🔼The name Shebna(h): Summary
- Seat Of Beauty - Captured - Please Let Return
- From (1) the verb שוב (shub), to reverse a motion, (2) the נה (noah), eminency, and (3) נא (na'), please.
🔼The name Shebna(h) in the Bible
There is probably only one man named Shebna (שבנא) or Shebnah (שבנה) in the Bible although some commentators maintain there are two. It's officially not clear why this name is spelled two different ways, but it appears to demonstrate that the Hebrew scribes were not bound by a standard spelling, and were free to make a point by means of their spelling choices. Also note that the changing of one's name is an important narrative element in the Bible. It happens when a person's character or function within the narrative radically changes (hence Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, Simon became Peter, and so on).
The difference between the spellings Shebna (שבנא) and Shebnah (שבנה) may not seem very significant but it hinges on a signature difference between Hebrew (which favors the ה termination of words and verbal nuances) and Aramaic (which favors the א). The author of the Book of Kings uses the same spelling trick in the spelling of the name Tiglath-pileser. The Hebrew and Aramaic languages are very closely related, and although they are different languages their differences are often not wider than that between American and British spelling of certain words. Much to the alarm of purists, during the Babylonian exile the Hebrew language was pretty much replaced by Aramaic — hence Ezra's need for people who had to translate the Law, presumable from Hebrew to Aramaic (Nehemiah 8:8). The "Hebrew" letters we use today aren't Hebrew; they're Aramaic.
The story of Ezra plays long after that of Shebna(h), but it's not beyond reason to suspect that the friction between the two languages began in the kingdom years, and that the invasion of Judah by Assyria as told in 2 Kings also serves as a commentary on the competition between the two great literary legacies of Israel and Assyria. In effect, the siege of Jerusalem by Assyria was a war of information technology.
The story tell that in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, king Sennacherib of Assyria came to invade Judah but was bought off by Hezekiah, who surrendered much if not all of all the templar treasures (and the temple of YHWH also served as a temple to the alphabet; see our article on YHWH for more on this). Despite this tribute, Sennacherib sent an envoy consisting of Tartan, Rab-saris and Rabshakeh (plus army) to engage in propaganda; a battle of wits not unlike that between Moses and the wizards of Egypt (Exodus 7:11-12).
The three Assyrians took position in hearing range of the people of Jerusalem, called out to king Hezekiah, and were met by three Judeans, namely Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, the head of the royal household, Shebnah (שבנה) the scribe and Joah, son of Asaph, the recorder (2 Kings 18:18). When the three Assyrians began to explain why Judah would be better off to surrender to Assyria, the three Hebrews including Shebnah (שבנה) asked them to speak in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, because the three understood Aramaic and didn't want the regular people of Jerusalem to understand what the Assyrians were saying (18:26).
As could have been expected, Rabshakeh took a deep breath and thundered in the Judean language all the benefits of joining Assyria and all the horrors that awaited those who didn't. When he finished speaking, Eliakim, Shebna (שבנא) and Joah remained silent, tore their clothes and headed off to see their king Hezekiah (18:37). From this crucial moment on, the name of the scribe remains spelled with an Aramaic termination (2 Kings 19:2, Isaiah 22:15, 36:3, 36:11, 36:22, 37:2), and with this change in spelling, the author of the story appears to indicate that at that point Hebrew scribes began to slowly abandon the so-called the Phoenician based Paleo-Hebrew alphabet in favor of the Aramaic block-letter we now associate most with Hebrew texts.
The story finishes with Hezekiah sending for the prophet Isaiah, who responded that Jerusalem would be saved and the Assyrians would fall. And as foretold, the Assyrians suffered some sort of disease, Sennacherib was murdered, Hezekiah healed from a deadly disease and was given fifteen years more to live, and the Assyrian empire fell to Babylon. The Babylonians managed what the Assyrians couldn't and took Judah into exile. In Babylon, the Jews rose to international prominence, recorded the Torah in its modern form and established the most successful form of government the world has ever seen (and it's this form of government the entire world must assume if humanity is to survive).
The Hebrew body of literature and science is the most studied library in the history of the world, and serves as the basis for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Assyrian equivalent, which was once so mighty and boastful, slid beneath the earth and out of everybody's sight until its cracked and dusty clay tablets were beginning to be unearthed in the 20th century.
🔼Etymology of the name Shebna()h
Some commentators claim that the name Shebnah (שבנה) is a truncated version of the name Shebaniah (שבניה) but although the similarities are undeniable, the י (yod) in the name Shebaniah is part of the familiar theonym יהוה, or YHWH, and compromising that name for any reason isn't done in the Hebrew literary tradition.
