🔼The name Sikkuth: Summary
- Booths, Weavings, House Of Cards
- From the root סכך (sakak), to weave a protection.
🔼The name Sikkuth in the Bible
It's not certain whether Sikkuth is a Biblical name or not. The authors of the Septuagint didn't think so, and neither did the authors of the King James Version, the American Standard Version, the Darby Translation, and most recently, the New International Version. But on the other hand, the authoritative Jewish Society Publication's translation does recognize the name Sikkuth, and so does the Young translation and, most recently, the New American Standard.
If Sikkuth is a name, it occurs in Amos 5:26 (and also shows up in the compound name Succoth-benoth; 2 Kings 17:30), along with covert references to the gods Moloch, Kiyyun, Selem, the Heavenly Host and perhaps also Asher and Eloah:
The prophet Amos seems to mention Sikkuth in conjunction with Kiyyun, and both these names are eerily reminiscent of the names of a known Babylonian and Assyrian deity, namely Sak-kut a.k.a. Kaiwanu (a.k.a. Ninib). These names both appear to refer to Saturn, and were demonstrated to be associated in the Shurpu tablets (says the venerable William Rainy Harper on page 140 of his opus A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea and leaves the following handy reference for easy verification: IV. R. 52, col. 4, l. 9).
The trouble with all this is that the verse in Amos speaks of the doings of the Israelites during the wandering years, and in the time just after the Exodus, Babylonian and Assyrian deities were not yet introduced in the area where Israel wandered, nor is such idolatry mentioned anywhere in the Torah (according to 2 Kings 17:30, the various Babylonian deities were introduced in Canaan by Babylonian settlers immediately after the second deportation in about 720 BC).
However, Amos wrote in the eighth century BC, and the Torah as we have it was not written yet. Perhaps Amos referred to the Egyptian equivalent of this Babylonian farmer-god (which would be Osiris), or perhaps to general nature worship. In his famous sermon to the Sanhedrin, Stephen appears to quote or rather paraphrase Amos, and speaks of the "tabernacle of Moloch" and "the star of the god Rompha" (Acts 7:43). This deity Rephan or Rompha isn't otherwise known in history (and some say that the author of Acts meant to copy Amos but mistook the Hebrew letter כ, k, for a ר, r, but that's rather a tall order), but Stephen's interpretation shows quite a level of liberty in interpreting and reapplying Amos' message, and may suggest that Amos was doing the same thing: addressing general theological follies by applying them to corresponding contemporary theology.
But on the other hand, perhaps Amos was a truly great poet, who wrote his inculpation in phrases that obviously reflect the highlights of the pattern of salvation (the feast of booths, the kingdom, humanity made in God's image), but which also contained the subliminal names of up to six highly attractive pagan deities. And, says Amos, because Israel reached for all these counter-salvific forces and not to the One Who Is And Does, YHWH would allow Israel's exile to Assyria.
🔼Etymology of the name Sikkuth
Whether Sikkuth is a name or not, it comes from the following root group:
The root סכך (sakak) or שכך (sakak) speaks of the creation of a hedge of sorts from interwoven strands of sorts. It commonly describes how prickly branches interweave to create a defensive hedge to hide behind and to look intently out from. In a figurative sense it may describe any sort of protective thing that consists of many separate branches, and from which one looks out.
The Psalmist famously connected this verb to the formation of a human fetus (Psalm 139:13), but it also obviously links to human culture and science and technology at large. The evangelists openly referred to all this by means of the famous "crown of thorns."
Nouns מסך (masak), מסכה (mesuka) and מוסך (musak) describe coverings or screens (mostly of the tabernacle). Noun סך (sak) means throng or multitude; an "interwoven mass" of people. Nouns סך (sok) and סכה (sukka) describe a thicket or lair from where a lion would lay in wait to pounce on a prey. The latter noun is also often used to describe woven booths to stall cattle or even to house soldiers or guards. This noun occurs frequently in the legislation concerning the Feast Of Booths.
Noun שך (sok) means booth or pavilion. Noun משכה (mesukka) means hedge. Noun שך (sek) means thorn and noun שכה (sukka) means barb. Noun שכון (sakkin) means knife. This noun may actually be a loanword but it fits right in.
Verb סוך (suk) or סיך (syk) describes the administration of oil — apparently in the expectation that this would protect the recipient, since this two-faced verb may also be used to mean to hedge in. To solve this conundrum, dictionaries propose a whole separate verb, which accidentally may also be spelled in two identical ways. Noun אסוך ('asuk) means [oil-] flask. Noun מסכה (mesuka) means hedge and is obviously similar to משכה (mesukka) meaning hedge.
Verb שוך (suk) means to hedge or fence up. It too yields a noun משכה (mesuka), meaning hedge. Nouns שוך (sok) and שוכה (soka) mean branch.
Verb שכה (saka) means to look out, keep watch or even hope for. Nouns שכוי (sekwi) and שכיה (sekiya) denote a kind of celestial sign or appearance. Noun משכית (maskit) denotes a kind of show-piece, real or imaginary.
HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes that in the middle ages, the Masoretes vocalized both "names" Sikkuth and Kiyyun with the vowels of the word שקץ (shiqqus), a noun taken from the similarly spelled verb that means to detest or be detestable.
Those translations that don't recognize Sikkuth as a name but see it as a regular word, appear to translate it with tabernacle, following Acts 7:43. But that's misleading because the Hebrew word for tabernacle is אהל ('ohel; see the names Oholah and Oholiab). Our word סכות could be construed as related to the feminine noun סכה (sukka), meaning booth, and particularly the plural form: סכת, meaning booths (as in Feast of Booths). And as the name of an agricultural deity, Sikkuth could also be interpreted to mean Branch or Thicket.
Here at Abarim Publications we like to believe that Amos arranged the four subliminal god-names in synonymous parallel (which is a common feature of Hebrew poetry; see for instance Amos 5:24), but also used broken symmetry to drive his point of moral corruption. The "name" Kaiwanu or Kiyyun could be construed to literally mean "likeness," which corresponds to the word that immediately follows it: צלם (selem), meaning image.
The "name" Sikkuth precedes the noun מלך (melek), meaning king. The office of kingship was one of three offices into which a person would be inaugurated by means of anointing (the others being that of prophet and high priest; see our article on the epithet Messiah). And that means that Amos possibly meant to have the "name" Sikkuth point towards the verb סיך (suk), meaning to anoint. In this scheme the name Sikkuth means Anointed.
Ultimately, the name Sikkuth may have reminded a creative audience of the great art of concocting elaborate theories from a handful of dubious assertions, and taken this name to mean Weavings or House Of Cards.