🔼The name Shaaraim: Summary
- Hairs, Horrors, Goats, Barleys, Storms, Gates
- From the root שער (s'r), which expresses intense negative emotion and the experience of violence.
🔼The name Shaaraim in the Bible
There are what appear to be two towns named Shaaraim in the Bible, but they may very well be one and the same:
- A town in the area that became the lowland of Judah (Joshua 15:36). We hear again from Shaaraim of Judah in the aftermath of the battle of Elah. Young David had just slain Goliath of Gath and the men of Israel arose and gave chase to the perplexed Philistines. They pursued them unto the gates of Ekron, and their corpses were strewn along the way to Shaaraim, to Gath and to Ekron (1 Samuel 17:52).
- A town that was situated in the territory allotted to the tribe of Simeon (1 Chronicles 4:31). Since Simeon didn't have its own land (Genesis 49:7) and lived in Judah's land (Joshua 19:1), this Shaaraim is probably the same as the previous one.
🔼Etymology of the name Shaaraim
The name Shaaraim is a plural form of a noun that should look like שער (sha'ar). It would come from the following root cluster:
The general root שער (s'r) appears to primarily express intense negative emotion or the experience of violence. Curiously, it also yields words that have to do with hair.
Noun שער (se'ar) means hair or hairdo, and noun שערה (sa'ara) denotes a single hair. The derived denominative verb שער (sa'ar) would literally means to be hairy or "hairish" but in fact is solely used to mean to be very afraid. Taking the liberty to back-engineer this verb yields the observation that a single hair would have to be associated with a single fear, a full head of hair with lots of concerns, and a bald pate with either a stoic mastery or else a blissfully empty head.
Noun שער (sa'r), means horror. Adjective שעיר (sa'ir) means hairy. Noun שעיר (sa'ir) denotes a he-goat (a bristly guy or a fear guy?) and its feminine counterpart שעירה (sa'ira) means she-goat. Noun שערה (se'ora) means barley, the bearded grain.
Verb שער (sa'ar) means to sweep or whirl away, usually in relation to a storm wind. Nouns שער (sa'ar) and its feminine counterpart שערה (se'ara) mean storm. These words also occur in an alternative spelling, namely as the verb סער (sa'ar), to storm, and nouns סער (sa'ar) and סערה (seara), storm.
In the Middle Ages, scholars began to add dots and points to the Scriptures. All previous words they equipped with a dot on the left tooth of the letter ש, hence שׂ (sin), whereas the following words were spelled with a dot to the right, hence שׁ (shin). To the original authors and the first thousand years of their readers, this difference did not exist.
Verb שער (sha'ar) exists in other languages with the meaning of to break, tear through or split, which obviously repeats the general theme of the experience of violence. The adjective שער (sho'ar) means horrid or disgusting, and nouns שערורה (sha'arura), שערוריה (sha'aruriya) and שעררית (sha'arurit) denote horror or horrible things.
Much more neutral are the nouns שער (sha'ar), gate, and שער (sho'er), gatekeeper or porter. These words suggests that the ancients associated a hair emerging from skin to traffic emerging from a city gate, like words flowing from an overfilled heart. This in turn suggests that when a grieving person pulls his or her hair out, he or she becomes silent with grief.
The verb שער (sha'ar) is also used to mean to calculate or reckon, obviously with an emphasis on the verbal conveyance of something internally experienced. Noun שער (sha'ar) is also used to mean "fold" in the sense of "a hundred fold."
When the Masoretes added their symbols to the Hebrew text, they decided that the name Shaaraim was not a proper plural but rather a dual word. And when they made a distinction between the letters שׁ (dot to the right) and שׂ (dot to the left) they chose to write our name with a שׁ. But to the authors of the original text, our name related to words of the form שׁער as much as to those that came to look like שׂער. Traditionally, the name Shaaraim is explained to be associated to the form שׁער, of which there are two.
In short: we have no idea to which word our name was supposed to point. Our name could mean Hairs, Horrors, Goats, Barleys, Storms, Gates, or Measures, but some reason, commentators prefer the noun שׁער (sha'ar), meaning gate, from the root שׁער (sh'r I).
For a meaning of the name Shaaraim, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Double Gate and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names proposes Two Gates. BDB Theological Dictionary does not translate the name Shaaraim but does list it under the root שׁער (sh'r I).