🔼The name Shinar: Summary
- Cast Out A Breach
- That What Is Young (or Shakes, Growls)
- Tooth Town, City Of Wit
- From the root שער (s'r), which expresses intense negative emotion and the experience of violence.
- From the root נער (na'ar), to growl, shake or be young.
- From (1) the verb שנן (shanan), to be sharp, and (2) the noun עיר ('ir), city.
🔼The name Shinar in the Bible
Shinar is the region in southern Mesopotamia where Nimrod's kingdom commenced. It is also the location of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:2). Scholars generally assume that Shinar is the Hebrew interpretation of what is commonly referred to as Sumer.
By the time of the invasion of Canaan, Shinar was a hot spot of culture and wealth. When Achan foolishly purloined some of Ai's spoil, his interests were also kindled by a robe from Shinar, which was then apparently as recognizable as an Armani coat is now (Joshua 7:21).
Shinar was also among the destination of exiled Judahites (Daniel 1:2) but through the prophet Isaiah, YHWH promised to bring his people home from there (Isaiah 11:11). In one of his enigmatic visions, the prophet Zechariah foresaw a temple dedicated to Wickedness in Shinar (Zechariah 5:11).
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Shinar
The etymology or meaning of the name Shinar is not known for sure, but various possibilities exist.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names derives it from שער (sh'r):
The general root שער (s'r) appears to primarily express intense negative emotion or the experience of violence. Curiously, it also yields words that have to do with hair.
Noun שער (se'ar) means hair or hairdo, and noun שערה (sa'ara) denotes a single hair. The derived denominative verb שער (sa'ar) would literally means to be hairy or "hairish" but in fact is solely used to mean to be very afraid. Taking the liberty to back-engineer this verb yields the observation that a single hair would have to be associated with a single fear, a full head of hair with lots of concerns, and a bald pate with either a stoic mastery or else a blissfully empty head.
Noun שער (sa'r), means horror. Adjective שעיר (sa'ir) means hairy. Noun שעיר (sa'ir) denotes a he-goat (a bristly guy or a fear guy?) and its feminine counterpart שעירה (sa'ira) means she-goat. Noun שערה (se'ora) means barley, the bearded grain.
Verb שער (sa'ar) means to sweep or whirl away, usually in relation to a storm wind. Nouns שער (sa'ar) and its feminine counterpart שערה (se'ara) mean storm. These words also occur in an alternative spelling, namely as the verb סער (sa'ar), to storm, and nouns סער (sa'ar) and סערה (seara), storm.
In the Middle Ages, scholars began to add dots and points to the Scriptures. All previous words they equipped with a dot on the left tooth of the letter ש, hence שׂ (sin), whereas the following words were spelled with a dot to the right, hence שׁ (shin). To the original authors and the first thousand years of their readers, this difference did not exist.
Verb שער (sha'ar) exists in other languages with the meaning of to break, tear through or split, which obviously repeats the general theme of the experience of violence. The adjective שער (sho'ar) means horrid or disgusting, and nouns שערורה (sha'arura), שערוריה (sha'aruriya) and שעררית (sha'arurit) denote horror or horrible things.
Much more neutral are the nouns שער (sha'ar), gate, and שער (sho'er), gatekeeper or porter. These words suggests that the ancients associated a hair emerging from skin to traffic emerging from a city gate, like words flowing from an overfilled heart. This in turn suggests that when a grieving person pulls his or her hair out, he or she becomes silent with grief.
The verb שער (sha'ar) is also used to mean to calculate or reckon, obviously with an emphasis on the verbal conveyance of something internally experienced. Noun שער (sha'ar) is also used to mean "fold" in the sense of "a hundred fold."
The core idea of root שער (sh'r) is to split open, to break through. Thus, for a meaning of the name Shinar, Jones reads Casting Out, or Scattering In All Manner Of Ways, but admits that "the derivation, however, is very uncertain".
More appealing is the verb נער (na'ar), to be young or youthful:
The verb נער (na'ar) has three major nuances. Its core meaning is to be to be young, but it may also mean to growl and to shake or shake loose. Noun נער (na'ar) means a scattering and noun נערת (ne'oret) refers to a kind of plant-product that involved beating and scattering. These words occur just a few times in the Bible. Much more common are the words that have to do with being young.
Noun נער (na'ar) means young one or child of both sexes. The feminine version of this word, נערה (na'ara), commonly refers to a marriageable but unmarried young woman. Nouns נער (no'ar), נעורים (ne'urim) and נערות (ne'urot) mean youth or early life.
