah.  No, God HEARD that Leah was HATEFUL to Jacob.  
So the name “Simeon” should therefore have the connotation of “heard, hated”
, in order to make this explicit pun work.  That is where sana’ comes in.  Sana
’ starts with an S-type sound (as do shama’ and Simeon), and sana’ has as 
its other true consonant a nun/N.  So shama’ + sana’ = S-M + S-N = S-M-N/Simeon.
 
The name “Simeon” may pre-date the Patriarchal narratives. If so, that older 
use of the name “Simeon” may very well have been based solely on the word 
shama’.  I agree with you that any older use of the name “Simeon” would not 
have involved the word sana’/“hated” in any way.
 
But the author of the Patriarchal narratives is doing informative puns, not 
objective etymologies.  He wants to foreshadow that both at Shechem and when 
Joseph tells his dreams, the key reaction of Simeon will be “heard, hated”.  At 
the city-state of Shechem, Simeon HEARD that his full-sister Dinah had been 
with the son of the leader of that city-state, and Simeon HATED all the men of 
Shechem for that.  Likewise, in chapter 37 of Genesis the text tells us that 
Joseph made his older half-brothers HEAR/shama’ Joseph tell his dreams, and 
then Simeon and the other older half-brothers HATED/sana’ Joseph for that.
 
This is clever Hebrew wordplay at its finest.  And in my view, this is an 
important aspect of the Patriarchal narratives.  The author of the Patriarchal 
narratives (not Jim Stinehart) is forcing the names of Jacob’s 12 sons to 
foretell what such sons will do in the remainder of the text.  And he does that 
brilliantly (something far beyond my capabilities, needless to say).  I myself am 
not making up these brilliant Hebrew puns.  Rather, I am just noting the 
brilliant Hebrew puns so beautifully made by the author of the Patriarchal 
narratives.
 
2.  As to the aleph in particular, for purposes of punning an aleph is not 
treated as being a true Hebrew consonant by the author of the Patriarchal 
narratives.  As we will see, in the puns on the names of Jacob’s 12 sons the alephs 
are basically ignored.  Only true Hebrew consonants are used for punning 
purposes.
 
I realize that an aleph is in fact a Hebrew consonant.  And it is likely that 
if an objective etymology were being done, the presence or absence of an 
aleph would be very important.  But what I am saying is that for purposes of the 
ubiquitous punning that is done throughout the Patriarchal narratives, the 
alephs are basically ignored.  The large number of puns in the text can be seen 
quite clearly if we focus exclusively on true Hebrew consonantal sounds.  But no 
vowel-type sounds are taken into account when the author of the Patriarchal 
narratives does his punning.
 
We’ve only done two names so far.  But I think that you may see that as we go 
through the 12 names of Jacob’s sons, the author of the Patriarchal 
narratives does his incessant punning based exclusively on the true Hebrew consonantal 
sounds.  Indeed, that very assertion is one of the main reasons why I want to 
examine the puns in the text on the names of Jacob’s 12 sons.
 
3.  To a certain extent, all of your points are valid.  If one were going to 
do an objective etymology of the 12 names of Jacob’s sons, your approach would 
be fine.  But what I am saying is that that is not what is going on in the 
Patriarchal narratives, in my view.  Rather, the author of the Patriarchal 
narratives is using clever Hebrew wordplay to force the names of Jacob’s sons to 
foreshadow their later actions in the text.
 
Neither Jim Stinehart nor the author of the Patriarchal narratives is trying 
to do an objective etymology of the names of Jacob’s 12 sons.  Rather, what I 
am trying to do in these posts is to set forth the multiple puns that the 
author of the Patriarchal narratives imaginatively makes on these 12 names.
 
I think that we will eventually see that all this ubiquitous punning in the 
text has a purpose, and that analyzing these various puns will help us 
understand what the author is trying to tell us in the Patriarchal narratives. 
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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