[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
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".
************************************** See what's new at http://www.aol.com
More information about the b-hebrew