[B-Greek] The etymology of Abraham (was: " of SKOLIOS)

George F Somsel gfsomsel at yahoo.com
Tue Oct 3 15:49:32 EDT 2006

Whether you wish to derive it from (aM or from HaMoWN, it still doesn't work, does it?  Let's put aside this silliness of etymologies.

----- Original Message ----
From: Harold Holmyard <hholmyard at ont.com>
To: b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org
Sent: Tuesday, October 3, 2006 3:30:08 PM
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] The etymology of Abraham (was: " of SKOLIOS)

George F Somsel wrote:

> I think it is fairly safe to say that
> etymologies are more often abused than not.
> When we find etymologies, even in the Bible
> itself, these are not infrequently of
> questionable validity.  I think of Abram /
> Abraham as an example.  While Abram may well be
> understood as "exalted father", Abraham cannot
> really be understood as "a father of many
> nations / people" as given in Genesis since the
> word for "people" or "nation" contains an ayin
> whereas Abraham has a heh.  It seems that the
> tendency is to resort to etymological thinking
> when it suits one's purpose or when one has
> nothing more profound to say.

HH: It's true that there are several suggestions 
for the meaning of "Abraham." The NET Bible says:

The name “Abraham” is a dialectical variant of the 
name Abram. But its significance is in the 
wordplay with אַב־הֲמוֹן (’av-hamon, “the father of a 
multitude,” which sounds like אַבְרָהָם, ’avraham, 
“Abraham”). The new name would be a reminder of 
God’s intention to make Abraham the father of a 
multitude. For a general discussion of renaming, 
see O. Eissfeldt, “Renaming in the Old Testament,” 
Words and Meanings, 70-83.

HH: I find this extremely dubious, and I am not 
the only one:

  The Abarim Publications Editorial Team looked on 
dozens of web sites and countless hard-copies and 
all but a few merrily report that the name Abraham 
comes from the words ab and hamon and means Father 
Of A Multitude. That these two words contain no R 
seems not to bother anyone.

  The verbal explanation of Genesis 17 is hard to 
trace etymologically, as the new element  (rhm) 
does not exist in Hebrew. Perhaps God is 
suggesting that something unique is happening to 
Abram. There are some other words in Hebrew that 
are used only once, and are often highly significant.

  The phrase "father (of) many nations" reads 
(ab-hamon-goyim), and that doesn't sound like 
"Abraham" at all (as mentioned, no R).

  Whatever the name Abraham may mean, it certainly 
is not a compound of ab and hamon and certainly 
does not mean Father Of A Multitude.

  JewishEncyclopedia.com states, "The form 
'Abraham' yields no sense in Hebrew," but that 
displays boldness of the other side of the 
spectrum. The change from Abram to Abraham is 
accompanied by the initiation of the covenant of 
which the Messiah is the final result. It's 
impossible to defend that God would link a sign of 
no sense to an event that profound.

HH: BDB suggested that the word break, as George 
says, was after the first three Hebrew letters אַבְרָ 
הָם , with an idea like "chief of a multitude," but 
the word "multitude" is not attested.

HH: Keil thought that the break was after the 
first two letters: אַבְ רָהָם, so that it is "father 
of a multitude." The word "multitude" would not be 
attested in Hebrew but matches an Arabic form of 
the word (ruham). I do not know Arabic, however, 
so cannot verify his claim.

HH: Modern Arabic also understands the meaning of 
the name that way, so it may be right:

Father of a multitude; a Prophets name (Abraham)

Harold Holmyard

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