[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Oct 8 14:58:31 EDT 2007

Thank you for your extremely helpful  remarks.  It was just this kind of  
grammatical advice regarding Genesis 20: 1 that I was  seeking. 
Let me now respond to each of your specific  points. 
1.  You wrote:  "It is certainly  hard to translate "southern region of ..."
Note that the expression is  
)RCH to the land (directive H) 
HNGB "the south"
which  is the directive of )RC HNGB, itself a possessive (smichut).

"The bible does not usually allow a double  possessive,
although they are prevalent in modern Hebrew.
Perhaps others  here can try to come up with counter-examples to  this
(a)  I take that key comment of yours to mean that in Biblical Hebrew, it  
would be rare, but not impossible, to have a double  possessive. 
(b)  In my view, the likely reason for pushing the Biblical Hebrew language 
to  use a rare double possessive would be in order to make a key pun, or to  
facilitate clever Hebrew wordplay. 
Yaakov, I wonder if you would agree with me  that there is more clever Hebrew 
wordplay in the Patriarchal narratives than in  any other prose section of 
the entire Bible?  Although I myself like that clever  Hebrew wordplay (when I 
can catch on to it), many modern secular analysts have  complained for example 
that there are way too many puns in the Patriarchal  narratives, and they wish 
the author would forget about punning and just make  the serious points he 
wants to make (not my  view). 
Here, I see the author as using clever  Hebrew wordplay to have Hagar and 
Abraham going to places that use the same  words, but that on every level (both 
geographically and theologically) are very  different places.  Thus in chapter  
16 of Genesis, look at the precise, odd words that are used to describe the  
place to which Hagar (who has been living at Hebron) briefly runs away, in 
order  to avoid Sarah's harsh treatment: 
(i)  Qadesh  (Genesis 16:  14) 
(ii) S(h)ur  (Genesis 16:  7) 
(iii)  Although not expressly so stated in chapter 16, it is very obvious 
that  Hagar is in the Negev Desert.  Hagar  is only gone one day, and she starts 
out from Hebron moving south, so  Beer-lahairoi must clearly be in the 
northern Negev Desert.  Thus though the word "Negev" per se is  not in the text, the 
audience is naturally thinking of the Negev Desert.  (By contrast, the 
audience would never  think of either Qadesh or S(h)ur here, if that odd, particular 
wording had not  been used in the text.) 
Now when Abraham finds out that Sarah will  get pregnant with Isaac about 30 
days hence, look at the same odd words that are  used to describe Abraham's 
travel when he leaves  Hebron: 
(i)  Qadesh (Genesis 20: 1) 
(ii)  S(h)ur (Genesis 20: 1) 
(iii)  negev (Genesis 20: 1) 
In my view, the author is making the  important point, using clever Hebrew 
wordplay, that though Hagar and Abraham are  going to places with the same 
names, they in fact are going in opposite  directions, in every way.  Hagar  
invariably floats down southwest, toward her old homeland of Egypt.  Abraham, by 
contrast, here goes up north  to southern Lebanon for Sarah to give birth to  
We see this peculiar gambit of contrasting  Hagar's movements with Abraham's 
movements, while using the same geographical  place names, in chapter 21 of 
Genesis.  Hagar leaves the original locale in Gerar and travels to a  
"Beersheba".  Abraham either travels  in a different direction, or perhaps just stays 
put, but in any event ends up  being at a locale that is likewise called 
"Beersheba".  They do this at the same time:  "And it came to pass at that time".  
Genesis 21: 22  Note that these are two very different  Beershebas.  Hagar's 
Beersheba is in  the lonely wilderness, no "Philistines" are around, and YHWH 
shows Hagar a  pre-existing, fully-functioning well.  By stark contrast, 
Abraham's Beersheba is crawling with "Philistines",  being a veritable hubbub of 
activity, and Abraham's men must dig a well, rather  than finding a pre-existing 
well.  (Genesis 21: 30-31)  The only  thing in common about the two "Beershebas" 
is that in each place, a valuable  water well is providentially found.  It 
should be obvious to everyone that Abraham of course would not move to  the same 
place to which he has just now exiled Hagar and Ishmael.  Chapter 21 of 
Genesis makes sense only  once we realize that Hagar's "Beersheba" is at a 
completely different  geographical locale than Abraham's  "Beersheba". 
The ordinary meaning/pun regarding  "Beersheba" is "on oath -- a well!".  But 
the pun-happy author of the Patriarchal narratives is not content  with one 
