🔼The name Beth-shan in the Bible
The name Beth-shan occurs three times in the Bible but in the same context. At the conclusion of the battle of Mount Gilboa, king Saul's sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchi-shua were killed by the Philistines and Saul was heavily wounded. Fearing humiliation and torture, Saul and his weapon bearer committed suicide. When the Philistines found him the next day, they sent his weapons to their temple of Ashtaroth and impaled his decapitated body and those of his sons on the wall of Beth-shan (1 Samuel 31:10). Word of this reached the men of Jabesh-gilead, who promptly walked to Beth-shan, took down the bodies, brought them to Jabesh, burned them there and buried the bones under a tamarisk tree (1 Samuel 31:12).
Years later, a famine struck Israel and YHWH informed king David that this was happening because of the way Saul had treated the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1, now spelled with a maqqep: בית־שן). David asked the Gibeonites to name their price, and they demanded seven descendants of Saul to be hanged at Gibeah. David conceded and gave them the two sons of Rizpah, Saul's concubine, and five sons of Merab, Saul's daughter. We don't hear about Merab's reaction to all of this, but Rizpah guarded the bodies of her sons against further violation. When David heard of this, he retrieved the bones of Saul and his sons from the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had "stolen them from the open square of Beth-shan" (2 Samuel 21:12) and buried them in their family grave in Benjamin. That finally appeased the Lord.
Scholars generally assume that Beth-shan is the same as Beth-shean, but that is conjecture.
🔼Etymology of the name Beth-shan
The name Beth-shan consists of two elements. The first part is identical to the common Hebrew word בית (bayit) meaning house:
Because the name Beth-shan (בית שן) is assumed to be a contracted version of Beth-shean (בית־שאן), the second part of our name is thought to come from the verb שאן (sha'an), meaning to be undisturbed:
However, when the letter א (aleph) is dropped from שאן (sha'an), the word שן (shen) appears and that word means tooth, and comes from the verb שנן (shanan), meaning to sharpen:
If the author of this story indeed meant Beth-shan as an unexplained contraction of Beth-shean, it means House Of Security (NOBSE Study Bible Name List), Place Of Quiet (BDB Theological Dictionary) or House Of Rest (Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names). But perhaps the author contracted this name to indicate that this House Of Rest became House Of Sharpness when it hosted the humiliation of Saul and his sons and in effect the monarchy of Israel at large.