I know that "Shem" literally means "name" in Hebrew. But what did the people of the earth mean by "let us make ourselves a name/shem, lest we be scattered upon the face of the earth" (Genesis 11:4)?

Since making themselves a name would prevent them from scattering, there must be something more than just reputation?

1 Answer 1


Shadal on Genesis 11:4:2:

ונעשה לנו שם: הבאים אחרינו יהללו אותנו על המעשה הגדול הזה, או העיר עם המגדל הם עצמם שם, כלומר דבר מצויין ומפורסם (Monumento), ואולי ככה ויעש דוד שם בשובו מהכותו את ארם (שמואל ב' ח' י"ג), ואולי ככה וקברו כל עם הארץ והיה להם לשם (יחזקאל ל"ט י"ג) קבורת המון גוג תהיה דבר מצויין ומפורסם.

(The text comes from sefaria.org, and I'm uncertain about the English word "Monumento" here.)

My paraphrasing of above:

Those that follow us will praise us on this great thing (the tower) that we made. Or, it could mean that the city itself is a "name", that is, it is something excellent and famous (noteworthy).

He cites II Samuel 8:13:

וַיַּ֤עַשׂ דָּוִד֙ שֵׁ֔ם בְּשֻׁב֕וֹ מֵהַכּוֹת֥וֹ אֶת־אֲרָ֖ם בְּגֵיא־מֶ֑לַח שְׁמוֹנָ֥ה עָשָׂ֖ר אָֽלֶף׃

And David got him a name when he returned from smiting the Arameans in the Valley of Salt, even eighteen thousand men

The term שֵׁ֔ם is used, here, too. Sefaria translates this as "name", which is not totally accurate.

Metzudat David on II Samuel 8:13:1:

ויעש דוד שם . עשה גבורה גדולה , וקנה שם :

He showed great bravery and acquired reputation. .

  • 2
    Zecharia Sitchin and other archeologists says that Shem sometimes indicates monument according to near eastern manuscripts from Sumer and the like.
    – mil
    Aug 14, 2015 at 21:03
  • @mil I think that one of the other commentaries (possibly Sforno) echoes that notion as well.
    – DanF
    Aug 14, 2015 at 21:05
  • @mil, like "yad vashem", perhaps? Cf. yad Avshalom.
    – msh210
    Aug 14, 2015 at 21:51
  • @msh210 I don't know what do you mean. And Zecharia Sitchin sometimes goes further in some of his books -which is considered a hoax by some- to hint that it's like a rocket ship ( I am not taking it seriously but I have to mention everything I heard of).
    – mil
    Aug 15, 2015 at 15:07
  • @msh210 I'm also lost at your intention. The word "yad" in your two examples means "monument", not the word "shem". As for "Yad Vashem", I think this name is taken from Yeshayahu - the chapter that we read on most fast days during mincha. I think there too, it means "something noteworthy".
    – DanF
    Aug 17, 2015 at 16:20

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