[b-hebrew] The Name "Simeon"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Dec 7 15:51:42 EST 2007

1.  I agree with your etymological analysis.  A linguist would explain the 
name “Simeon” in terms of the word shama’, and would not see the word sana’ as 
being involved in the etymology of the name “Simeon”.
2.  But I do not see the author of the Patriarchal narratives as being 
engaged in doing altruistic etymologies.  Rather, the author of the Patriarchal 
narratives is setting forth puns on the names of Jacob’s 12 sons which 
simultaneously (i) reflect the immediate circumstances surrounding the birth of each such 
son, and, more importantly, (ii) ingeniously foreshadow what such son’s most 
important actions in the future will turn out to be.  If the name “Simeon” 
simply means “heard”, nothing else, what would be the point of that?  It makes 
etymological sense, but does not advance the storyline of the Patriarchal 
narratives.  But based on the author’s explicit puns, “Simeon” is viewed in the 
text as meaning “heard, hated”.  This not only better describes Leah’s 
reaction to the birth of her second son, but it also deftly foreshadows both of Simeon
’s key actions later in his life, when Simeon “hears” and “hates”.  That’s 
where the real excitement is here.  It does not work etymologically, but 
based on the puns that the author explicitly makes at Genesis 29: 33, it works 
fine from the standpoint of Hebrew punning. 
3.  You are making valid etymological points.  But the author of the 
Patriarchal narratives is making puns.  The two things are not the same, not by a long 
4.  In order to be able to pull off these multiple puns, which are carrying 
so much freight, the author of the Patriarchal narratives must deviate, often 
quite dramatically, from any sort of traditional etymology.  As we are 
beginning to see, all that matches in these many clever puns are the true Hebrew 
consonantal sounds in the key words involved, and the precise order of such true 
Hebrew consonants.  Nothing else matches.  The alephs don’t match.  And shin is 
not distinguished from sin, for punning purposes.
5.  I repeat:  I am not challenging your etymological analysis.  Rather, what 
I am asserting is that the author of the Patriarchal narratives is not doing 
etymology.  Rather, he is doing clever puns.
Scholar Gerhard von Rad complained that there is too much punning in the 
Patriarchal narratives, and that he wished that the text would simply set forth 
the story and the theological points, and forget about all that incessant 
punning.  But as we will see, in my view, much of the story, and much of the 
theology, in the Patriarchal narratives lies precisely in these never-ending puns.
We have only looked at two names so far.  We have ten names still to go.  
What I am trying to show is that all the puns on all 12 names of Jacob’s sons 
work if, and only if, we focus exclusively on the true Hebrew consonantal sounds, 
and the order in which they are presented in the text, while ignoring all 
vowel-type sounds, including all alephs, and making no distinction for punning 
purposes between shin and sin.
I think you may admit that as to the names “Reuben” and “Simeon”, my theory 
of the case has worked fine so far, as long as we are talking puns, not 
etymology.  But we still have ten more names to go.  The question is whether we can 
discern a consistent pattern in how the author of the Patriarchal narratives 
is doing puns on the names of Jacob’s 12 sons.  For the most part, the author 
explicitly tells us in so many words precisely what puns he making on the 
names of Jacob’s sons, though he does not explicitly tell us how these puns may 
foreshadow the later actions of Jacob’s sons.
What counts for me is what the author of the Patriarchal narratives is doing 
with all these many puns.  Whether other Hebrew authors, in other contexts, 
did or did not operate like that is of no concern to me.  The fact that most of 
these puns (indeed, virtually all of these puns) do not track an altruistic 
etymological analysis is not of critical importance.  I agree with the 
etymological analysis of “Simeon” that you and Pere Porta have made.  But I see that 
as being largely irrelevant in our quest to understand what the author of the 
Patriarchal narratives is trying to tell us in his never-ending punning 
throughout the Patriarchal narratives.
In my view, we need to try to figure out what the author of the Patriarchal 
narratives is doing with all these many puns.  Then we may be able to figure 
out what the Patriarchal narratives are actually trying to tell us.  In my view, 
the never-ending puns are important in the Patriarchal narratives.  But I 
would not trust that text for an etymological analysis.  That’s because I do not 
see the author of the Patriarchal narratives as being interested in doing 
altruistic etymologies.  He has much bigger fish to fry.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

**************************************Check out AOL's list of 2007's hottest 

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list