🔼The name Zereth-shahar: Summary
- Deepest Darkness, Distress At Dawn
- From (1) the name Zereth, from צהר (sahar), to be high or ripe, or צרר (sarar), to bind, and (2) the noun שחר (shahar), dawn or darkness.
🔼The name Zereth-shahar in the Bible
The name Zereth-shahar occurs only once in the Bible. It's mentioned as one of the cities of Reuben, east of the Jordan (Joshua 13:19). This city is actually called Zereth-hashahar, but for some reason all translations ignore the letter ה (he) in front of the shahar-part.
🔼Etymology of the name Zereth-shahar
The name Zereth-shahar obviously consists of two (of three) elements. The first part is the same as the name Zereth, which is of unclear origin. Some scholars take it from the root צהר:
The unused verb צהר (sahar) probably meant something like to be at an apex (and not to be bright, as many scholars appear to think). Noun צהר (sohar) means roof or top. It's used as a synonym for midday, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. It may also refer to the highest degree of merriment or justice.
Noun יצהר (yishar) refers to fresh olive oil; the unprocessed product of the olive tree (the concepts of ripeness and highness correlate in Biblical thought). The denominative verb צהר (sahar) means to press oil (to process the high/ripe things).
Others note that the name Zereth is identical to the word צרת (zeret), meaning distress:
- Verb צור (sur I) probably means to lean or incline. Noun צואר (sawwa'r) means neck and צורון (sawwaron) means necklace.
- Verb צור (sur II) means to confine, secure or besiege. Noun מצור (masor) means siege and מצורה (mesura) means stronghold. This verb relates to verb צרר (sarar I).
- Verb צור (sur III) means to be an adversary. It relates to צרר (sarar II).
- Verb צור (sur IV) means to form or fashion. Noun צורה (sura) means form and noun ציר (sir) means image. This verb relates to יצר (yasar).
- Verb צור (sur V) probably relates to verb צרר (sarar III) and probably means to be sharp. The important noun צור (sur) means rock, and is equivalent to the Greek noun πετρα (petra), from which comes the name Peter.
- Verb צרר (sarar I) means to bind and relates to צור (sur II). Adjective צר (sar) means narrow. Nouns צר (sar) and צרה (sara) mean distress and yield denominative verb צרה (sara), meaning to suffer distress. Noun צרור (seror) means bundle or parcel. Noun מצר (mesar) means distress.
- Verb צרר (sarar II) means to show hostility and relates to verb צור (sur III). Noun צר (sar) means adversary. Noun צרה (sara) means vexer or rival-wife. Denominative verb צרר (sarar) means to create a rival wife.
- Verb צרר (sarar III) probably means to be sharp and relates to צור (sur V). Nouns צר (sar), צר (sor) and צרור (seror) mean flint or pebble.
Verb יצר (yasar) means to fashion or form and relates to צור (sur IV). Noun יצר (yeser) denotes that what is formed, and noun יצרים (yesurim) means forms or members.
Verb צרה (srh) probably describes the bleeding of an odoriferous tree. Noun צרי (sari) denotes a kind of costly balsam.
The second part of our name comes from either of the two verbs שחר (shahar):
The verb שחר (shahar) means to be glossy, shiny black (not mat black); it often describes shiny black hair. The adjective שחר (shahor) means black, and adjective שחרחר (sheharhor) means blackish. Nouns שחור (shehor) and שחרות (shaharut) means blackness.
That our verb most probably emphasized inherent or even inner glow rather than a mere dark hue is made evident by the noun שחר (shahar), which means dawn. The denominative verb שחר (shahar) describes a diligent searching, which suggests that within the darkness of ignorance, the desire to search is the dawn.
It also demonstrates that this word for "dawn" had a symbolic meaning as strong as that of the words for light and enlightenment. Ultimately our verb means to be black but shiny, or ignorant but inquisitive.
The letter ה (he) in front of the shahar-part is either the definite article, or it declares a motion towards whatever the shahar-part is supposed to mean.
The name Zereth-shahar can mean a lot of things and it's ultimately unclear what the original name-giver had in mind. NOBSE Study Bible Name List takes the first part from צהר and interprets that root with being bright. Hence NOBSE translates our name with The Splendor Of Dawn. At first glance this seems a pretty consistent phrase but it's highly unlikely that anyone who would want to captivate the brilliance of a sunrise would choose these words. It seems more likely that a Hebrew audience would interpret this name as Distress Of Darkness or even (The God) Shahar Binds.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names and BDB Theological Dictionary don't offer any interpretation of this name.