🔼The name Succoth-benoth: Summary
- Booths Of Daughters
- From (1) the noun סכה (sukka), booth, and (2) the plural of בת (bat), daughter, which comes from בן (ben), son.
🔼The name Succoth-benoth in the Bible
The name Succoth-benoth occurs only once in the Bible, although it may be an expansion of the name Sikkuth, which may or may not occur in the Bible at all. But both these names belong to either one or else two separate Babylonian/Assyrian deities (where Sikkuth probably had to do with the planet Saturn).
Succoth-benoth was one of the pagan gods that were introduced in Canaan by Babylonian settlers who came to the region after king Shalmaneser V of Assyria had deported much of the Israelite population (2 Kings 17:30). We don't exactly know to which known deity the name Succoth-benoth refers. It's not uncommon for Hebrew authors to mutate or mutilate names of pagan gods to express their disgust with them, but the result is that we have a hard time estimating which original name they actually mutilated.
Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) assumes that Succoth-benoth is an extension of the name Sikkuth, which would refer to a specialized form of its cult (namely something to do with little booths, not unlike those used by the Israelites during the Feast Of Booths). BDB Theological Dictionary relates the belief of some scholars that Succoth-benoth is a corruption of Zir-banit, a.k.a. Zarpanituw, the wife of Marduk. Other scholars assume that the name Succoth-benoth reflects both characters of this divine couple, where the Succoth-part is a corruption of Marduk and the benoth-part refers to Zir-banit.
🔼Etymology of the name Succoth-benoth
The name Succoth-benoth obviously consists of two elements. A Hebrew audience would probably recognize the first part of our name as derived from the noun סכה (sukka), meaning booth:
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.
The second part of our name is the regular plural of the word בת (bat), meaning daughter:
The noun בן (ben) means son, or more general: a member of one particular social or economic node — called a "house", which is built upon the instructions of one אב ('ab), or "father" — within in a larger economy (hence: the "sons of the prophet" are the members of the prophet-class; the prophets). This noun obviously resembles the verb בנה (bana), to build, and the noun אבן ('eben), stone.
Our noun's feminine version, namely בת (bat), means daughter, which resembles the noun בית (bayit), meaning house. Sometimes our noun is contracted into a single letter ב, whose name beth comes from בית (bayit) and means "house" as well. As a prefix, the letter ב (be) means "in." The word for mother, אם ('em), is highly similar to that of tribe or people, אמה ('umma).
Since we don't know which theological folly the name Succoth-benoth was supposed to infer, it's hard to pinpoint what it literally means. BDB Theological Dictionary argues that our name is a corruption of Zir-banit, which apparently means Seed-bearing or Seed-creating in Babylonian. But to the Hebrews (also because of the deliberate verbal mutilation) our name meant something completely different:
For a meaning of our name Succoth-benoth, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Tabernacles Of Girls and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names has the similar Tabernacles Of Daughters. But the Hebrew word for tabernacle is אהל ('ohel), and a more precise translation of Succoth-benoth is Booths Of Daughters.
Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that this name reflects overconfidence in a multi-disciplined science. Of course, science is massively important and an academy that comprises multiple separate labs and think tanks (daughters) is highly beneficial to any culture. But things go awfully awry when the ultimate goal of mankind's search for wisdom is misunderstood.
Nowadays we can endow computers with Artificial Intelligence and set them up to play a game we never explained to them. All we need to tell the computer is to win the game or to score the most points, and the computer will learn the game by trial and error until it plays better than any human and reach a perfect score. The problem with AI, however, is that we don't quite know how to score points at life. If only we knew what a perfect society looks like, we could tell our computers to get us there. And they would. But as long as we don't know how to bring about the New Jerusalem (humanity's perfect score), our AI overlords would quickly resort to a fascist regime that murders all dissidents. Anybody who tells an AI to weed out all obstacles to a perfect world and gives it the means to do it, will be swiftly executed by that obedient machine. This is why theology (i.e. the Study of Everything) is more important than AI.