🔼The name Shepham: Summary
- Bald, Fence Keeper
- From the root שפף (shpp), which has to do with borders between unequal realms that nevertheless have a common origin.
🔼The name Shepham in the Bible
This town called Shepham may have dropped off the Biblical map, but it appears to have remained until the time of David. One of his officers was Zabdi the Shiphmite (שפמי; 1 Chronicles 27:27), and that ethnonym would describe someone from Shepham (or possibly a descendant of a man called Shapham, but in the paragraph in which this ethnonym appears, all ethnonyms seem to point at places and not patriarchs).
🔼Etymology of the name Shepham
It's not clear how the name Shepham is formed but it probably has to do with either the root שפה (shapa) or שפף (shpp):
Root ספף (sapap) has to do with creating, marking or temporarily reaching through the border between two essentially distinct realms that nevertheless have a common origin; this border circles around the smaller of the two so that this smaller realm sits within the larger. It's the verb that describes any such formation from the palisade around a tribal territory to the fence around a single house, the skin of a person or even the cellular wall of a eukaryote.
Noun סף (sap) means threshold or sill (and is also the word for a kind of goblin or based bowl). Verb סוף (sup) means to come at an end. Noun סוף (sop) means end. Noun שפה (sapa) denotes the edge of things. Noun סופה (supa) describes a violent storm (perhaps a tornado, in form comparable to a goblin or based bowl).
Noun סוף (sup) refers to reed, which grows at, and thus marks the border between water and dry land. From reed comes papyrus, and books mark the border between the howling outer dark and the enlightened space within. The industrial production of papyrus, of course, was an absolute marvel and a milestone in information technology (easily comparable with the invention of floppies and disk drives in our age).
Verb ספה (sapa) means to sweep away (across the threshold, out the door) and so does verb שפה (shapa). The latter may also mean to skim, to shave or to border-mark by means of a protruding beacon or mark. From the latter comes the verb שפת (shapat), which describes some kind of setting or placing just outside the realm of civilization, and that usually by means of a ring of conspicuous, guiding and protecting fires. Proverbially, both the contagious and the extremely poor, and of course the shepherds, their flocks and wild animals abided on the dark side of these fires. The latter verb also yields noun שפי (shepi), which describes bones sticking through the skin of an emaciated man, or hills that likewise conspicuously mark some border, presumably in an otherwise flat landscape.
Verb שוף (shup) appears to mean to violate in the sense of illicitly entering one's personal space (or body). This verb became associated with the bite of a snake, and the noun שפיפן (shepipon) denotes some sort of snake, presumably one that attacks by darting from its burrow and then swiftly retreating.
For a meaning of the name Shepham, Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Bald. BDB Theological Dictionary neither translates this name nor lists it under any particular root. Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that this name is similar to the name Saph and derives from the function of the Fence Keeper. This would be a fitting name for a border town.