[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1
JimStinehart at aol.com
JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Oct 8 10:38:16 EDT 2007
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
(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.
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