If shamash had been the name of the Babylonian sun god, what does that have to do with us? Ancient Babylonian is not Hebrew, after all. I had written in Hanukkah History:
To commemorate the miracle of one day’s supply of oil lasting for eight days, a special Hanukkah menorah with nine lights on it instead of the usual seven was lit, one candle per day until on the eighth day all nine candles were lit. The central candle was known as The Servant (Shamash), and was the light from which all the other lights were lit, and was not counted as one of the eight lights.
In it, I linked to a chabad.org article, The Shamash: Why the Menorah has a Ninth Candle, repeating what they and everyone else had said, that shamash means “attendant” or “servant.”
So when I looked up sh-m-sh in the Hebrew Old Testament, I of course expected it to have been translated as attendant or servant. This is what I found:
Strong’s H8121, שמש shemesh, a concrete noun meaning, “sun, sunrise,” from an unused primitive root meaning, “to be brilliant.”
119 times shemesh is translated as “sun.”
9 times it is translated as “sunrising.”
2 times it is translated as “east side.”
1 time each it is translated as “window,” “eastward,” “west,” “westward.”
That accounts for all the instances of shemesh appearing in the Hebrew.
As one goes through all 134 times shemesh appears in the Hebrew, two startling types of usage come up, departing from the normal sun in the sky reference. The first is in these verses, where I have bolded shemesh:
And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which YHVH your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage. Deu 4:19
If there is found among you, within any of your gates which YHVH your God gives you, a man or a woman who has been wicked in the sight of YHVH your God, in transgressing His covenant, who has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded, and it is told you, and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently. Deu 17:2-4a
Then he removed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense on the high places in the cities of Judah and in the places all around Jerusalem, and those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, to the moon, to the constellations, and to all the host of heaven. 2 Kin 23:5
Then he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of YHVH, by the chamber of Nathan-Melech, the officer who was in the court; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 2 Kin 23:11
“At that time,” says YHVH, “they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of its princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves. They shall spread them before the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven, which they have loved and which they have served and after which they have walked, which they have sought and which they have worshiped. They shall not be gathered nor buried; they shall be like refuse on the face of the earth.” Jer 8:1-2
So He brought me into the inner court of YHVH’s house; and there, at the door of the temple of YHVH, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs toward the temple of YHVH and their faces toward the east, and they were worshiping the sun toward the east. Eze 8:16
The instruction in Deu 17 is the reason for this investigation that I am sharing with you. I had recently asked YHVH to reveal any wicked way in me! I did not expect Him to reveal this.
In 2 Kings 23, King Josiah is cleansing the land of idolatry. The Scripture says that he removed the horses dedicated to the sun and burned the chariots of the sun with fire. Yesterday we learned that the mythology of the sun god was that he rode in a chariot of the sun through the heavens pulled by horses of the sun. The same appears in Greek mythology as well – all paganism sprung from a single source at Babel.
In Ezekiel, a perfectly acceptable and possible translation could literally be, “… they were worshiping Shamash toward the east.”
The second is in these verses:
For YHVH God is a sun and shield; YHVH will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold
from those who walk uprightly. Psa 84:11
But to you who fear My name the sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. Mal 4:2
Does this mean that the Scriptures support equating the sun with YHVH as an object of worship? May it never be! These are two instances of the use of metaphor in poetry and prophecy, a very common occurrence in the Hebrew Bible. Just as Psalm 91 says that God will cover us with His feathers (as a mother bird covers her young is implied), it metaphorically paints a picture of loving protection, without trying to say that YHVH has literal feathers.
I assume we are still on the same page, that idolatry is bad, that sun worship infected the paganism of the ancient world, and that Israel brought judgment upon itself for participating in it.
So then with all the Biblical evidence that sh-m-sh meant “sun,” why do they call the central Hanukkah candle shamash meaning “servant,” and where did the lighting ceremony come from, anyway, if the miracle of the oil is a fiction?
Investigating this history opened up a rabbit hole … please proceed at your own risk.