[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Oct 8 10:38:16 EDT 2007

Yigal Levin: 
You wrote:  "[I]n this case, the construct "Arcah Han-negev" is a proper  
place-name: "The Land of the Negev".  So it cannot mean "south  of....". 
I disagree.  The Hebrew phrase “arcah he-negev” in Genesis 20: 1 cannot 
possibly mean  “The Land of the Negev”, as you assert, for the following reasons. 
1.  Suffix  “-ah” 
As you of course know, when a “he” is used as a suffix  (“-ah”), it means “
to” or “toward”.  It cannot be ignored, and it cannot mean “through”.  Thus 
even if the rest of your wording of  Genesis 20: 1 were right, the phrase 
would be “to The Land of the Negev”.  Note how that wording of yours does not  
make sense in Genesis 20: 1.  If  Abraham and Sarah went “to” the Negev Desert, 
they would not settle “between  Qadesh and S(h)ur” in the middle of the 
Sinai Desert.  Wrong desert. 
2.  Avoiding  the Possible Translation “Negev” 
In large part because the English word “to” or “toward”  is clearly in the 
text of Genesis 20: 1 and cannot be ignored, many English  translators refuse 
to use the word “Negev” here.  The Sinai Desert is a little “south” of  
Hebron (though it’s mostly west), so the terrible problem noted in #1 above is  
routinely finessed by using the ambiguous English phrasing “the land of the  
South” or some such wording.  Just  look at how many standard English 
translations of Genesis 20: 1 refuse to use  the word “Negev”: 
JPS1917:  "toward the land of  the South" 
KJV:  “toward  the south country” 
Darby:  “towards the south country” 
Young’s Literal:  “toward the land of the south” 
American Standard:  “toward the land of the South” 
3.  The Word  “The” and a Capital L in “Land” Are Not in the Hebrew Text 
There is no Hebrew word “the” before the word “arcah” in  the text.  Hence 
it is a “forced”,  inappropriate translation to use a capital T in the 
English word “The”.  (I am not sure you intended to do that,  but that’s the way it 
looks in your post.)  Moreover, since “arcah” literally means either “to land
” or “to region”,  and there is no “the” in the Hebrew text, it is 
inappropriate to capitalize the  L in the English word “Land”.  The  word “arcah” 
either means “to the region” or “to the land”, and cannot possibly  mean 
either “The Land” or “to The Land” or “to the Land”. 
4.  Nonsensical Results 
If one insists on adopting your “forced” translation of  Genesis 20: 1, just 
look at all the nonsensical results. 
(a)   As soon as Abraham and Sarah find out that Sarah will get pregnant with 
 Isaac about 30 days hence, Abraham and Sarah inexplicably go to a desert -- 
the  Negev Desert. 
(b)   Except that Abraham and Sarah do not in fact go “to” the Negev Desert, 
 though the text clearly says either that they went “to the Negev Desert" or “
to  the southern region”.  No, on your  view they went all the way “through” 
the Negev Desert (though the text does not  say that), and settled in the 
middle of a different desert, the Sinai Desert,  between Qadesh-barnea and the 
Shur Desert. 
(c)   Except that Abraham and Sarah did not in fact settle between  
Qadesh-barnea and the Shur Desert, though the text explicitly says that they  “settled 
between Qadesh and S(h)ur”.  On your view, which utterly rejects the clear 
meaning of what the Hebrew  text plainly says, Abraham and Sarah did not settle 
"between Qadesh and S(h)ur",  but rather promptly went all the long way back to 
Gerar, which on your view is  located in the Negev Desert near the modern 
Israeli city of Beersheba.  (The name “Beersheba” in fact tells us  little about 
a place’s location.  “Beersheba” is a generic Semitic nickname meaning “on 
oath -- a  well!”.  There were likely many  “Beershebas” in both the Negev 
Desert and on the southern coast of Lebanon, so  that the name “Beersheba”, in 
isolation, would not identify a specific  place.  That is probably the reason  
why there is no “Beersheba” on pharaoh Sheshonq’s list of 50 places that  
Sheshonq conquered in the Negev Desert.) 
(d)   And speaking of “Beersheba”, modern Beersheba is not located “between  
Qadesh and S(h)ur”, and indeed is not located anywhere in the general 
vicinity  of either Qadesh-barnea or the Shur Desert. 
We see how “forced” your translation of Genesis 20: 1  is. 
(e)   Moreover, the entire pattern of geographical movements you describe is  
inherently nonsensical anyway.  Abraham and Sarah are living on fine 
pastureland in Hebron.  There is no drought, and no other  problems at Hebron are 
hinted at (other than Sarah’s continuing  barrenness).  Once Abraham and Sarah  
find out at Genesis 17: 21 and 18: 14 that Sarah will get pregnant with Isaac  
about 30 days hence (so that after a 9-month pregnancy, Sarah will bear Isaac  “
when the season cometh round”, that is, when spring returns again), why on  
earth would that twice-told divine promise bestir Abraham and Sarah to commence 
 wandering aimlessly in three desert locales? 
