🔼The name Shihor-libnath: Summary
- Shiny Black And White, Ignorant But Inquisitive
- From (1) the verb שחר (shahar), to be shiny black, and (2) the verb לבן (laben), to be white.
🔼The name Shihor-libnath in the Bible
The name Shihor-libnath occurs only once in the Bible but we don't exactly know whether it's a city or a river. But whatever it is, it marked the border of the territory of the tribe of Asher, and should be somewhere close to mount Carmel (present day Haifa).
Most commentaries state that Shihor-libnath was a river but there's nothing in the text that makes that clear, or where that river is supposed to be. The only river close to mount Carmel is the Kishon, which still drains into Haifa bay to this day.
🔼Etymology of the name Shihor-libnath
The name Shihor-libnath consists of two elements that seem each other's opposites. The first part appears to come from the verb שחר (shahar), to be shiny black:
The verb שחר (shahar) means to be glossy, shiny black (not mat black); it often describes shiny black hair. The adjective שחר (shahor) means black, and adjective שחרחר (sheharhor) means blackish. Nouns שחור (shehor) and שחרות (shaharut) means blackness.
That our verb most probably emphasized inherent or even inner glow rather than a mere dark hue is made evident by the noun שחר (shahar), which means dawn. The denominative verb שחר (shahar) describes a diligent searching, which suggests that within the darkness of ignorance, the desire to search is the dawn.
It also demonstrates that this word for "dawn" had a symbolic meaning as strong as that of the words for light and enlightenment. Ultimately our verb means to be black but shiny, or ignorant but inquisitive.
The second part of our name is an older variant spelling of the common form לבנה, which covers several different nouns, which all come from the verb לבן (laben), meaning to be or become white:
The verb לבן (laben) means to be or become white. Contrary to modern understandings of white as a symbol, in the Bible white either denotes a blank state (and thus emptiness or stupidity) or the state of greatest resistance to the absorption of light, which comes down to pride, stubbornness and more stupidity. Hence leprosy, or the "white disease" signifies unwarranted pride and arrogance.
Contrary to popular conception, black and white are both dark, but black things absorb light and become hot (or smart), whereas white things reflect light and stay cold (or stupid).
Adjective לבן (laban) means white (i.e. blank, un-written upon: stupid). Noun לבנה (lebanah) refers to the moon. Nouns לבנה (lebonah) and לבונה (lebonah) describe frankincense. Noun לבנה (lebneh) describes the poplar. Noun לבנה (lebenah) means brick, and the denominative verb לבן (laban) means to make bricks.
The wonderful name Shihor-libnath can mean all kinds of things: Black-White or Darkness Of The Moon or Bright Dawn.
For a meaning of the name Shihor-libnath, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Turbid Stream Of Libnath, which apparently assumes a town called Libnath, which could be a namesake of Libnah (again, of an older spelling).
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names cites the famous German theologian Johann David Michaelis who figured that the elusive verb שחר II (shahar II) could very well have meant "breaking forth" and boldly applied it to the behavior of rivers. Then he evenly boldly assumed that the verb לבן (laben) may very well also have meant to be transparent, and could have described the glass that Phoenicians made from sand found on the beach. And thus Michaelis translated our name with River Of Glass. The difficulty with all this is that in the Bible dawn is never experienced as breaking forth, or being river-like, and the verb לבן (laben) never reflects whatever little concept of transparency the Hebrews had.
BDB Theological Dictionary neither interprets this name nor lists it under either of the roots cited above. BDB lists this name beneath the name Shihor, but expresses doubt that either name technically arose from either of the above roots.