🔼The name Sheth: Summary
- Set, Appointed, Foundation, Tumult
- From the verb שית (shyt), to set or place firm, or the verb שאה (sha'a), to roar loudly.
🔼The name Sheth in the Bible
Sheth is mentioned only once, in the phrase בני שת, meaning sons of Sheth, in Numbers 24:17. The name Sheth is spelled and pronounced exactly the same as the name Seth, which is the common English transliteration of the name of the third son of Adam and Eve, the ancestor of Noah, so it's a bit of a mystery why this one name has two versions in English.
And if that isn't enough: it's not even all that sure whether Sheth is really a name or not. In Numbers 24:17 the prophet Balaam pronounces a Messianic prophecy: a star will come forth from Jacob, who will crush through the forehead of Moab and tear down all the sons of Sheth. When in Jeremiah 48:45 the prophet Jeremiah pronounces his prophecies concerning Moab, he seems to quote the forehead part of Balaam's speech, and then talks about the scalps of the בני שאון; meaning sons of noise. Whether Balaam's שת is a contraction of Jeremiah's שאון, and Jeremiah deliberately quotes Balaam, or Jeremiah merely plays with Balaam's speech and deliberately turns it into something else, isn't clear. Older interpretations seem to favor equality while younger translations favor disparity.
The issue is even more clouded by the word that describes what exactly of the sons of Sheth is going to be dealt with. Jeremiah uses the noun קדקד (qdqd), which means head or crown of the head. But in Numbers it reads קרקר (qrqr), which is a word of unknown origin that possibly only occurs again in Isaiah 22:5. So, is the writer of Numbers using a very unusual word that means something negative (hence, in the latter days that negativity of all the sons of S(h)eth will be removed), and Jeremiah is having a field day making word jokes, or is קרקר a corruption of קדקד and both prophets are essentially saying the same thing? See our article on the קרר (qarar) word-cluster for more details.
🔼Etymology of the name Sheth
The name Sheth — identical to Seth — appears to be related to the following group of words:
The verb שית (shyt) means to give, set or place firm. Noun שית (shyt) refers to occupational garb, the dress upon which the profession stands. Noun שת (shat) describes a national foundation; whatever a nation is set on. Noun שית (shayit) collectively describes a kind of plant (perhaps a bottle tree?).
Noun שת (shet) probably also derives from this verb, and appears to refer to human buttocks. It's not often emphasized but our buttocks truly signify our species (apart from our brain). No other animal has buttocks like man, and this handsome feature allows humans to trot literally for days. Given time, humans can outrun pretty much any other animal (including horses and antelope.)
The noun שי (shay) may or may not be related to the previous verb. It denotes a devotional offering made to the Temple by foreigners.
The verb שאה (sha'a) means to roar loudly, and that with destruction in mind. Noun שאון (sha'on) describes the roaring sound of wild waters or armies converging. Noun שאוה (sha'awa) denotes a devastating storm. Nouns שאיה (she'iya) and שאת (she't) mean ruin.
The unused verb שוא (shw') clearly must have meant something similar to the previous. Noun שוא (shaw') means emptiness or nullification. Nouns שוא (shw'), שואה (sho'a), שאה (sho'a), משואה (mesho'a) and משאה (mesho'a) mean ravage, ruin and desolation. Noun תשאה (teshu'a) denotes a sound, probably loud and accompanying destruction.
Verb שוה (shawa) means to be smooth and hence to agree with or to be like. Noun שוה (shaweh) describes a level plain.
Either this same verb or an identical other one means to set or place, and is clearly similar to שית (shyt).
Noun שה (seh) denotes a sheep or goat. This word appears to be like our word "head" as it describes a unit of whatever flock or herd. This noun is sometimes spelled alternatively as שי (shay).
Verb שתה (shata) means to drink. Nouns שתי (sheti) and שתיה (shetiya) mean a drinking. Noun משתה (mishteh) describes a place of or occasion of dinking: a banquet feast.
For a meaning of the name Sheth, NOBSE Study Bible Name List figures that שת is a contraction of שאון but nevertheless a personal name, and reads Tumult as the meaning of that name. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names valiantly equates Seth and Sheth and appears to believe that Balaam foretells the unclear fate of all of us.
BDB Theological Dictionary refers to Genesis 4:25 and lists the name of the son of Adam and Eve, under the there used verb שית, but states that the occurrence of the exact same word in Numbers 24:17 "probably" comes from שאת.