🔼The name Heshbon: Summary
- Library Of Synthetic Wisdom
- From the verb חשב (hashab), to think up or devise.
🔼The name Heshbon in the Bible
The name Heshbon belongs to a city in Israel that was big enough to have satellite villages. It originally belonged to the Amorites, more specifically to Sihon, king of the Amorites, who might actually have lifted it from the former king of Moab. This was such a big deal that a proverb was devised to commemorate it: "Come to Heshbon! Let it be built! So let the city of Sihon be established. For a fire went forth from Heshbon, a flame from the town of Sihon..." (Numbers 21:25-31).
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible tells not the story of political powers and their military arms but rather the story of wisdom, and particularly the story of how wisdom was acquired, stored and traded. The Bible is about what we today call information technology. The alphabet the way we know it was of course a major development in information technology, and it was completed around the time of David (see our article on the name Philistine). The story of Israel's Exodus from Egypt and its conquest of Canaan tells of how the earliest abjads (consonantal alphabet) broke away from the Egyptian hieroglyphic system, gained independence and slowly but surely began to dominate the world stage.
Sihon of the Amorites appears to have played a major role in all this, but his system (whatever it was), like many systems of many mighty kings (Numbers 21:34), was ultimately defeated and stripped for useable elements. By command of YHWH, Israel marched through the valley of Arnon and engaged Sihon of Heshbon at Jahaz and wholly destroyed his people (Deuteronomy 2:24-35) so thoroughly that Sihon's defeat became proverbial (Deuteronomy 1:4, 3:2, 3:6, 4:46, 29:7, Joshua 9:10, 12:2, 12:5, Judges 11:19, 11:26, Nehemiah 9:22).
Instead of joining the rest of the tribes in settling west of the Jordan, the tribes of Gad and Reuben elected to remain east of the Jordan and specifically requested Heshbon and some other towns for them and their livestock to settle (Numbers 32:3, Joshua 13:10). Heshbon ultimately fell within the Reubenites' care and they appear to have built it back up (Numbers 32:37, Joshua 13:17, 13:21). The lands of Gad stretched as far as Heshbon (Joshua 13:26-27).
Because of the rape of Dinah (Genesis 49:7), the Levites were to have no land of their own but were to live in cities among the rest of the tribes, which is why all tribes gave some of their cities to Levi. From Reuben the Merarite Levites obtained Heshbon (Joshua 21:39), and this is significant since nearly all the personal names that share their verbal root with Heshbon are Levite — the noteworthy exception is Hashubah, who was a Jew from the line of David and Zerubbabel. Much later, the Chronicler listed Heshbon as one of the cities of Gad that were given to the Merarites (1 Chronicles 6:81).
The Groom likened the Bride's eyes (עין, 'ayin) to the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath-rabbim (Song of Solomon 7:4). The prophet Isaiah heard Heshbon cry out all the way to Jahaz, where Sihon was defeated (15:4), and saw its fields withered (16:8-9). The prophet Jeremiah lamented calamity devised against Heshbon (48:2, 48:34, 49:3) and quotes the famous proverb with a personal twist (48:45).
🔼Etymology of the name Heshbon
The name Heshbon comes from the verb חשב (hashab) and is identical to the noun חשבון (heshbon):
The verb חשב (hashab) means to think but instead of mere musing or theorizing this verb emphasizes mental activity with a practical (synthetic, technical or artistic) purpose in mind: to think up, to plan or devise.
Noun חשבון (heshbon) describes the entire library of artistic and technological knowledge. Noun מחשבה (mahashaba) denotes a thought, a plan, a device, an artistic object.
The noun חשבון (heshbon) denotes a society's entire collection of practical skills and technologies, which exists separate from the body of scientific knowledge of observable reality, and philosophical and metaphysical knowledge of the unseen. This noun is used three times in the Bible: Proverbs 7:27 reads "... adding one thing to another to find חשבון (heshbon)". In Ecclesiastes 7:25 and 9:10 this word is coupled with wisdom (חכמה, hokma) and knowledge (דעת, da'at).
For a meaning of the name Heshbon, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Intelligence and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names has Reason. BDB Theological Dictionary does not translate this name but does confirm that it is identical to the noun חשבון (heshbon).