🔼The name Abel-shittim: Summary
- Stream Of The Acacias
- From (1) the noun אבל ('abel), stream or brook, and (2) the noun שטה (shitta), acacia.
🔼The name Abel-shittim in the Bible
The name Abel-shittim occurs just once in the Bible In Numbers 33:49 it serves as an extremity marker to indicate to how far Israel's camps stretched (namely from Beth-jeshimoth to Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab). Other Scriptures (Numbers 25:1, Micah 6:5) make mention of a place simply named Shittim, and scholars (Alfred Jones, BDB) maintain that Shittim and Abel-shittim are the same place.
Note that the name Abel-shittim is not properly transliterated. The shittim-part is prefixed with the letter ה (he), which is either the definite article ("the"), or else as particle of direction ("towards the") or ascription ("of the"). A proper transliteration would be Abel-hashittim.
🔼Etymology of the name Abel-shittim
The name Abel-shittim consists of two parts. In English the first part looks like the name of the brother of Cain, namely Abel, but is not the same in Hebrew. This version of Abel comes from the root group אבל:
The verb בלל (balal) means to mix something with oil, usually flour products, usually as ritualistic food preparation. The emphasis of this verb lies on saturation and overflowing: to fill something with oil until it can absorb no more and begins to reject an excess of oil. Noun בליל (belil) describes a very rich mix for animals to eat. Noun שבלול (shabbelul) describes a snail, or an animal that looks saturated with oil. Nouns תבל (tebel) describes sexually incompatible partners, and noun תבלל (teballul) tells of insoluble material that obstructs a person's eye.
The verb יבל (yabal) speaks mostly of a flowing along some course, which of course requires the bottom of the course to be saturated and reject any further absorption. Noun יבל (yabal) means water course or conduit, noun יובל (yubal) means stream and noun אובל ('ubal) means stream or river. Adjective יבל (yabbal) means suppurating (discharging pus from a wound). Noun יבול (yebul) denotes produce from the soil and noun בול (bul) means produce or outgrowth. Noun יובל (yobel) or יבל (yobel) describes "a carrier" or "a producer" or "something that drives a flow" (e.g. a trumpet, or the principle of Jubilee). Noun תבל (tebel) refers to the whole world-economy.
Verb אבל ('abel) is like the previous ones in that it describes a drive of liquid or semi-liquid elements along some collective course. It's often used to describe a collective mourning, which either happened in a procession or else contagious enough to drag others along. Nouns אבל ('ebel) and אבל ('abel) both mean mourning, but the latter is also the word for actual water stream or brook. In cognate languages this verb is used to describe the driving of camels. There is even a sporadically used adverb אבל ('abal), which in older texts expresses solemn affirmation (verily, truly, yes indeed I'm totally going along with you there) but later texts appear to put somewhat of a breaking force on the momentum ("yes!... but").
The second part of the name Abel-shittim is a plural form of the word שטה (shitta), meaning acacia:
The noun שטה (shitta) denotes the acacia tree, a thorny shrub with great mythological significance in ancient Egypt. In the Bible it's mentioned most often in connection to the wood used in the tabernacle. Both the burning bush and the crown of thorns bring to mind this tree.
The verb שטה (sata) means to turn away from virtue, and specifically from fidelity in marriage. Note the similarity with the noun שטן (satan), meaning adversary.
For a meaning of the name Abel-shittim, both Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names and NOBSE Study Bible Name List read Meadow Of Acacias. BDB Theological Dictionary proposes Acacia-Meadow. But following the comments of HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, our name Abel-shittim may also mean Stream Of The Acacias.