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At the end of Genesis when Yaakov was on his deathbed, he called in his sons and desired to bless them. When it was Judah's turn to be blessed, Yaakov said: (Genesis 49:10)

"The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh should come; So that tribute shall come to him And the homage of peoples be his."

What is the meaning of Shiloh here in this prophecy?

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A sampling of other explanations

  • It refers to Achiyah of Shiloh (as in Ben's answer), the prophet who announced to Yeravam that Hashem was giving him rulership over ten of the tribes. (Baal Haturim, first explanation)

    • A variation on this: Shiloh here stands in for the nearby city of Shechem, where the secession of the Ten Tribes took place. (Rashbam; Daas Zekeinim, third explanation)

    • Another variation: it refers to the Mishkan (Sanctuary) of Shiloh, which was destroyed shortly before David was chosen as king (and indeed, these events are associated together in Ps. 78:60ff). According to this, the meaning of the verse is: "The kingship will not depart from Yehudah... [but this kingship will not begin] until Shiloh" (Daas Zekeinim, first explanation); or that יסור means "arrive," so "the kingship will not arrive to Yehudah... until Shiloh" (Rabbeinu Bechayei).

  • It's speaking of Moshe Rabbeinu, since the numerical value of שילה is the same as that of משה. The verse would then mean that Moshe's leadership will mark a (temporary) suspension of Yehudah's primacy (Rabbeinu Bechayei), or exactly the opposite - that Yehudah's rise to greatness will begin in his times - specifically, when they were the first to jump into the Red Sea out of total trust in Hashem (Baal Haturim, second explanation).

Then there are the various detailed explanations that do refer שילה to Moshiach (as WAF noted), on various grounds. (According to all of them, the prophecy means not that Moshiach's kingship will mark the end of Yehudah's primacy, but on the contrary - that this will be its climax.)

  • It comes from the word שלו - the one to whom kingship belongs. Or, alternately, from שי לו - the one to whom presents will be brought. (Rashi)

  • It's from שלה, "to give birth," or שליה, "amniotic sac." So it means "the son, or descendant, of Yehudah." (Ramban; Ibn Ezra; Rabbeinu Bechayei - who also adds, possibly with a view to countering non-Jewish distortions of this verse, that the Torah is stressing that Moshiach is a regular human being, born of a woman exactly like everyone else.)

  • The two words יבא שילה have the same numerical value as משיח. (Baal Haturim)

  • It's from שלום, "peace," and also שולים, "hems" (the ends or lowest parts of a garment), so it means "the final and lasting peace" of history (Sforno).

    • Variation on this: it's from שולים only, and means "[Moshiach will come, unexpectedly,] when the Jewish People are at their lowest ebb" (R' S.R. Hirsch).
  • So my question for this answer and the other short one is... What did the Children of Yaakov think "unill Shilo comes" meant? 1,000 years of people having no idea what Yaakov's blessing actually meant? Seems to me that "until Shilo comes" means "forever" Shilo in this context reminds me of "Sheol" (the abyss) – avi Oct 25 '11 at 19:57
  • @avi: who says they had no idea? They probably came up with explanations of their own, of which we don't know because they didn't pan out. Or, maybe they just shrugged their shoulders and said, "We don't know what this means exactly, but eventually we'll find out." Not much different, say, than what David's contemporaries might have thought of Psalms 79 and 137, or Yeshayah's about his prophecies in chs. 40ff. – Alex Oct 25 '11 at 20:15
  • I don't see how those comparisons are unknowns. Each word is undersood, if not the events surrounding the words. Here you are claiming that the word had no meaning other than something in the future. However, the Midrash says specifically that Yaakov wanted to tell them about the time of Moshiach but was prevented from doing so. – avi Oct 25 '11 at 22:16
  • @avi Alex: related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/15215/759 – Double AA Sep 10 '12 at 5:22
  • "שי לו - the one to whom presents will be brought." This is the grammatically correct answer. alhatorah.org/Media/1Bereshit/49/… – Double AA Sep 23 '16 at 4:14
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Rash"i, agreeing with Unk'lus, says it refers to Mashiach.

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    One might add that while Onkelos maintains that it refers to mashiach, the עד does not mean that it will stay until mashiach's arrival at which point it will depart (as implied in the question). Rather, it won't depart starting from mashiach's arrival. See here: parsha.blogspot.com/2010/01/yetiv-on-ad-ki-yavo-shilo.html – josh waxman Oct 26 '11 at 14:07
  • The Rama (CM 67:1) seems to think this way as well. – Double AA Dec 28 '12 at 0:14
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    Rashi is also following the opinion of the Midrash (Gen. Rabbah 99:8). – Bruce James Dec 31 '12 at 17:30
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Besides the other answers given here, I would add the following (which I develop at greater length here):

The ketiv of the word is שילה, Sheilah, who was Yehuda's youngest son. The entire pasuk is a coded reference to the incident with Yehuda and Tamar. Recall that he gave Tamar his staff, his signet ring, and his identifying cord, as surety for payment. And that this only came about because he held back his youngest, Sheilah.

לֹא-יָסוּר שֵׁבֶט מִיהוּדָה: the staff shall not depart from Yehuda וּמְחֹקֵק: and his engraved signet ring מִבֵּין רַגְלָיו: from between his legs עַד: until he said כִּי-יָבֹא שִׁילֹה: that Sheilah would eventually come.

Note that other parts of Yaakov's blessing are also coded references to incidents of the shevatim. For instance, גּוּר אַרְיֵה יְהוּדָה, מִטֶּרֶף בְּנִי עָלִיתָ as a reference to the sale of Yosef; and כִּי עָלִיתָ מִשְׁכְּבֵי אָבִיךָ; אָז חִלַּלְתָּ, יְצוּעִי עָלָה as Reuven and Bilhah; and כִּי בְאַפָּם הָרְגוּ אִישׁ, וּבִרְצֹנָם עִקְּרוּ-שׁוֹר as a reference to Shimon and Levi wiping out Shechem.

