🔼The name Shunammite: Summary
- Unknown, but perhaps Glyph-Developer (or Silences or Teeth).
- Perhaps from the verb שאן (sha'an), to be quiet, or the verb שנן (shanan), to sharpen, to be teethed.
🔼The name Shunammite in the Bible
There are two women in the Bible who sport the curious epithet Shunammite:
- The beautiful Abishag the Shunammite (השונממית), who assumed the duty of keeping the old and ailing king David warm (1 Kings 1:3, 1:15, 2:17-22). She was obviously more than just a warm body as her story closely parallels that of Esther (see Esther 2:2) and even Homer's Helen of Troy. The allegorical function of Abishag's character appears to have to do with the development of technologies that were needed to support the development of alphabetical writing (Solomon's temple of YHWH was ultimately devoted to the Hebrew-Phoenician alphabet) — one could perhaps think of the development of paper and pens; see our article on the name Gebal. The request of Bathsheba to Solomon to allow his rivalling brother Adonijah marriage to Abishag the Shunammite arouses the king's lethal suspicion that Adonijah is actually still after his kingdom, again demonstrating that Abishag is more than a living stove (2:22). See our article on the word θεραπων (therapon) for more on the hotness of Abishag the Shunammite.
- An otherwise unnamed "prominent woman" at Shunem (שונם), who extends her (and her husband's) lasting hospitality to the prophet Elisha and his wayward servant Gehazi by preparing an "upper chamber" for him to rest (2 Kings 4:8-37). The reference to this upper chamber of repose and the previously established calorific qualities of at least one other Shunammite woman raises the suspicion that this story is also about more than meets the eye. In an obvious nod to the annunciation of Isaac's birth (Genesis 18:10), Elisha and Gehazi tell the woman that she will bear a son the next year (4:16). That happens, but the boy becomes ill, develops a headache and dies while seated on his mother's lap. His mother rushes to fetch the prophet, who returns with her and raises the boy back to life. Much later, after a battle with Aram, Elisha warns the lady to flee an impending famine, which has her take her family to the land of the Philistines in a move not unlike that of David's (1 Samuel 27:1), and evidently also telling of the development of script (8:1-6).
🔼Etymology of the name Shunammite
It's not clear where the name Shunem and thus the ethnonym Shunammite come from, or even whether Abishag was called a Shunammite because she too was from Shunem or whether all three of these entities were named after a joint quality that had to do with the development of some technology that became beneficial to the development of writing as we know it. Shunem may have been a scribal city, like Jabez, or perhaps a paper-producing place like Gebal or a parchment-producing place like Pergamum.
Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) joins the formidable Gesenius in the belief that the names Shunem/Shunammite and Shuni derive from an alternate form of the verb שאן (sha'an), to be quiet:
The verb שאן (sha'an) literally means to be undisturbed. In practice it denotes being comfy, relaxed and at ease. Adjective שאנן (sha'anan), means unmoved in the sense of being perpetual, inattentive or complacent.
But a chance exist in equal measures that these names rather derive from an alternative spelling of any of the following שן-words:
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.
For a meaning of the name Shunammite NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads A Native Of Shunem, and for the latter it reads Uneven, for no reason that jumps to mind with great conviction. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names follows Gesenius and reads Two Resting Places for Shunem, asserting that the form constitutes a dual. BDB Theological Dictionary indeed groups the three names together but proposes no joint root and offers no meaning or interpretation.
Here at Abarim Publications we don't know either, but perhaps the scribes of Shunem tried to develop the glyph, what in English is the space between words, the space that separates the words and makes text much easier to read and understand. Glyphs are really as essential as any letter and were developed along with the alphabet. For obscure reasons, the Greek scribes began to drop the glyph and their texts, and subsequent Latin and European texts became scriptio continua until in the 7th century Irish monks brought the blank-space glyph back into use.