🔼The name Ramathaim-zophim: Summary
- The Heights Of The Watchmen
- Deceiving Hope
- From (1) the verb רום (rum), to be high, and (2) the verb צפה (sapa), to look out or hope.
- From (1) the verb רמה (rama), to deceive, and (2) the verb צפה (sapa), to look out or hope.
🔼The name Ramathaim-zophim in the Bible
The name Ramathaim-zophim occurs only once in the Bible, namely in 1 Samuel 1:1, where it is given as the hometown of Elkanah of Ephraim, the father of Samuel and descendant of a man named Zuph (spelled צוף, which is the singular form of the plural צופים, zophim), who presumably also gave his name to the "land of Zuph" (1 Samuel 9:5).
Ramathaim-zophim may also be associated with one of the places generally known as Ramah, but no certainty exists in this regard. Consult our article on the name Ramah for the details.
🔼Etymology of the name Ramathaim-zophim
The name Ramathaim-zophim consists of two elements, both of which are proper plural forms. The first part possibly derives from the verb רום (rum), meaning to be high:
The verb רום (rum) means to be high or high up in either a physical, social or even attitudinal sense, and may also refer to the apex in a natural process: the being ripe and ready-for-harvest of fruits. Subsequently, our verb may imply a state beyond ripe (higher than ripe, overripe), which thus refers to rotting and being maggot riddled. This means that to the ancients higher did not simply mean better, and an arrogant political status that was higher than it should be equaled rot and worms (Acts 12:23).
Derived nouns, such as רום (rum) and related forms, describe height or pride. Noun רמות (ramut) describes some high thing. The noun ארמון ('armon) refers to a society's apex: a citadel or palace. The noun ראם (re'em) describes the wild ox, which was named possibly for the same reason why we moderns call a rising market a "bull" market. The similar verb ראם (ra'am) means to rise.
The important noun רמון (rimmon) means pomegranate and the pomegranate became the symbol for harvest-ready fruit (see our full dictionary article for more on this). Overripe items might suffer the noun רמה (rimma), worm or maggot, or the verb רמם (ramam), to be wormy.
But it may very well also derive from the verb רמה (rama):
The verb רמה (rama) essentially means to loosen, but is used only three times literally (twice for shooting arrows and once for hurling riders into the sea). Mostly our verb is used in the sense of playing loose with the truth, i.e. to compromise the solidness of trustworthiness and be swampy.
Hence our verb is mostly translated with to beguile, deceive or mislead. Nouns רמיה (remiya), מרמה (mirma), תרמה (torma) and תרמית (tarmit) describe various degrees and nuances of treachery, deceit and looseness in the trustworthiness department.
The second part of our name possibly comes from the verb צפה (sapa I), meaning to watch or look out, or is a plural of the noun צוף (sup), meaning honeycomb:
Verb צפה (sapa) speaks of covering, whether a literal covering of an item with an overlay like gold or the figurative covering of watchman's surroundings by his watchful gaze. In cognate languages this verb also means to hope.
Noun צפיה (sippiya) means lookout post and noun מצפה (mispeh) means watchtower. Noun צפוי (sippuy) means plating, noun צפית (sapit) means rug or carpet, and noun צפת (sepet) refers to the plated capital of a pillar.
Verb צוף (sup) means to flow or float on top of something else. Noun צוף (sup) describes a honeycomb, or rather the structure of hexagonal cells upon which honey floats. Verb צפה (sapa) means outflow.
Verb צפן (sapan) means to hide or store up. Nouns צפין (sapin) and מצפון (maspon) describe a mass of predominantly static wealth. Noun צפון (sapon) means north, as for unexplained reasons the Bible considers the north a place of gathering. Noun or adjective צפוני (seponi) means northern or northern one.
Verb שפן (shapan) isn't used in the Bible but in cognate languages it means to hide. Noun שפן (shapan) describes a kind of cud-chewing, rock-dwelling animal with no divided hoofs, commonly (rather oddly) interpreted as rock-badger or coney.
The name Ramathaim-zophim means The Heights Of The Watchmen or The Deceits Of The Honeycombs or any other combination. It may have been called this way for the simple reason that from any of its high hills, one could inspect a wide sweep or terrain for whatever reason.
But this name also tempts to suggest that it may have denoted a particular center of learning, and perhaps even a specific school of thought, and maybe even one which Jesus gently brushed aside as leading to the Kingdom of God (Luke 17:20), but that's obviously all conjecture.
Some scholars have enticingly linked Ramathaim-zophim to the illusive town of Arimathea, which may thicken the conjecture but doesn't make it less so or more true.