As for the contentions with Christian interpretations of the verse, see here.

  • Is the explanation regarding Shelah your own hidush? Regardless, well done. – Lee Jan 12 '17 at 10:20
  • @josh waxman Jacob's third son was שֵׁלָה (Bereishit 38:5), not שילה. – Clifford Durousseau Mar 15 at 9:44
  • @CliffordDurousseau either word could be written with or without a yud. – Heshy Mar 15 at 13:19
  • @Heshy But aren't you begging the question? As NJSV sums up the much-discussed שִׁילֹה in Bereishit 49:10: 'Meaning of Heb. uncertain' (see next answer). Since שִׁילֹה in Bereishit 49:10 is of uncertain meaning, how can you say it is a word that could be written with or without a yod? Hertz in his Chumash says it is a strange circumstance that many commentators read שִׁילֹה without a yod. – Clifford Durousseau Mar 15 at 13:32
  • @CliffordDurousseau because just about any tzeirei (two horizontal dots) can be written with or without a yud. And the same is true with a chirik (single dot) as long as it's not followed by a dageish or silent sheva. It doesn't change the meaning of the word. – Heshy Mar 15 at 13:40
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Well, since I haven't had the responses I expected, here is my contribution in terms of what I think about the prophecy:

Shiloh - Genesis 49:10

When Jacob thought he was about to die, he invited all his sons unto himself at his deathbed for the last blessings. At the turn of Judah, Jacob said that the scepter would not depart from his Tribe until Shiloh came.

Christians in general assume that's a prophecy about Jesus, and I have researched about the matter, and happened to have found out that's not true.

The Tribe of Judah had grown to become the leader over all the other Tribes, and kept the monopoly to exert hegemony over them all. That's the scepter that would not depart from Judah till Shiloh came.

After the death of Solomon, the Prophet Ahijah from Shiloh took his coat and went out to meet Jeroboam, who was the leader of forced labor among the Northern Tribes. As the Prophet met Jeroboam, he tore his coat in twelve parts and gave ten to Jeroboam, saying that God had decided to split the Tribes in two Kingdoms, and that ten of those Tribes would be governed by Jeroboam. That's when Shiloh came, and Judah lost the hegemony over ten of the Tribes. (I Kings 11:29-32) It's important to understand that Shiloh is not the Prophet who came from his home city called Shiloh, but the split between the Tribes and the secession of the Ten Tribes. That's what Isaiah the Prophet considered the worst thing ever to happen in the History of United Israel until the Ten Tribes were removed from existence. (Isa. 7:17)

Rehoboam, the king who had succeeded Solomon his father, did not understand and started preparing the country for civil war when Shemaiah, the man of God dissuaded him by making him understand that Shiloh had come. He got it and recalled the army. (I Kings 12:21-24)

Now, kindly share with me your comments.

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    Fair enough - there are reliable sources for such an explanation (as noted in my answer). – Alex Dec 14 '10 at 21:30
  • Sorry Alex, I missed your answer. – Ben Masada Jan 27 '11 at 15:25
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The Hertz Chumash The Pentateuch and Haftorahs has an excellent, concise, and thorough discussion of the term translated 'Shiloh' in the King James Version on pages 201 and 202. He characterizes the JPS translation of עַד כִּי-יָבֹא שִׁילֹה ('as long as men come to Shiloh') as an unsatisfactory translation. In his brief discussion on page 185, he favors the Septuagint translation, where the clause is rendered as 'until that which is his shall come.' As he reads it, this means that 'Judah's rule shall continue till he comes to his own, and the obedience of all the tribes is his.' Alternatively, 'it may also mean that when the tribe of Judah has come into its own, the sceptre shall be taken out of its hands.' While acknowledging that שִׁילֹה was understood as a name of the Messiah in Rabbinic literature,[1] he indicated on page 202 that this interpretation was homiletic and non-binding (it occurs in the Gemara, not the Mishnah).[2] The King James Version's 'till Shiloh come' is wrong.

The NJPS also does not render the Hebrew word as 'Shiloh' but as 'tribute to him,' as in the Midrash, where it is understood to be a contraction of shai loh: 'so that tribute shall come to him'. In a footnote, however, it admits: 'Meaning of Heb. uncertain.'

See further Jonathan Kolatch and Berel Wein, Masters of the Word: Traditional Jewish Commentary From the Eleventh Through Thirteenth Centuries (Ktav, 2006), pp. 267-389 for an even more in-depth discussion than that of Rabbi Hertz. Much of it can be accessed online at Google Books.com and is highly recommended.


[1] So Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 98b. This is where the earliest occurrence of Shiloh as a name for the Messiah is found. The German Bible of Sebastian Münster in 1534 was the first version to use it, and it became current in Protestant versions and commentaries after that.

[2] His argument there that Shiloh does not occur anywhere in Scripture as a name of the Messiah overlooks the fact that it does so occur in this very verse in the Leeser Bible (1853), both in the translation ('until Shiloh come') and twice in the unusually extensive footnote ('The assumption that the sceptre was taken at a particular period, wherefore Shiloh must have come then, is futile,' 'The sceptre will return when the Shiloh, the King Messiah, shall come'). He cites Targum Onkelos and Rashi as support for his interpretation that שִׁילֹה refers to the Messiah, but neither read שִׁילֹה as a personal name though the passage was regarded as referring to the Messiah and his kingdom. The Leeser Bible can be found online at Internet Archive.com.

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