🔼The name Beth-shemesh: Summary
- House Of The Sun
- From (1) the noun בית (beth), house, and (2) the noun שמש (shemesh), sun.
🔼The name Beth-shemesh in the Bible
There are three or four different cities named Beth-shemesh in the Bible, although some English translations insist on translating one of them with Heliopolis.
The most famous Beth-shemesh was a town on the border of the territory of Judah (Joshua 15:10), which was later given to the Kohathite Levites (Joshua 21:16). This is the Beth-shemesh at which the Ark of the Covenant came to rest after its seven months stay in the land of the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:9).
Initially the townsfolk of Beth-shemesh were right enthused by the Ark being in their midst, but after some of them tried to look inside of it, YHWH struck 50,070 (or 10,070, or 70 - depending on which source you look at) of them dead. They sent a message to the people of Kiriath-jearim to come and get the Ark, which they did. And so the Ark came to be at the house of Abinadab (1 Samuel 7:1), and it would remain there until king David's first effort to transport it to Jerusalem.
Much later, Beth-shemesh of Judah hosted the battle between king Amaziah of Judah and king Jehoash of Israel (2 Kings 14:11). Amaziah was defeated and Jehoash looted the temple. Some scholars say that this is the point in time at which the Ark went missing, but it remains a mystery why the Ark is not mentioned in this scene.
Other towns named Beth-shemesh are:
- A village in Issachar, although this might be the same as the previous one, and situated precisely in between the territories of the two tribes Issachar and Judah (Joshua 19:22).
- A fortified city in the territory of Naphtali (Joshua 19:37).
- The city we know in Greek as Heliopolis, and in Egyptian as On. The prophet Jeremiah mentions this place in a prophecy concerning Egypt (Jeremiah 43:13). Most English translations read Beth-shemesh in this context, but NAS and NIV have Heliopolis.
The name בית־שמש is spelled both with and without the maqqep or hyphen.
🔼Etymology of the name Beth-shemesh
The name Beth-shemesh 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".
The second part of our name comes from the noun שמש (shemesh), meaning sun:
The noun שמש (shemesh) is the Biblical word for sun. Many ancient societies recognized that the sun rules life on earth, but few understood that even the sun is a mere creature, also firmly subjected to the laws of nature and ultimately the unchallenged sovereignty of the Creator. Hence to many societies the sun became the symbol of divine supremacy and the divinity of human kings, and to few it became the symbol of satanic grand delusion and existential deceit. Pretty much all great empires identified in some way or form with the sun, but the periods of humanity's deepest darkness were triggered by folks who imagined the sun to be supreme.
For a meaning of the name Beth-shemesh, both NOBSE Study Bible Name List and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names read House Of The Sun. BDB Theological Dictionary has Sun Temple.