[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Sun Oct 7 03:08:14 EDT 2007

Hello Jim,

Welcome back!

Besides the bad English, which you are aware of, your translation does not 
work for three reasons:

1. Language. While the word "Negev" can refer to either the region of that 
name in the south of Israel (in biblical terms, what we today would call the 
northern Negev, or the Beer-Sheva - Arad valley. The areas south of that, 
which today are included in the Negev, are called "the wilderness of 
Sin/Zin" and "the wilderness of Paran" in the Bible), or it can just mean 
"south". However in this case, the construct "Arcah Han-negev" is a proper 
place-name: "The Land of the Negev". So it cannot mean "south of....".
While you might propose that the Shin in "Shur" should be read as a Sin, 
that still does not get you to Sur/Tyre, which is spelled with a Sade (in 
our transliteration system: Cur). Shin/Sin and Sade are not graphically 
similar, nor are they phonetically interchangable, so your proposal does not 

2. Geography. Kadesh, Shur and Gerar are all well known places in the 
western Negev and/or northern Sinai (in modern terms), even if there are 
disagreements as to their exact identification. While in Gerar, Abraham and 
Sarah have a "run-in" with the local king Abimelech, who in other passages 
is identified as king of the Philistines and as having dealings in 
Beer-Sheva. Whether you consider these stories as being historcal, 
anachronistic or simply made-up, the geography is clear, and it points to 
the western Negev. Remember that when Isaac arrives in the same Gerar and 
meets the same Abimelech in chapter 26, he is on his way to Egypt.
On the other hand, Tyre and the northern Kedesh are in totally separate 
geographical zones, and "Guri" is apparently in the area of what is now 
known as the Golan (perhaps a corruption of "Geshur"). Even if "Guri south 
of the line connecting Kedesh and Tyre" could work linguistically, it makes 
no sense geographically.
By the way, that northern city is called "Kedesh" (despite the way it is 
spelled in a lot of books), as are all of the other similarly named places 
in the north (I know of three). The only place vocalized "Kadesh" is the one 
in the south, Kadesh (Barnea). There are scholars, BTW, who believe that 
there are two such places in the south as well, one called Kadesh-Barnea, 
the other just Kadesh.

3. General context: As I've already pointed out, the whole story takes place 
in the south. In the next few chapters, Abraham is still in the south. He 
sends Hagar to the southern desert. He meets Abimelech in Beer-Sheba. And 
eventually, he sets out from there to sacrifice Isaac. There is no mention 
of his having returned from the far north. Your whole conception of the 
desert as a place that Abraham would find inhospitable for his wife and 
newborn son is unbased. Abraham was a pastoralist nomad - a Beduin in 
today's terminology. Such areas as the northern Sinai and Western Negev, 
with their seasonal streams, springs and wells were exactly the kind of 
terrain that he was at home in. Thousands of babies are born there every 
year - why would Abraham even think of looking for a different place? And to 
travel with a very old, pregnant wife all the way to Lebanon, with its 
forests and snow? Why on earth?

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <JimStinehart at aol.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Sunday, October 07, 2007 1:25 AM
Subject: [b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1

> 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
> sense.
> 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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