Any of these roots preceded by the relative particle שׁ ('asher), meaning who, which, that, yields That What Is Young (or Shakes, Growls).
The name Shinar may even remind a Hebrew audience of a combination of the words שן (shin), tooth, from the verb שנן (shanan), sharpen, both literally and figuratively of the mind or intellect:
The root שנן (shanan) speaks of repetition or the creation of distance between elements, often preceded by a breaking apart, and followed by a removal or even storage.
Verb שנן (shanan) means to sharpen, and sharpening is achieved by removing material by repeatedly stroking a blade against a whetstone. This verb is also used in the sense of sharpening a mind by repeating the same exercise. Noun שן (shen) means tooth. Noun שנינה (shenina) denotes a "sharp" word; a taunt.
Verb שנה (shana) means to change or create a difference — of one's mind, or one's clothes, and this mostly through repetition. Noun שנה (shana) means year.
Perhaps formally separate but obviously related, or else the very same verb שנה (shana) means to repeat or reoccur. Noun שנים (shenayim) or שתים (shetayim) is the common word for two or a pair. Adjective שני (sheni) or שנית (shenit) means second and noun משנה (misneh) means second, double, or copy. Noun שנאן (shin'an) is used as a superlative in figures of speech (i.e. expressions like double-down, super-double-good).
Noun שני (shani) denotes the color purple. This noun might formally derive from a third wholly separate verb of unclear meaning but obviously reminds of the many times a garment has to be dipped in dye to have its color changed.
Verb ישן (yashen) means to sleep, which seems to indicate that the ancients related one's daily activities to a forward stroke of one's mental blade against the whetstone of life, whereas sleep counted as the trailing stroke backward and removal of the burr. Adjective ישן (yashen) means sleeping or sleepy, and is obviously similar to its sibling noun ישן (yashen), which means old. Nouns שנה (shena), שנא (shena') and שנת (shenat) mean sleep.
Verb שנא (sane') is commonly translated with to hate but actually lacks the angry emotion that our English word conveys. It rather means to reject, create distance from and send away. Adjective שניא (sani') means hated (i.e. the hated wife), and noun שנאה (sin'a) means a hating or hatred, which comes down to a separating or a sending away.
The second part of our name could then be construed to derive from ער ('ar), foe, an Aramaic loan word which is very sporadically used in the Hebrew text of the Bible. Or it may be reckoned as a contraction of the much more common word עיר ('ir), city:
The root ערר ('arar) describes an accumulation in one place that results in an emptiness or barrenness everywhere else — both cities and clouds form from this principle, and indeed any sort of commercial or intellectual fortune. Adjectives ערירי ('ariri) and ערער ('ar'ar) mean stripped, childless or destitute. Noun מערה (me'ara) literally means "place of being stripped" and is the Bible's common word for cave. Noun ערוער ('aro'er) denotes some kind of tree or bush (probably one without leaves).
Noun עיר ('ir) is the Bible's common word for city, which constitutes an accumulation of people and goods, usually in the middle of a wide area without remaining trees. Noun עיר ('ayir) came to specifically denote the wild ass, but apparently stems from the more common behavior of standing around in clusters in the middle of a field that's been grazed clean (in other languages this word also denotes gazelles and such).
Verb עור ('awar) means to be or make blind, and blindness occurs most commonly due to a cataract (which looks like a skin forming over the eye, and is due to a cloudy accumulation of protein in the ocular lens). Adjective עור ('iwwer) means blind. Nouns עורון ('iwwaron) and עורת ('awweret) mean blindness.
Verb עור ('ur I) means to rouse oneself — literally to collect and bundle one's feelings. Noun עיר ('ir) means excitement.
Identical verb עור ('ur II) means to be exposed or laid bare. Noun מעור (ma'or) means nakedness and noun מערם (ma'arom) means naked one. Adjectives עירם ('erom), ערם ('erom), ערום ('arom) and ערם ('arom) mean naked. Noun עור ('or) means skin or hide.
Verb ערה ('ara) also means to be naked or bare. Nouns ערה ('ara), מערה (ma'ara) and מער (ma'ar) refer to bare or exposed places. Nouns ערוה ('erwa) and עריה ('erya) mean nakedness or exposure. Noun תער (ta'ar) denotes a thing that makes bare: a razor or sheath of a sword.
That would bring the meaning of Shinar to Tooth Town, or City Of Wit.