🔼The name Shechem: Summary
- Shoulder, Personal Interest
- From the noun שכם (shekem), shoulder, the seat of a person's interests.
🔼The name Shechem in the Bible
The name Shechem is ascribed to two or three men and a location. Shechem is first mentioned as a place where Abram sojourned (Genesis 12:6). Later Jacob settled there upon his return to Canaan (Genesis 33:19) and bought the land from Hamor the Hivite, the father of a man named Shechem. This Shechem took a liking to Jacob's only daughter Dinah, the daughter of Leah, who was also the mother of half of the sons of Jacob. After Shechem took Dinah by force, her brothers Simeon and Levi destroyed and looted the city (Genesis 34).
Father Jacob, apparently, was more worried about the political consequences of the actions of his sons than those of Shechem (34:30), and rescinded their rights as sons number two and three (49:5-7 — son number one, Reuben, had already forfeited his position by sleeping with Bilhah, his father's concubine; 35:22 and 49:4). So doing, son number four, Judah, became most prominent.
Either one or two other Shechems are mentioned among the descendants of Joseph through Manasseh. One Shechem was a son of Gilead, whose progeny became known as the שכמי; the Shechemites (Numbers 26:31). The Chronicler mentions Shechem, son of Shemida, who may or may not be the same as the previous one (1 Chronicles 7:19). The word for son in Hebrew covered what we call sons but also grandsons or any descendant.
But note that even though that in English all these names turn out as Shechem, the Masoretes interpreted the names of the Shechems from Manasseh slightly different. How these names sounded we don't know (there are no sound recordings from those days) but the difference between the Hivite Shechem and the Manassite Shechem is minute.
🔼Etymology of the name Shechem
The name Shechem is identical to the noun שכם (shekem), meaning shoulder:
The important noun שכם (shekem) means shoulder, and one's shoulder was considered the seat of one's burdens, whether physical or metaphorical. Curiously, though, the denominative verb that came from this noun, namely שכם (shakam), does not mean "to shoulder" in the sense of to carry something, but rather to rise early or to make an early start. This seems to suggest that a person's burden was considered a thing of voluntary dedication rather than something forced upon this person.
HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament additionally notes that the region or city called Shechem may thank its name from the two mountains upon which shoulders it was built.
For a meaning of the name Shechem, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Shoulder. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Back.
Here at Abarim Publications we prefer to translate the name Shechem with (Having A Sense Of) Responsibility. This may seem as a rather strange name for a rapist, but it should be noted that Shechem had every intention to marry Dinah (Genesis 34:4), which in those days may have been more unusual than rape.