[b-hebrew] The Meaning of "Shinab" and "Shemeber" at Genesis 14: 2

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Dec 8 09:59:22 EST 2008


The Meaning of “Shinab” and “Shemeber” at Genesis 14: 2
 
In the “four rulers against the five” at Genesis 14: 9, the five defending 
parties may be the five leading Late Bronze Age cities in the fertile Jezreel 
Valley, in the heart of Canaan.  After all, the valuable grain-growing fields 
of the Jezreel Valley would be the most logical target for invaders of Canaan.  
Genesis 14: 2 lists those five defending parties in order of importance (not 
in geographical order).  Sodom/Beth Shan comes first.  Uniquely, its ruler has 
a morally positive name, “Bera”, meaning “Mr. Clean” (as discussed in 
earlier posts).  BR( = BR + ( = “Mr. Clean”.  For this one ruler (unlike the 
others), his city-state will not turn to the dark side and become evil until “Mr. 
Clean” has been wrongfully ousted as the proper ruler of Sodom/Beth Shan.
 
The other three defending rulers’ names set forth at Genesis 14:2 are morally 
neutral.  They are good rulers in chapter 14 of Genesis, but by chapters 18 
and 19 of Genesis they have gone over to the dark side.  For a ruler’s name 
that is morally neutral, the focus of the name would most naturally be on the 
particular characteristics of the specific city in the Jezreel Valley that he 
rules.  After Beth Shan, the second most important Late Bronze Age city in the 
Jezreel Valley was Megiddo/Gomorrah.  As discussed in earlier posts, the ruler’s 
name “Birsha” means “Mr. Cypress”, or “Mr. Megiddo Cypress Harp”.  This 
focuses on the fact that Megiddo was world-famous for the Megiddo Harp made out 
of local cypress at Megiddo.  BR$( = BRW$ + ( = “Mr. Cypress”.  At Genesis 
14: 2, the first leader’s name given is “Bera”, and then comes “Birsha”.
 
The next two cities in the Jezreel Valley, in order of importance, are Afula 
(Afula the Great), and the city of Jezreel.  On the foregoing theory of the 
case, we would expect “Shinab” to be the name of the ruler of Afula (the third 
most important Late Bronze Age city in the Jezreel Valley), and “Shemeber” 
(the last named defending ruler) to be the name of the ruler of the city of 
Jezreel.
 
Afula is located at the foot of a steep cliff, namely Mount Hamore.  “For 
[ayin]-p-r wr [item # 53 on the Thutmosis III list]…identification with modern 
[ayin]Affuleh in the central Jezreel Valley may be considered, cr. M. Dothan, ‘
The Excavations at [ayin]Afula’, “Atiqot, Journal of the Israel Department of 
Antiquities”, I (1955), 22 f.”  (Note that R in Egyptian comes out as lamed/L 
in west Semitic here.)  Although Yigal Levin has rightly pointed out that 
archaeological findings to date at Afula are for the Early and Middle Bronze Age 
and the Iron Age, rather than the Late Bronze Age, we know that, as with the 
case of Jerusalem, a sandwich layer, the Late Bronze Age, is sometimes not 
evident archaeologically.  Here, we know that Afula was important in the Late 
Bronze Age because it is listed as Afula the Great on the Thutmosis III list in 
the mid-15th century BCE.
 
We likewise know that the city of Jezreel was located on a spur of Mt. 
Gilboa, overlooking the whole Jezreel Valley.  
 
Based on the foregoing analysis, an appropriate name for the ruler of Afula 
would be “Steep Cliff”, since Afula is located at the foot of a “steep cliff”
.  An appropriate name for the ruler of Jezreel, by contrast, would be “
Soaring on High”, since Jezreel is located on a low mountain grandly overlooking the 
Jezreel Valley.  
 
That is exactly what those two names mean!
 
1.  Shinab
 
$N)B = $N + )B
 
$N = “cliff”.  I Samuel 14: 4.  $N usually means “tooth”, as at Genesis 49: 
12, but it can also mean “sharp rock” or “crag” or “cliff” (or anything 
sharp), as at I Samuel 14: 4 and Job 39: 28.  Cf. Bronze Age Akkadian shinn- 
meaning “tooth”, and Assyrian sinnu, meaning “sharpen”.  $N here may be a short 
form, or 2-consonant archaic root, of $NN, meaning “sharpen”:  $NWN at 
Proverbs 25: 18.
 
)B = “father” or “principal” or “chief”, and can have all manner of 
corresponding figurative meanings emphasizing priority or prominence.  Cf. Bronze 
Age Akkadian ab-, Assyrian abu, and Ugaritic ab (spelled with an aleph).
 
The name “Shinab” -- $N + )B -- thus means “principal cliff” or “Steep Cliff
”.  This name emphasizes that this ruler’s city, Afula, is located by a “
steep cliff” in the Jezreel Valley.
 
2.  Shemeber
 
$M)BR = $M + )BR
 
$M = $MH.  $M is the Bronze Age archaic 2-consonant root of the Biblical 
Hebrew word $MH.  $M is like Bronze Age Assyrian samu, in the singular, meaning “
heavens, sky”.  Cf. Akkadian shamu (with only one M) meaning “sky/heavens”, 
and smm (with two M’s) in Ugaritic, meaning “heaven”.
 
$MH = “lofty, sky, air, heaven, on high”.  But in Biblical Hebrew, this word 
is always used in the plural, e.g. $MYM at Genesis 14: 19, 22 and many other 
places in the Patriarchal narratives, meaning “heaven”.  The same plural form 
is used to mean “air” at Deuteronomy 4: 17;  28: 26.  Deuteronomy 10: 14 has 
the constructive state $MY.  No such suffixes appear in this Bronze Age 
proper name, however, where the Bronze Age archaic 2-consonant root is simply $M.  
 
)BR = “to fly” or “soar”.  Job 39: 26.  Cf. Bronze Age Assyrian abaru, 
meaning “strong”.  Cognate words in Hebrew include )BR at Isaiah 40: 31 meaning “
wings”, and entail “strong enough to move wings”, and hence “to fly”.     
 
The name “Shemeber” -- $M + )BR -- thus means “Soaring on High”.  (Of the 
four rulers’ names, this is the only one where I agree with Gesenius’ 
analysis.)  This name emphasizes that this ruler’s city, Jezreel, is located on a 
mountain having a fabulous view of the fertile Jezreel Valley, so that one feels 
as if one is “soaring on high” when one is at the scenic city of Jezreel in 
the Jezreel Valley.
 
Note how all four names of the defending rulers at Genesis 14: 2 perfectly 
fit a Jezreel Valley location, which is the most likely target for any invasion 
of Canaan that focused on Canaan itself.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois
 
 
CORRECTION.  I apologize for an important mistake I made in my prior post.  
The letter near the end of the Ugaritic word for “four” is not an aleph, as I 
mistakenly said.  Rather, such letter is an ayin, similar to Biblical Hebrew.  
I sincerely apologize for that mistake.  (In English typeface, it is hard to 
distinguish aleph from ayin in Ugaritic.  I apparently just looked at it 
wrong.)  I also discovered that there is an alternate form of the Ugaritic word for 
the number “four”, which is arb‘, being essentially identical to the Hebrew 
common word for the number “four”:  aleph-resh-bet-ayin.  As correctly noted 
in my prior post, rbt in Ugaritic has no ayin, and means “myriad” or “10,000”
.

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