🔼The name Beth-shan: Summary
- House Of Security, House Of Perpetuity
- House Of Sharpness, House Of The Tooth
- From (1) the noun בית (beth), house, and (2) the verb שאן (sha'an), to be undisturbed.
- From (1) the noun בית (beth), house, and (2) the verb שנן (shanan), to sharpen.
🔼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:
The noun בית (bayit) means house. It sometimes merely denotes a domestic building, but mostly it denotes the realm of authority of the house-father, or אב (ab). This ab is commonly the living alpha male of a household, but may very well be a founding ancestor (as in the familiar term the "house of Israel"). The אב (ab) may also be a deity, in which case the בית (bayit) is that which we know as a temple.
In the larger economy, a house interacts with other houses. These interactions are governed by the אב (ab), or "father" and executed by the בנים (benim), or "sons": those people living in the house, irrespective of any biological relation with the אב (ab). The "sons" combined add up to אם ('em), which means both "mother" and "tribe".
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:
The verb שאן (sha'an) literally means to be undisturbed. In practice it denotes being comfy, relaxed and at ease. Adjective שאנן (sha'anan), means unmoved in the sense of being perpetual, inattentive or complacent.
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:
The root שנן (shanan) speaks of repetition or the creation of distance between elements, often preceded by a breaking apart, and followed by a removal or even storage.
Verb שנן (shanan) means to sharpen, and sharpening is achieved by removing material by repeatedly stroking a blade against a whetstone. This verb is also used in the sense of sharpening a mind by repeating the same exercise. Noun שן (shen) means tooth. Noun שנינה (shenina) denotes a "sharp" word; a taunt.
Verb שנה (shana) means to change or create a difference — of one's mind, or one's clothes, and this mostly through repetition. Noun שנה (shana) means year.
Perhaps formally separate but obviously related, or else the very same verb שנה (shana) means to repeat or reoccur. Noun שנים (shenayim) or שתים (shetayim) is the common word for two or a pair. Adjective שני (sheni) or שנית (shenit) means second and noun משנה (misneh) means second, double, or copy. Noun שנאן (shin'an) is used as a superlative in figures of speech (i.e. expressions like double-down, super-double-good).
Noun שני (shani) denotes the color purple. This noun might formally derive from a third wholly separate verb of unclear meaning but obviously reminds of the many times a garment has to be dipped in dye to have its color changed.
Verb ישן (yashen) means to sleep, which seems to indicate that the ancients related one's daily activities to a forward stroke of one's mental blade against the whetstone of life, whereas sleep counted as the trailing stroke backward and removal of the burr. Adjective ישן (yashen) means sleeping or sleepy, and is obviously similar to its sibling noun ישן (yashen), which means old. Nouns שנה (shena), שנא (shena') and שנת (shenat) mean sleep.
Verb שנא (sane') is commonly translated with to hate but actually lacks the angry emotion that our English word conveys. It rather means to reject, create distance from and send away. Adjective שניא (sani') means hated (i.e. the hated wife), and noun שנאה (sin'a) means a hating or hatred, which comes down to a separating or a sending away.
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.