simple pun like that.  No  pun at all is stated for Hagar's Beersheba.  
Abraham's Beersheba receives a different  pun, punning on the Hebrew word for 
"seven", rather than the Hebrew word for  "oath".  Only in the next  generation, when 
Isaac is at a Beersheba (which may or may not be the same place  as Abraham's 
Beersheba, but certainly is not Hagar's Beersheba), does the author  set 
forth the ordinary pun on the Hebrew word  "oath". 
Because "Beersheba" is used as a generic  Hebrew nickname in the Patriarchal 
narratives, there can be no assurance that  either Hagar's Beersheba or 
Abraham's Beersheba is in the Negev Desert.  (By contrast, we can tell from the  
context that Jacob's Beersheba is in the Negev Desert, because Jacob stops there  
en route to Egypt from Hebron.) 
For our purposes here, note that the author  insists, on two separate 
occasions, upon using the same place names for where  Hagar and Abraham are going.  
Yet in  both cases, Hagar and Abraham are in fact heading in opposite 
directions, on all  levels.  That type of clever Hebrew  wordplay is ubiquitous in the 
Patriarchal narratives, if fairly rare elsewhere  in the Bible. 
What I am saying is that in my view, the  author at Genesis 20: 1 is both (i) 
forcing the normal Biblical Hebrew grammar a  bit, by making a rare use of a 
double possessive, and (ii) using an odd choice  of words (Qadesh, S(h)ur, 
negev), in order to compare and contrast Hagar and  Abraham and the different 
paths that they are on.  In my view, the author is bound and  determined to get 
the word "negev" into Genesis 20: 1, even though Abraham is  traveling north, 
in order to form a word-parallel/word-contrast with Hagar's  earlier voluntary 
departure from Hebron, and even though Hagar had literally  been going in the 
opposite direction from  Abraham. 
2.  You wrote:  "So if you want  to make your identifications, you have to 
make a case for southern Lebanon being  called "the land of the south" to 
someone previously living in Hebron.  Not an easy case to  make." 
With all due respect, I see the Patriarchal  narratives as refuting that 
view.  Jacob's 12th son is called "Benjamin".  As with all of the names of Jacob's 
12  sons, there are multiple possible puns here (as I indirectly alluded to  
earlier).  Yet the most obvious pun  (even if, arguably, not the most 
important pun), is that Jacob's 12th  son "Benjamin" is a "son of the south", in that 
Benjamin's birthplace of  Bethlehem is far south of Harran, where Jacob's 
other 11 sons had been  born.  Note that Bethlehem is,  however, well north of 
Hebron.  (One  literal meaning of "Benjamin" is "son of the right hand", but in 
facing east,  the right hand signifies south.)  Jacob's true home is at Hebron, 
even though he is forced to work for  Laban for 20 years at Harran.  Abraham 
for his part is introduced to us at Ur and  Harran. 
So the name "Benjamin" lets us know that a  native of Hebron could view 
Bethlehem, though it is well north of Hebron, as  being "south". 
Likewise, since we first meet Abraham as an  individual at Harran (regardless 
of whether Abraham may be indigenous to  Canaan), Abraham could view southern 
Lebanon as being "south".  Indeed, from that perspective (the  perspective of 
Genesis 12: 1), all of Canaan (including southern Lebanon) could  be viewed 
as being "the land of the south". 
I agree that all this is a bit of a stretch,  but I see the author of the 
Patriarchal narratives as being the party who is  doing the stretching here.  The 
 author is insistent on using the same words for Hagar's voluntary departure 
from  Hebron and for Abraham's voluntary departure from Hebron, and for 
Hagar's and  Abraham's separate departures from their original locales in Gerar (or 
perhaps  Abraham staying put), even though on both occasions Abraham and Hagar 
are  literally going in opposite directions. 
3.  You wrote:  "However, it must  be admitted that in the bible, NGB 
overwhelmingly means the direction south,  rather than the modern connotation of 
"south of Israel".
And in the places  where NGB is used as a proper noun meaning the south
of Israel, there is  usually an additional descriptor (the NGB of Caleb, the 
NGB of
the Kreiti,  etc.)" 
That is most helpful.  That had been my impression, but it is  very nice to 
see it confirmed. 
Thanks again for your great help.  My main reason for posting here is  simply 
to try to find out if my proposed new translation of Genesis 20: 1 is  
grammatically possible in Biblical Hebrew.  I am taking your post as being at least 
a "Maybe", and possibly even a  "Qualified Yes". 
Jim  Stinehart

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