5.  A Brave  Look at What the Hebrew Text of Genesis 20: 1 Actually Says 
Instead of your forced translation, which does not follow  what the text says 
and also leads to nonsensical results, why not bravely look  at what the 
received Hebrew text of Genesis 20: 1 actually says? 
If “arcah” is translated as “to the region [of]”, and  “he-negev” is 
translated as “the southern”, then Genesis 20: 1 makes perfect  sense.  The 
southern region between  the Lebanese city-states of Kadesh and Sur (“Tyre”) 
includes the western part of  historical Garu (Biblical “Gerar”), so now Genesis 
20: 1 reads naturally: 
“And departed from there Abraham to the southern region  of, and he settled 
between, Qadesh and Sur, and he sojourned in Gerar.” 
(a)     The key phrase  “from there” means from Bethel/Ai (not from Hebron 
or from Sodom), because the  last time we see Abraham before Genesis 20: 1 is 
when he has gone to Bethel/Ai,  which is well       n-o-r-t-h  of Hebron, to 
see  the devastation of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Genesis 19: 27-28.  [Cf. 13:  3, 
14-18.  It is at Bethel near Ai  where YHWH gives Abraham the promise of the 
Promised Land.  It is at Bethel near Ai where, per  Genesis 19: 27, Abraham "had 
stood before YHWH".]  Abraham does not go back south to  Hebron.  Rather, 
Abraham continues  on north. 
(b)    Sur/Shur/Cur/Tsur/Surru are all possible spellings in this early 
period  of the Lebanese city-state that is rendered “Tyre” in English (following 
the  Greek mispronunciation).  The Amarna  Letters spell it (in English 
translation) as “Surru”, with a dot under the S  (oddly listed in Wm. Moran's 
edition under "Tyre").  In Arabic it’s “Sur”.  So the fact  that later Biblical 
authors decided to spell it Cur/Tsur does not mean much,  especially since the 
experts do not agree as to the ancient pronunciation of  these various S-type 
sounds, and since in ancient times spellings often  varied.  Consider the 
variant  spellings Wm. Moran lists for the city-state of Qadesh on the Orontes in  
northern Lebanon:  Qidsu (with a v  over the S), Qissa, Qinsa, Qadesh.  A U 
sometimes appears at the end of a city-state's name in the Akkadian  cuneiform of 
the Amarna Letters, so Cur in the received text may be virtually  the same as 
Surru with a dot under the S in the Amarna Letters, and Q-D-Sh in  the 
received Hebrew text may be virtually the same as Qidsu (with a v over the  S) or 
Qadesh in the Amarna Letters.  The point is that slight variations in spelling 
of foreign place names  mean little in an ancient text like this.  Moreover, 
there is, as you know, constant punning in the Patriarchal  narratives;  a “
variant” spelling of  this Lebanese city-state’s name would accentuate the pun 
here.  As noted in my first post, if it were  absolutely clear that “S(h)ur" 
always meant the Shur Desert near Egypt, and  could never mean the important 
city-state of Sur/"Tyre" in Lebanon, then Genesis  25: 18 would not need to 
clarify that the reference to “S(h)ur” there means the  Shur Desert near Egypt. 
(c)     The “southern  region” of the land “between Qadesh and Sur” 
includes the mainland immediately  northeast of the tiny Lebanese island of Sur just 
off the coast of southern  Lebanon. 
(d)    Now we see that the  fact that Abraham “settled between Qadesh and Sur”
 is in no way inconsistent  with the fact that Abraham also “sojourned in 
Gerar” at the same time, because  the western edge of historical Garu (Biblical “
Gerar”) includes the area around  Sur in southern Lebanon. 
Why force the Hebrew words in Genesis 20: 1 to be  nonsensical?  When Abraham 
and Sarah  found out that Sarah would get pregnant with Isaac in 30 days, 
they didn’t start  making nonsensical wanderings first in the Negev Desert, then 
in the Sinai  Desert, and then back in the Negev Desert again.  No, Abraham 
and Sarah sensibly went  straight to southern Lebanon, settled between the 
Lebanese city-states of Qadesh  and Sur (very close to Sur), and sojourned there 
for many years on the western  edge of historical Garu (Biblical “Gerar”). 
Note how naturally Genesis 20: 1 reads on that view.  There’s nothing 
nonsensical about  Genesis 20: 1, if we are brave enough to look at that verse with 
new eyes and  focus on what the Hebrew words in the received text actually say. 
Abraham and Sarah are portrayed in the Patriarchal  narratives as taking 
entirely sensible actions when they find out that Sarah  will soon bear Isaac -- 
they head straight for southern Lebanon, and they  continue to live in southern 
Lebanon for many years, “between Qadesh and Sur”,  just as Genesis 20: 1 
explicitly, and unequivocally, tells us. 
Jim Stinehart

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