🔼The name Shem: Summary
- Name, Fame, Conscious Knowledge Of The Whole Of Creation
- From the noun שם (shem), name or renown.
🔼The name Shem in the Bible
Noah was five-hundred years old when he fathered Shem and six-hundred when the flood hit, which means that Shem was a crisp century old when he and his family bobbed about in the Ark. Shem died in the year 502 AF (After the Flood), which is 35 years after Abraham died (in 467 AF).
At God's instructions Noah gathered a male and female couple of every animal, and seven individuals from every bird species and "clean" kind of animal. Since Noah also brought seven humans along (namely his wife and his three sons plus their wives), humans neatly fit the clean animal group or else the bird group.
After the flood receded and all creatures disembarked the Ark, Shem's brother Ham insulted his father and his son Canaan was cursed accordingly: Shem and Japheth were to live together in tents and Canaan was to be their servant.
Shem became the ancestor of Abraham and thus Jesus (Luke 3:36, where Shem is spelled in Greek as Σημ), and when the field of linguistics was invented, Shem also lent his name to the language group that Hebrew is part of: Semitic.
🔼Shem, the man
Since Noah represents the whole of mankind (and his vineyard mankind's culture; see our articles on the words כרם, kerem, meaning vineyard, and יין, yayan, meaning wine), the brothers Shem, Ham and Japheth represent the most rudimentary inner structure of humanity, in both a sociological and psychological sense.
As more elaborately expounded in our article on the name Noah, Ham appears to denote mankind's most primitive, self-centered instincts and organizational structure of the chiefdom. Japheth's view goes beyond the personal and incorporates a theory of mind, develops oligarchy and democracy (two of Japheth's sons are Javan or Greece, and Madai or Persia) but remains convinced of the bi-polar, yin-yang nature of reality: "us," the good guys, versus "them," the bad guys.
The Shemite mentality, on the contrary, rises wholly above the self and views the world in absolute terms (that means: not relative to the self). To the Shemite, only natural law and verifiable knowledge of creation are important (John 4:22-24, Romans 1:20, 1 Corinthians 2:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:21), and that not for glory or reward, personal gain or even personal preservation (Isaiah 53:7, John 12:24, Romans 12:1-2) but in order to be a perfect steward of creation and thus the Creator (Psalm 24:1, Romans 8:19, 13:8-10, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, 1 Peter 4:10).
To a Shemite, neither borders nor kinship nor human government nor perceived enemies nor religion nor symbols are of any importance (Genesis 12:13, Luke 9:23, 14:26-33, Revelation 21:22). And, very hip, to a Shemite not even genders matter (Galatians 3:28).
🔼Etymology of the name Shem
The name Shem is equal to the word שם (shem), which itself means "name":
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 name Shem means Name, Fame or Reputation, or even Identity or Personality. But here at Abarim Publications we're pretty sure that Shem wasn't named after his own fame or prowess but rather after the Name of the Creator, which in turn reflected all of his deeds, which in turn comes down to the whole of reality (as indeed "theology" is not the "study of God," since God cannot be measured, but rather the "study of everything" as man knows God only through his works).
For a meaning of the name Shem, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Name, Renown. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names has Name, but adds Celebrated, Distinguished.