🔼The name Tishbite in the Bible
There are one or two Tishbites in the Bible, depending on which version we look at:
- The most famous Tishbite (and the only one actually called one) is Elijah the Tishbite, who rose to renown as the nemesis of king Ahab and queen Jezebel of Israel (1 Kings 17:1). The ethnonym Tishbite could come from a place or even an ancestor called תשבה (Tishbe? Tishbah?) or תשב (Tesheb? Tashib?) or even תשבי (Tishbi). But whatever it was, people in Elijah's time all seemed to know that he was a Tishbite. When king Ahaziah fell out of a window, he dispatched messengers to Baal-zebub for advice. The Lord sent Elijah to intercept them and when they reported this to their king, Ahaziah asked them to describe him. His men described Elijah as a hairy man wearing a leather girdle, whereupon the king replied: that was Elijah the Tishbite (2 Kings 1:8). And when general Jehu had queen Jezebel thrown out of a window, he growled that he had fulfilled the words of YHWH as spoken by Elijah the Tishbite (2 Kings 9:36).
- The other Tishbite of the Bible isn't actually called a Tishbite, and many people would insist that he isn't even in the Bible. His name was Tobit (or Tobias), and his story is told in the apocryphal Book of Tobit. We only have that book in Greek and some fragments in Hebrew and Aramaic, but these fragments don't contain the reference to Tobit's hometown Tishbah or Thisbe, which occurs in Tobit 1:2: Θισβη which is probably a transliteration of the Hebrew תשבה. The story tells us that Tobit was from the tribe of Naphtali, and his hometown was situated "south of Kedesh-naphtali, in upper Galilee, above Hazor, beyond the road to the west, north of Peor".
Whether Elijah and Tobit were from the same town called Tishbah can obviously not be established. We don't even know which tribe Elijah was from. But the Book of Tobit and that of the Kings play in about the same time (8th century BC) and Tobit and Elijah were approximate contemporaries.
It's not even sure whether Elijah was called a Tishbite because he came from Tishbah (or something like that), or even whether Tishbite should be regarded as a name or perhaps as a title or epithet. 1 Kings 17:1 reads אליהו התשבי מתשבי גלעד (elijah ha tishby me tishby gilead, or Elijah the Tishbite from the Tishbites of Gilead), and that can be translated in all kinds of ways: NAS and JSP read "Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead;" NIV has "Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead;" ASV has "Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the sojourners of Gilead;" And KJV, Darby and Young have "Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead".
The word תשבי, which is translated as Tishbite when it applies to Elijah, occurs twice more in the Bible:
In Ezekiel 26:20 YHWH foretells the destruction of Tyre to the point where she will no longer be inhabited (say NAS, KJV, JSP, ASV, Darby and Young) or return (say NIV and NAS in a footnote).
In Hosea 3:3 the prophet Hosea instructs his wayward but retrieved wife that for many days she would have to stay with him (says NAS), live with him (says NIV), abide for him (say KJV, ASV and Darby), sit solitary of him (says JSP), remain for me (says Young.
🔼Etymology of the name Tishbite
The name Tishbite is thought to be related to the noun תושב (toshab), meaning sojourner, and both to come from the verb ישב (yashab), meaning to sit, to remain or to dwell:
None of the sources we customarily consult dare to propose a translation of the ethnonym Tishbite. BDB Theological Dictionary lists the מתשבי (metishby) of 1 Kings 17:1 under the root-verb שבה (shaba), meaning to take captive, but adds a question mark (possibly also because there is no mention of any Gileadites being captured during the time of Elijah).
Elijah the Tishbite may be Elijah From Tishbah now living in Gilead, but he may also be Elijah the Homesteader from the Homesteaders of Gilead. He may be Elijah the Answer Man from the Answer Men of Gilead. Or Elijah the Returnee from the Returnees of Gilead (if that would refer to an otherwise unrecorded small-scale heist, such as the abduction of the sons of Ehud — 1 Chronicles 8:6 — or the women of Ziklag — 1 Samuel 30:2 — or Lot, the nephew of Abraham, and his people — Genesis 14:16).
We really don't know.