At a hangout sesh, late in my high school career, someone left the get-together with the common colloquial valediction, “Peace.” A friend of mine, in his sage inebriated insight, took notice of this and made the observation, “Isn’t it cool that we use the word ‘peace’ to say good-bye now?” What followed was another in a long line pointless speculative discussions that took place that night, this one about the origins of this cultural phenomenon. Maybe the only actually interesting point that someone made was that the Hebrew greeting/valediction combo ‘shalom’ is translated as meaning ‘peace.’
For some reason this tidbit of trivia stuck in my mind, and I began to notice variations of this word in other languages. The Arabic word for peace is ‘salaam,’ and is also used in greetings, such as ‘As-salam alaykum’ meaning ‘Peace be upon you,’ a universal greeting for Muslims, which also seems be a variation of the word. The commonality of the word and its synonymy with peace led me to do a bit of research, which turned up the Proto-Semitic triconsonantal root S-L-M. To explain what this means, Semitic languages (Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, etc.) are based on consonants. The Arabic and Hebrew alphabets contain only consonants, with vowels denoted by dots or lines surrounding those consonants, except for the letter aleph, which serves as a vowel place holder. So to find the root of any Semitic word, you have to trace it through its main consonants. For example, the place holder aleph paired with the consonant L gives us the root of Allah, Elohim, and the suffix/prefix –el, which all have divine implications. This is also where we get the European pronouns and definite articles (le, la, el, etc.). All of these can be traced back to the Canaanite father-god known simply as El. Most scholars contend that the Canaanite religion was the basis for Yahwism and by extension Judaism, and it is from this same pantheon that we get the root of the S-L-M words.
Shalim was the god of dusk, twin brother of Shahar, the god of dawn, both attributed to the planet Venus, the morning and evening star (seems they hadn’t yet discovered that these were the same celestial body). Since Shalim represented the completion of the day, his name become synonymous with completion, wholeness, rest, and of course peace. This also associated him with death and the netherworld, giving us a glimpse into the attitude the Canaanites had regarding death: a peaceful completion of life. Tragically the entire Canaanite religion was all but lost to history, only partially preserved in the clay tablets found at Ugarit, but its gods are preserved in the Semitic languages still used today. Shalim’s legacy, however, lives on in another still relevant context today.
Jerusalem, the ancient holy city of three of the world’s most followed religions, and the center of global controversy, is widely believed to have been originally established as a city for Shalim. The name of the city, when analyzed from a Semitic standpoint, is literally translated as ‘the settlement of Shalim.’ It is known through Egyptian records, and even in Genesis, that Canaanites inhabited the city before it was conquered by the Israelites, so this is almost undoubtedly the case. Unfortunately for Shalim, his city has not known his peace for quite some time, but followers of the Abrahamic religions might do well to realize that their holy city was established as the foundation of peace for their ancestors.
So if you are a lover of peace, consider saying a prayer to Shalim. Tell him that, though he may be forgotten, his legacy lives on through his name, and ask that he return to his earthly temple, so that it may know his peace once more.