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Meaning and etymology of the name Saul or Shaul

Saul or Shaul Saul

English Bibles make a distinction between the Hebrew names Saul and Shaul but there's no real call for that, except that Shaul comes closer to the Hebrew pronunciation than Saul.

The name Saul or Shaul is applied four times in the Bible. Most famously is Saul the son of Kish, who was anointed as the first king of Israel by Samuel the prophet and last of the judges (1 Samuel 10:1). King Saul never managed to unite the tribes and became a bit of a loser king. His relationship with his future successor David is stormy to say the least. Saul tries to kill him but also offers his daughters Merab and Michal to him as wives (David marries Michal but not Merab). Saul's son Jonathan becomes David's beloved friend, but both Saul and Jonathan die in combat against the Philistines.

The men named Shaul in the Bible are a king of Edom who came from Rehoboth on the Euphrates (Genesis 36:37); a son of Simeon and a Canaanite woman who became patriarch of the Shaulites (Genesis 46:10, Numbers 26:13); and a Levite of the family of Kohath (1 Chronicles 6:24).

The name Saul or Shaul comes from the verb shaal (sha'al) meaning to ask, inquire, borrow, beg. This verb occurs all over the Bible, in all expectable ways. Most notably is the usage in entreaty for God's guidance or salvation (1 Samuel 23:2, Joshua 9:14). In these cases this verb occurs often without a subject: people "ask of" the Lord but what it is that they ask for lies interred in the story.

The derivatives of this verb are:

The noun sheela (she'la) meaning request or demand (Judges 8:24, 1 Samuel 1:27).
The noun mish'ala (mish'ala), meaning petition or desire (Psalm 20:5, Psalm 37:4).

Then there is the difficult word sheol (she'ol 2303c), which is the famous word Sheol, meaning grave, pit, or, according to most translations, hell. Curiously enough, this word Sheol is spelled identical to the name Shaul, but according to the Masoretes, pronounced slightly different.

For a meaning of the name Shaul or Saul, NOBS Study Bible Name List reads Asked (of God), although God is not referred to in this name. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads a more correct Asked For.



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