🔼The name Shunem: Summary
- Unknown, but perhaps [Place Of] Glyphs (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 Shunem in the Bible
The city of Shunem is mentioned three times in the Bible. It's first mentioned among the cities that befell the tribe of Issachar upon the division of the conquered territories of Canaan (Joshua 19:18). This paragraph places Shunem in proximity to Jezreel, which in turn makes Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) proclaim that Abigail may have been from Shunem, although he probably meant Ahinoam, who was indeed called the Jezreelitess. Jones' erroneous and somewhat unwarranted eagerness to assign a Jezreelitess an origin from Shunem probably derives from this making Ahinoam the third Shunammite woman mentioned in the Bible, and that's a big deal (the other two are Abishag and the unnamed friend of Elisha whose son he revives).
The second time Shunem is mentioned (1 Samuel 28:4), Samuel has just died and Saul is chasing David who has escaped into Philistine territory and was the guest of Achish, son of Maoch, king of Gath (where also Goliath came from) until Achish gave David the city of Ziklag. Much later, Elisha sends the family of the unnamed Shunammite to the Philistines to escape a seven-year famine (2 Kings 8:1-2). Saul, meanwhile, sees the Philistines camped at Shunem and realizes that YHWH has left him, loses heart and futilely seeks refuge in the visions of the witch of En-dor.
The third time Shunem is mentioned is to introduce the Shunammite lady who makes her upper room available for Elisha to rest (2 Kings 4:8).
It's clear that Shunem is not merely an actual city of marginal historical significance but rather also allegorizes a key element in the larger struggle to develop a working alphabet out of the early Egyptian efforts and the subsequent consonantal abjad of the Phoenicians. What, exactly, the Shunammites were collectively working on, or perhaps which linguistic element the "Shunammite" represents, is not too clear at this point, but there are obvious areas of overlap with entities such as the Gittite (a "female" from Gath), the scribes of Jabez, the paper trade of Gebal (see our article on βιβλος, biblos), and the parchment-producing technicians of Pergamum.
🔼Etymology of the name Shunem
It's not wholly clear where the name Shunem may come from. The seminal linguist Gesenius and his faithful acolyte Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) propose that the name Shunem comes from שונמים (shunim), which would be a dual form of a noun derived from an alternative spelling 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 here at Abarim Publications we suspect that if the original audience understood our name to be the result of significant verbal drifts and shifts, its ultimate origin might in turn be sought in the שנן (shanan)-cluster:
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 Shunem, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Uneven, perhaps suggesting it to be a condensed plural form of the noun שן (shen), meaning jag, crag or tooth. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names goes with the verb שאן (sha'an) and reads Two Resting Places. BDB Theological Dictionary neither interprets our names nor lists a proposed joint root.