[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Sat Oct 6 19:25:03 EDT 2007

B Hebrew  List: 
I would  like to know if my proposed new translation of Genesis 20: 1 is 
grammatically  possible. 
Traditional translation of Genesis 20: 1  (JPS1917): 
“And Abraham journeyed from  thence toward the land of the South, and dwelt 
between Kadesh and Shur;  and he sojourned in Gerar.” 
Proposed  new translation of Genesis 20: 1: 
“And  departed from there Abraham to the southern region of, and he settled 
between,  Kadesh and Sur, and he sojourned in Gerar.”  
There’s  no way that Abraham and Sarah would decide to settle or dwell in the 
middle of  the Sinai Desert right before Sarah bears Isaac.  Under my 
proposed new translation,  Abraham and Sarah sensibly go to southern Lebanon to have 
the baby.  Abraham and Sarah had been to Egypt and  back in chapters 12 and 13 
of Genesis, so they well knew how desolate the Sinai  Desert was.  There is 
no way that,  having received the divine promise at Genesis 18: 14 that Sarah 
would bear Isaac  “when the season cometh round”, that is, when spring 
returns, and knowing that  YHWH was keeping these divine promises, as proven by the 
sudden destruction of  Sodom and Gomorrah which was also divinely promised in 
chapter 18, that Abraham  and Sarah would move to the middle of the Sinai 
Desert for Sarah to carry the  child to term and bear the child.  Nor would they 
settle or dwell in the Sinai Desert and then move to the  Negev Desert, east of 
Gaza.  None of  that traditional interpretation of this key text makes any  
I  realize that my proposed translation is “stilted”.  That’s because it’s 
a very literal  translation.  The question is not  whether my proposed 
translation is smooth English, but rather whether it is a  grammatically possible 
reinterpretation of Genesis 20: 1.   
There  were no commas or other punctuation in the original Hebrew text, so it 
seems to  me that one should not give too much deference to the traditional 
placing of the  English commas.  By moving the  English commas as I have done, 
a formerly nonsensical verse would now make  complete sense.  I view “Kadesh” 
as  meaning here the Lebanese city-state of Kadesh ( though elsewhere in the  
Patriarchal narratives it is used to refer to Kadesh-Barnea).  I view “S(h)ur”
 as referring to the  Lebanese city-state of Sur (Sur in Arabic, Sur or Shur 
or Tsur in Hebrew, Surru  in the Amarna Letters, “Tyre” in English, following 
the Greek mispronunciation),  although elsewhere in the Patriarchal 
narratives it is used to refer to the Shur  Desert on the western edge of the Sinai 
Desert.  Note that Genesis 25: 18 seems compelled  to mention that the reference 
in the text there to “S(h)ur” means the Shur near  Egypt;  that implies that 
there is  another Sur that is nowhere near Egypt.  Finally, instead of seeing “
Gerar” as being a fictional locale in the  Negev Desert (which is not, by the 
way, “between Kadesh and S(h)ur” in any  event), I view “Gerar” as being 
historical Garu, a portion of which, per the  Amarna Letters, extended as far 
west as the coast of Lebanon.  (The later mention of “Beersheba” means  little, 
as the “Beersheba” that Hagar goes to in the middle of chapter 21 of  
Genesis is obviously a different place than the “Beersheba” to which Abraham  goes “
at that time” [Genesis 21: 22] at the end of chapter  21.) 
I am  mainly worried whether the grammatical construction I am proposing for  
Genesis 20: 1 is possible in Biblical Hebrew. 
Any  thoughts would be very greatly appreciated. 
Jim  Stinehart

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