🔼The name Shiloh: Summary
- He Whose It Is
- Pacificator, Tranquility Town
- From (1) ש (shi), which is short for אשר ('asher), whose, and (2) לו (lu), if only, would it be that, may it be.
- From the verb שלה (shala), to extract or be at prosperous rest.
🔼The name Shiloh in the Bible
The name Shiloh is applied twice in the Bible, once as a Messianic title (Genesis 49:10, spelled שילה) and once as a much mentioned town in Ephraim (Joshua 18:1, spelled three different ways: שילו or שלו but mostly שלה).
The town of Shiloh is most famous for being the first seat of government of the invading Israelite forces under Joshua. At Shiloh the tent of meeting was set up (Joshua 18:1), the land was divided (18:10), and judges were seated, up to Eli and Samuel (1 Samuel 1:9).
🔼Etymology of the name Shiloh
Since שילה, the Messianic title, is so important, meanings are at once disputed. BDB Theological Dictionary leans towards a reading that Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names resolutely rejects, namely a compound of two elements, the first one being שׁ, the short form of אשר ('asher) meaning who or whose:
Verb ישר (yashar) means to be straight or level. Adjective ישר (yashar) means right or upright. Nouns ישר (yosher), ישרה (yeshara) and מישר (meshar) mean uprightness or straightness. Noun מישור (mishor) describes a level place or plain.
Verb אשר ('ashar) covers a decisive progression or a setting right, and is often applied to describe happiness and prosperity (right on!). This is not due to a curious coincidence but to the obvious correlation of righteousness and efficiency. Righteousness in the Biblical sense describes a solid grasp of natural law, which leads to high levels of technology, social liquidity and thus peace and prosperity.
Nouns אשר ('esher), אשר ('ashar) and אשר ('osher) mean happiness or blessedness. Nouns אשור (ashur) and אשר (ashur) mean a step, a walk or a going. The noun תאשור (te'ashur) refers to a kind of tree (a happy tree? a progressing tree?).
The relative particle אשר (asher) means who or which, and may or may not be related to the previous (but probably does).
And the second element, לו (lu), a particle that denotes potentiality, usually supplicatory, such as: if only, would it be that, may it be — in translations this word is often represented by 'Oh! May it be that...' More streamlined translations would probably choose something like 'Oh, I wish that...'
The particle לא (lo') or לוא (lo') is the primary particle of prohibition. It's used in prohibitive commands (thou shalt not), and is non-negotiable. It also serves as a particle of exclusion, which absolutely negates whatever follows: "not my people" means "absolutely totally not my people".
The particle לו (lu) or לוא (lu') is a minor particle of entreaty, and means "if only it were."
Still, it should be noted that even though English doesn't have a word that expresses supplicatory potential, the Hebrew language does. In English it's hard to turn the phrase into a name (Omayitbe or Goshiwishthat?) but in Hebrew it isn't. In fact, the name of the first king of Israel, Saul, means something along the same line: Wished For.
The Messiah of Israel was by no means just for Israel. Genesis 17:5 and 18:18 make it very clear: in Abraham — or more precise: through the covenant that God made with Abraham, the covenant of which Jesus Christ was the fulfillment — all the nations of the earth would be blessed (see also Ephesians 3:15 and Revelation 21:24). The prophet Balaam of Pethor foresaw a crushing ruler arise from Israel and take possession of all nations in Balaam's scope (Numbers 24:17), but the prophet Haggai, who wrote just after the return, perhaps tapped into Genesis 49:10 when he wrote, "...and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations will come..". (2:7).
The Messianic name Shiloh is then, with quite a substantial bit of poetic lenience, said to mean He Whose It Is (according to BDB Theological Dictionary). The main literary defensive argument for this view comes from Ezekiel 21:27, where the prophet speaks of he who shall come and whose right it is to own everything. In this statement the section between "until the coming of..". and "...is the right, and I will give it" is spelled אשר־לו, which looks a lot like the expanded version of our name. Add to that the detail that both Genesis 40:10 and Ezekiel 21:27 deal with Judah and the government or ownership of that tribe, and the argument becomes quite compelling.
In his counter-argument, Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names notes that Ezekiel's style is rather modern, Biblically spoken, and quite unlike material found in the Pentateuch. But that argument may be annulled by the Pentateuch's late edition theory, which suggests that the Book of Genesis, though originally very old, was edited to its present form around the time of Ezekiel. Either way, we may be quite certain that Ezekiel, a priest who experienced Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem, was well aware of the prophecy of Genesis 49:10. And from an author of that caliber we may expect confident references instead of accidental similarities.
Isaiah, also not a marginal poet, wrote more than a hundred years prior to Ezekiel (although critics bothered with the name of Cyrus in chapters 44 and 45 place him, or at least these references, after the return from the exile). Isaiah seems to refer to the larger compass of Genesis 49:10 in his famous Messianic prophecy, when he says, "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on his shoulders" (9:6).
After this reference to government, Isaiah lavishes the Messiah with a series of honorary titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace, which brings us to the interpretation of the name Shiloh that Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names and some others favor and BDB Theological Dictionary not even considers: a derivation of the verb שלה (shala), to extract and hence to be quiet or at rest, with the distinct connotation of prospering:
The verb שלל (shalal) means to extract, mostly in the sense of to plunder. The noun שלל (shalal) means plunder. Adjective שולל (sholal) means barefoot.
Verb שלה (shala) too means to extract. Noun שליה (shilya) means afterbirth.
Perhaps a second verb שלה (shala) means to be at rest and prosper, although a peaceful existence occurs when one is extracted from the world of toil and turmoil. Nouns שלו (shalu) and שלוה (shalwa) mean prosperity. Adjectives שלי (sheli) and שלו (shalew) mean quiet, private or prosperous.
BDB Theological Dictionary thinks that the Messianic title means He Whose It Is but Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names refers to the Samaritan Pentateuch, where this name is translated as Pacific, Pacificator or Tranquility.
BDB Theological Dictionary and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names agree, however, that the name of Shiloh the town indeed is derived of שלה (shala). As such is may be translated as Tranquility Town (or Fair Haven or Pleasantville).
NOBSE Study Bible Name List doesn't translate either name.