🔼The name Zelah: Summary
- Leaning, Buttress
- From the verb צלע (sala'), to buttress, to lean on sideways.
🔼The name Zelah in the Bible
The name Zelah occurs twice in the Bible, although the second occurrence is (or used to be) disputed. We hear first of the town of Zelah in Joshua 18:28, where the boundaries of the tribe of Benjamin are stipulated.
The second time this place is mentioned is in 2 Samuel 21:14, where Saul and Jonathan are buried in Zelah of Benjamin (and because the Masoretes pointed this צלע slightly different, most modern English translations insist on transliterating our name here as Zela, without the final h).
The Septuagint and the Vulgate didn't recognize this occurrence of צלע as a name and translated it as part of the narrative; the Septuagint spoke of εν τη πλευρα (en te pleura), on the side, and the Vulgate read in latere, also meaning on the side.
🔼Etymology of the name Zelah
The name Zelah comes from the root(s) צלע (sl'). In 2 Samuel 21:14 it is pointed identical to the noun צלע (sela'), which most scholars take to mean rib, but which we here at Abarim Publications interpret as support or buttress:
The verb צלע (sala') means to buttress, to lean on sideways (and, by extension, to limp). Noun צלע (sela') describes anything upon which something or someone leans upon sideways, any sort of support, buttress or co-dependency. It may also mean a limping.
This verb describes the quality that lies at the heart of human strength, namely that of individual weakness, which prompt individuals to "lean" on others, because of which complex society, with all its wonders and compass, may arise.
For a meaning of the name Zela(h), NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Rib, and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names has Side. BDB Theological Dictionary doesn't offer an interpretation of our name but does list it under צלע (sl' I).