🔼The name Jerusalem: Summary
- In Awe Of Peace, Teaching Peace
- From (1) perhaps the verb ירה (yara), to throw, cast or shoot, or ירא (yara'), to fear, and (2) the verb שלם (shalem), to be or make whole or complete.
🔼The name Jerusalem in the Bible
There is no town as Biblical as Jerusalem, but it was neither built nor named by the Israelites. Remnants of a Canaanite town called Salem date back to the early bronze age, and the first Biblical mention of this place is in Genesis 14:18, where Abraham and Melchizedek meet.
The name Jerusalem occurs first in Joshua 10:1 and the city of Jerusalem was conquered, sacked and apparently abandoned by Israel (Judges 1:8). Still, it remained occupied by Jebusites and it was originally located in the territory of not Judah but Benjamin (Joshua 18:28, Judges 1:21). Four hundred years later David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites, annexed it and made it his capital (2 Samuel 5:6).
By the time the Hebrews had a say in it, the name Jerusalem had been long established. Most likely, the original name, that sounded something like Urusalimum or Ursalimmu, meant Foundation Of Salem, the latter being a known Ugaritic god. The reason why the Hebrews didn't rename the city when they had the chance may be because its name was easily transliterated into something very striking in Hebrew (see below).
Our name is spelled mostly ירושלם (Jerusalem) but on rare occasions ירושלים (Jerusalim, namely in 1 Chronicles 3:5, 2 Chronicles 25:1, 32:9, Esther 2:6, Jeremiah 26:18). Jerusalem was built on a hill, which Isaiah calls the Hill of Jerusalem (Isaiah 10:32).
In the New Testament, the name Jerusalem curiously occurs in two distinct forms. About half of the 142 times this name occurs in the New Testament — see full New Testament concordance — it is spelled as the neutral plural noun Ιεροσολυμα (Hierosoluma; Matthew 2:1, or Ιεροσολυμων, Hierosolumon in the genitive; Matthew 4:25). Spiros Zodhiates (The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary) supposes this plural is due to an allusion to the two parts of the city, lower and upper Jerusalem. In the other cases our name is spelled as a feminine single noun: Ιερουσαλημ (Hierosalem; Matthew 23:37). A man from Jerusalem is referred to as a Ιεροσολυμιτης (Hierosolumites; Mark 1:5, John 7:25 only).
Note that in Greek and as a fitting coincidence, the first part of our name Jerusalem resembles the words ιερος (hieros), meaning sacred, and ιερευς (hierus), meaning priest.
🔼Etymology of the name Jerusalem
Without a doubt the second and dominant part of the name reminded (then and now) of the word שלום (shalom), meaning peace. The root of this word, שלם (shalem), denotes completeness, wholeness and soundness:
The verb שלם (shalem) means to be or make whole or complete, and is also used to describe a righteous recompense or proper restitution (whether positive or not). The familiar noun שלום (shalom) means wholeness, completeness or peace.
Other derivatives are: noun שלם (shelem), peace offering; verb שלם (shalam), to be in a covenant of peace; adjective שלם (shalem), perfect, whole, complete, safe; noun שלם (shillem), recompense; nouns שלמן (shalmon), שלום (shillum), שלם (shillum) and שלמה (shilluma), reward or proper recompense.
In this sense the name Jerusalem is related to some other famous names from the David saga: Solomon and Absalom.
The first part of the name Jerusalem may likely have reminded a Hebrew audience of the verb ירה (yara), throw, cast or shoot:
The verb ירה (yara) describes the bringing about of a unified effect by means of many little impulses (arrows, stones, words, instructions, rain drops, and so on). Noun יורה (yoreh) refers to rain that falls during the first period of the agricultural year, when seedlings bud but don't bear fruit yet. Noun מורה (moreh) may either also refer to early rain, or it means teacher, who is a person who teaches children who can't think for themselves yet. Noun תורה (tora), refers to any set of instructions (hence the familiar word Torah).
The verb ירא (yara') describes the same process, but rather from the perspective of the receiving "soil": to revere, to pay heed to, and in extreme cases: to fear. Nouns יראה (yir'a), מורא (mora') and מורה (mora) cover the broad spectrum between reverence and fear, between anything awe-inspiring and anything terrifying.
Perhaps the name Jerusalem was never changed, but only Hebraized, because it seems to mean Rain Of Peace.
Jerusalem was to be the radiating heart of a world of completeness and wholeness. It seems that history supplied her with a most suiting name.
For a meaning of the name Jerusalem, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Possession Of Peace. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Foundation Of Peace.