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Meaning and etymology of the name Shiloh

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The name Shiloh is applied twice in the Bible, once as a Messianic title (Genesis 49:10, spelled Shiloh) and once as a much mentioned town in Ephraim (Joshua 18:1, spelled the three different ways listed above). The town of Shiloh is most famous for being the first seat of government of the invading Israelite forces under Joshua. At Shiloh the tent of meeting was set up (Joshua 18:1), the land was divided (18:10), and judges sat, up to Eli and Samuel (1 Samuel 1:9).

Since Shiloh, the Messianic title, is so important, meanings are at once disputed. BDB Theological Dictionary leans towards a reading that Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names resolutely rejects, namely a compound of shin, the short form of asher meaning who or whose, and lu (lu), a particle that denotes potentiality, usually supplicatory, such as: if only, would it be that, may it be - in translations this word is often represented by 'Oh! May it be that...' More streamlined translations would probably choose something like 'Oh, I wish that...'

Still, it should be noted that even though English doesn't have a word that expresses supplicatory potential, the Hebrew language does. In English it's hard to turn the phrase into a name (Omayitbe or Goshiwishthat?) but in Hebrew it isn't. In fact, the name of the first king of Israel, Saul, means something along the same line: Wished For.

The Messiah of Israel was by no means just for Israel. Genesis 17:5 and 18:18 make it very clear: in Abraham - or more precise: through the covenant that God made with Abraham, the covenant of which Jesus Christ was the fulfillment - all the nations of the earth would be blessed (see also Ephesians 3:15 and Revelation 21:24). Perhaps the prophet Haggai, who wrote just after the return, tapped into Genesis 49:10 when he wrote, "...and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations will come..." (2:7).

The Messianic name Shiloh is then, with quite a substantial bit of poetic lenience, said to mean He Whose It Is (BDB Theological Dictionary). The main literary defensive argument for this view comes from Ezekiel 21:27, where the prophet speaks of Him who shall come and whose right it is to own everything. In this statement the section between "until the coming of..." and " the right, and I will give it" is spelled lu-asher, which looks a lot like the expanded version of our name. Add to that the detail that both Genesis 40:10 and Ezekiel 21:27 deal with Judah and the government or ownership of that tribe, and the argument becomes quite compelling.

Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names notes that Ezekiel's style is rather modern, Biblically spoken, and quite unlike material found in the Pentateuch. But that argument may be annulled by the Pentateuch's late edition theory, which suggests that Genesis, though originally very old, was edited to its present form around the time of Ezekiel. Either way, we may be quite certain that Ezekiel, a priest who experienced Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem, was well aware of the prophesy of Genesis 49:10. And from an author of that caliber we may expect confident references in stead of accidental similarities.

Isaiah, also not a marginal poet, wrote more than a hundred years prior to Ezekiel (although critics bothered with the name of Cyrus in chapters 44 and 45 place him, or at least these references, after the return from the exile). Isaiah seems to refer to the larger compass of Genesis 49:10 in his famous Messianic prophesy, when he says, "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders..." (9:6)

After this reference to government, Isaiah lavishes the Messiah with a series of honorary titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace, which brings us to the interpretation of the name Shiloh that Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names and some others favor and BDB Theological Dictionary not even considers: a derivation of the verb shala (shala), to be quiet or at rest, with the distinct connotation of prospering. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names refers to the Samaritan Pentateuch, where this name is translated as Pacific, Pacificator or tranquility.

BDB Theological Dictionary and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names agree, however, that the name of Shiloh the town indeed is derived of shala (shala). As such is may be translated as Tranquility Town (or Fair Haven or Pleasantville).

Linguistically, the name Shiloh is closely related to the name Shelah (II). The idea behind the name calls to mind the shalom-stock that counts Solomon, Absalom and Jerusalem, as well as the name Noah.



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