Instead, the different spellings of our name causes it to alternate between the noun נה (noah), meaning eminency or distinction, and נא (na'), the common particle of entreaty, please:
The particle נא (na') is the Bible's common particle of entreaty and means please!. It shows up incorporated in various standard phrases: אמרי־נא (amari-na'), speak please; שא־נא (sa'na'), look out please; השמרי־נא (hashmari-na), watch out please, and of course the familiar הושיעה נא (hoshi'a na), save please.
A similar נה (na) added to a verbal stem results in a feminine plural imperative (and a family or company is feminine).
The noun נה (noah) comes from the verb נוה (nawa):
There are either three separate verbs נוה (nawa), or one that simultaneously means (1) to be high or eminent, (2) to beautify, and (3) to be or be in an abode. If this cluster of assumed roots is indeed just one, it obviously deals with perfect societies, splendid palaces and seats of benevolent government. Particularly the third meaning is associated with shepherding, which relates to the idea of a king as shepherd of his people.
From the first meaning comes the noun נה (noah), eminency or distinction. From the third comes the noun נוה (naweh), abode, pasture, habitation, country or area of residence. This noun used as a verb means to dwell or abide. Used as adjective it means abiding. Noun נוה (nawa) means pasture or meadow.
The verb נאה (na'a) means to be beautiful, and is closely related to the verb נוה (nawa II), to beautify. Its derived adjective נאוה (na'weh) means beautiful.
The first part of our name appears to relate to the verbs שוב (shub), to return, ישב (yashab), to sit, and שבה (shaba), to take captive:
The verb שוב (shub) tells of a reversal in motion; the point where an upward motion becomes a downward one, or vice versa, or a westward motion an eastward one, and so on. This very frequently occurring verb is mostly translated with to turn or return, and is often used to mean to convert or return to a more fruitful way of life, and hence to restore, to retrieve or even to abstain, to reply and to repeat. Noun שובה (shuba) means withdrawal; noun שיבה (shiba) means restoration, and noun תשובה (teshuba) means answer. Adjectives שובב (shobab), שובב (shobeb) and משובה (meshuba) mean backsliding, or transitioning from a positive to a negative way of life.
Verb ישב (yashab) means to sit (the act which occurs precisely in between a person's descent and ascent) or to remain or dwell (in between traveling to and from some place). Nouns שבת (shebet) and מושב (moshab) mean both seat or dwelling place. Noun תושב (toshab) means sojourner.
The verb שבת (shabbat) means to rest or cease activity, and the familiar noun שבת (shabbat) means a rest or stoppage. Noun שבת (shebbet) means cessation and is closely similar to the noun שבת (shebet), meaning seat, mentioned above. Noun משבת (mishbat) also means cessation. Denominative verb שבת (shabat) means to keep the Sabbath and the noun שבתון (shabbaton) denotes a sabbatical observance.
Verb שבה (shaba) means to take captive, or to put a halt to someone's preferred trajectory and coerce them to go somewhere else. Nouns שבי (shebi) and שביה (shibya) mean captivity or captives collectively, but with the emphasis on being moved somewhere rather than the static condition of being imprisoned. Likewise, the noun שביה (shebiya) means captive. Noun שבית (shebit) or שבות (shebut) means captivity but since the parent verb speaks of a sudden change of destiny rather than a particular destination, this noun may also be used to mean restoration. The noun שבו (shebo) describes some sort of gem, apparently a real "head-turner."
For a meaning of the name Shebna, NOBSE Study Bible Name List doesn't offer a translation but states that it is "perhaps an abbreviation of Shebaniah". Likewise Gesenius and Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) refer to the otherwise unused verb שבן (saban), to be young, that both expect to form the first part of both names; Gesenius translates Shebna(h) with Tender Youth and Jones translates it with Grown Up. BDB Theological Dictionary also refers to the unused verb שבן (saban) but translates neither the verb nor either of the names.
Here at Abarim Publications we disagree with the traditional view and don't think the name Shebna(h) is either an abbreviation of Shebaniah or derived from an assumed and otherwise unused verb שבן (saban). Instead we propose that the name Shebna(h) refers to the transition between the brilliance and initial eminence of Phoenician and Proto-Hebraic script and the subsequent dominance of Aramaic script.
A Biblical name rarely has one clearly identifiable meaning and although that appears to cause confusion among some commentators, it's really a signature quality of the genre. Biblical names are often tiny poems whose meaning is a bouquet of meanings. Hence we translate the entire spectrum of the name(s) Shebna(h) as Seat Of Beauty - Captured - Please Let Return.