When looking at the word משל (proverb, parable or allegory), I found out it's a tribe from Asher (Divrei Hayamim 6:59), but in Yehoshua 21 it reads from the tribe of Asher, משאל (with the meaning referendum, governing, poll or survey).

I don't know whether or not this is referring to the same tribe, but it made me wonder if these (root) words are connected somehow?

  • 1
    FYI - The names don't refer to tribes. They refer to cities within the territory of Asher. Rada"k commentary in Divrei Hayamim says that the two names are identical. I haven't found anything explaining the different spellings. It's not uncommon to find variations like this in Tana"ch, anyway.
    – DanF
    Aug 24, 2017 at 19:45
  • Although the difference in spelling is there any connection between the words mashal and mishal at all? Or any explanation regards the difference in naming.
    – Levi
    Aug 24, 2017 at 20:44
  • I couldn't locate anything in any of the Mikra'ot Gedolot commentaries. I deleted my previous comment where I initially surmised that משאל might be related to שאל meaning "to ask" or "request". But, often, it is hard to determine why cities get their names, and why they may have closely sounding, yet different spellings, as is, here. I'm not sure where else I could look.
    – DanF
    Aug 24, 2017 at 21:05

1 Answer 1


As noted by @DanF in the comments, משאל and משל aren't tribes in Asher but two names of a city in the territory of Asher, one of a group of cities given to the Levites (see commentators on the verse). Again, as noted by DanF, name variations are not uncommon in Tanach, and in particular in Divrei Hayamim. Several of the Levite cities listed there, for example, are spelled differently or even have completely different names (for example, Tavor-Nahalel) than those listed in Yehoshua.

Rabbi Prof. Shmuel Klein noted in his essay "The Cities of the Kohanim and Levi'im and the Cities of Refuge", pg. 85, that it was a common prose-style by the ancient biblical writers to shorten certain words. Sometimes the reasons for the shortening are more easily understood1, but not always, such as appears to be the case here. With that said, it's also entirely possible that the name simply changed over the centuries (perhaps for a similar reason, that the name was shortened over time because that's how people spoke).

The Encyclopedia Mikra'it (Biblical Encyclopedia), vol. 5, writes on the entry of משאל/משל:

"השם משאל אולי מעיד על כך שהיו שואלים שם באלה-ים; והשווה את שם המקום אשתאול."

Translation: The name "Mish'al" may bear witness to the possibility that they would ask of God there; and compare the place-name "Eshta'ol"."

Perhaps this understanding may connect the name Mish'al to Mashal - in parables, questions are sometimes used. For example:

"He took up his mashal...How can I damn whom God has not damned, How doom when the LORD has not doomed?...Who can count the dust of Jacob, Number the dust-cloud of Israel?..." (Bamidbar 23:7-10)

Da'at Mikra in their commentary on the name Mashal consider it to merely be a short-form of Mishal, and therefore both probably come from turning to God (as stated by the Biblical Encyclopedia).

A possible reason for why the name was shortened may come from the word "שַּׁל" (Shal) which appears in Shmuel 2:6:7, and which many commentators explain to mean "שגגה", which we know means "accidental", but through carelessness. Only people who killed בשגגה - a careless accident - are allowed to escape to the cities of refuge. Perhaps due to its nature as a city of refuge, the city's name eventually changed to reflect the שוגג nature of its inhabitants. Therefore, from משאל (Mishal) to מ-של (Ma-Shal).2 Perhaps it was a form of dark humor among the inhabitants, or perhaps it was meant as a warning to people - be careful, otherwise you'll end up stuck here.

1 For more info, see his essay "מחקרים בפרקי היחס שבספר דברי הימים", pg. 12-16.

2 Metzudat Tzion on Shmuel 2:3:27 compares a couple more words of the same root.

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