🔼The name Shammah: Summary
- Appalling Desolation
- From the noun שמה (shamma), waste, from the verb שמם (shamem), to be desolate or appalled.
🔼The name Shammah in the Bible
The name Shammah is quite popular in the Bible. There appear to be five different individuals with that name, but the following list may overlap somewhat as the last four members are contemporaries:
- A son of Reuel, the son of Esau the brother of Jacob, and his cousin Basemath the daughter of Ishmael, son of Abraham (Genesis 36:13).
- The third son of Jesse of Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16:9). He was present in the valley of Elah when his youngest brother David killed the giant Goliath of Gath (2 Samuel 17:13). This man is mostly known as Shimea or variations thereof.
- Shammah the Harodite; one of the thirty lesser mighty-men (2 Samuel 23:25). The Chronicler calls this man Shammoth the Harorite (1 Chronicles 11:27)
Note that there are also two men named שמא (Shamma) in the Bible; Shamma is probably a variant spelling of Shammah.
🔼Etymology of the name Shammah
If the name Shammah is not considered a shortened form of the name Shimea (שמעה), it could be regarded as drawn from the verb שמם (shamem), meaning to be desolate or appalled. Our name is identical to the feminine noun שמה (shamma), meaning waste:
The verb שמם (shamem) means to be desolate, devastated or abandoned. It usually describes a literal empty place but may also be used to describe a mental state, in which case it refers to being appalled.
Adjective שמם (shamem) means devastated or deserted. Nouns שממה (shemama), שמה (shamma), שממון (shimmamon) and משמה (meshamma) denote various forms and degrees of waste, devastation, horror or appalment.
Verb ישם (yasham) is a by-form of the previous and means the same, albeit with an apparent emphasis on dry and arid lands. Noun ישימון (yeshimon, or variants) refers to desolate regions and mostly describes deserts. Noun ישימה (yeshima) describes the mental equivalent (whatever that might be).
Noun שמים (shamayim) means heavens. It's a plural form of a non-existing singular word שמי (shamay), coming from an assumed root שמה (shama). Whether or not this word is formally related to the above, to the ancients the heavens were clearly known as a vast emptiness that filled the observer with existential horror.
Equally striking is the noun שם (shem), which means name or renown. This suggests that the ancients saw someone's empty head as the same howling infinite as empty space, and all formal knowledge of the whole of creation that a person might accrue equal to this person's name.
The name Shammah means Waste or rather Appalling Desolation, and is an example of a name that probably didn't have the function of reflecting qualities of the bearer but rather to commemorate a certain event that had nothing to do with the bearer, and at best coincided with his birth.
Neither NOBSE Study Bible Name List nor Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) picks up on that and in a desperate attempt to make something positive out of this name (probably assuming it was conferred by loving parents), both read Astonishment as its meaning. BDB Theological Dictionary doesn't interpret our name but does list it under the root שמם.