🔼The name Shammai: Summary
- Famous, Celebrated
- From the verb שמם (shamem), to be desolate or appalled.
- From the noun שם (shem), name or renown.
🔼The name Shammai in the Bible
There are three men named Shammai in the Bible:
🔼Etymology of the name Shammai
The name Shammai possibly derives from the verb שמם (shamem), meaning to be desolate or appalled:
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.
But on the other hand, it might also come from the word שם (shem), meaning name or fame:
The noun שם (shem) means name, but the ancients saw one's name as summary of the deeds and traits this person was known for (e.g. He Who Slew Many In The Great War). That means that when Man named the animals (Genesis 2:19), he didn't call them Tom, Dick or Harry but rather consciously reckoned his fellow creatures for their essential natures (which in turn cemented his own).
In case one had no claim to fame, one would be prone to acquire a name that commemorated not one's own deeds but rather some worthy event (e.g. The Great War). Such a person's name would have the function of reminding other people of that memorable event, without in the least suggesting to embody it. Very often people would be named after traits of God (Yah's Grace, El's Wrath), which meant that the bearer was known to proclaim these traits rather than claim to be the embodiment of them.
Since the Creator's invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature can be clearly seen, being understood through what has been made (Romans 1:20), knowing the "Name of God" is the same thing as understanding the whole of creation, which in turn means that a true desire for righteousness leads to science rather than to religion.
Then there is the identical adverb שם (sham), which means here, there, hither or thither. These two words may have accidentally evolved into the same form, but perhaps this adverb served as a sort of pronoun by which an otherwise unnamed or unspecified location was named.
The letter י (yod) upon which our name ends, may either create an adjective (waste-like, or belonging to fame, i.e. celebrated), a possessive form (my waste/name), or may be a remnant of יה (Yah) = יהו (Yahu) = יו (Yu), which in turn are abbreviated forms of the Tetragrammaton יהוה, YHWH, or Yahweh.
Note that our name שמי is spelled identically to (yet pronounced differently as) the theoretical word שמי, which would be the singular source-word of the plural שמים (shemayim), meaning heaven(s).
For a meaning of the name Shammai, NOBSE Study Bible Name List goes with שם (shem), meaning name, and takes the final י to be an adjective-maker. Hence NOBSE reads Celebrated.
Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) derives our name from the root שמם and takes the final י (yod) to be a remnant of יהוה. Hence Jones reads Astonishment Of The Lord.