[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Oct 10 17:31:50 EDT 2007

Yitzhak  Sapir: 
Thank you so much for your specific comments  on the Hebrew wording of 
Genesis 20: 1. 
A.  You wrote:  "However -ah is a locative case  in Hebrew.  My general 
impression is that it is more often used with proper  place names.  Thus, the word 
?arcah would mean
'to the Land.'…?arcah  hannegev is an indivisible construct chain that means 
'Land of
the Negev',  most likely a proper name because it ('Land') takes the  locative
Based on my investigation, your analysis of that key phrase is not borne  out 
by the received Hebrew text of the Patriarchal narratives.  In the 
Patriarchal narratives (beginning  with the first mention of Abraham at Genesis 11: 26), 
the Hebrew letter  combination aleph-resh-tsade-he appears 22 times in 21 
verses.  These 21 verses are referenced below,  along with the relevant portion 
of the JPS1917 translation.  We see that in a clear majority of  cases, 
aleph-resh-tsade-he is not used with a proper place name. 
1.  Genesis 11: 31  "to go into the land of  Canaan" 
2.  Genesis 12: 5 (twice)  "to go into the land of Canaan;  and into the land 
of Canaan they  came" 
3.  Genesis 19: 1  "he fell down on his face to the  earth" 
4.  Genesis 20: 1  "Abraham journeyed from thence toward  the land of the 
5.  Genesis 24: 52  "he bowed himself down to the  earth" 
6.  Genesis 28: 12  "behold a ladder set up on the  earth" 
7.  Genesis 29: 1  "and came to the land of the children of  the east" 
8.  Genesis 31: 18  "to go…unto the land of  Canaan" 
9.  Genesis 32: 4  "Jacob sent messengers…unto the land of  Seir" 
10.  Genesis 33: 3  "bowed himself to the ground" 
11. Genesis 37: 10  "to bow  down to thee to the earth" 
12. Genesis 38: 9  "he  spilled it on the ground" 
13. Genesis 42: 6  "bowed  down to him with their faces to the earth" 
14. Genesis 42: 29  "they  came…unto the land of Canaan" 
15. Genesis 43: 26  "bowed  down to him to the earth" 
16. Genesis 44: 11  "took  down every man his sack to the ground" 
17. Genesis 44: 14  "they  fell before him on the ground" 
18. Genesis 45: 17  "get you  unto the land of Canaan" 
19. Genesis 46: 28  "they  came into the land of Goshen" 
20. Genesis 48: 12  "he fell  down on his face to the earth" 
21. Genesis 50: 13  "his sons  carried him into the land of Canaan" 
In the Patriarchal narratives, the Hebrew letter combination  
aleph-resh-tsade-he is most often used in the phrase "bowed down to the  earth".  The other 
common use is "go  into the land of Canaan".  No one  translates the second 
phrase "go into The Land of Canaan" or "go into the Land  of Canaan".  (Of 
course, no one  would translate the first phrase as "to the Earth".) 
In Genesis 20: 1, "earth" or "ground" do not fit the context.  In Genesis 20: 
1, the English  translation of aleph-resh-tsade-he should either be "to the 
land" or "to the  region" (before we get to the issue of how to translate 
he-nun-gimel-bet in this  connection), not "to the Land". 
B.  Now consider what would  result if, per your suggestion, one were to 
translate the first third of Genesis  20: 1 to say that "Abraham journeyed from 
thence to the Land of the Negev".  Or, more consistent with JPS1917's usage  of 
prepositions elsewhere, the translation would be:  "Abraham journeyed from 
thence into the  Land of the Negev".  That rendering  would contradict the 
immediately following phrase, which tells us "and he dwelt  between Qadesh and 
S(h)ur".  The  Negev Desert is not located "between Qadesh and S(h)ur". 
Excluding Genesis 20: 1 for one moment, note that in all 10 of the other  10 
uses above of aleph-resh-tsade-he in the Patriarchal narratives in connection  
with a geographical location (Canaan, the land of the children of the east,  
Seir, and Goshen), the person goes "into" or "unto" or "to" that place, and 
then  stays there, rather than immediately passing through there.  Only at 
Genesis 20: 1 is it claimed that  Abraham went aleph-resh-tsade-he -- to the land 
in question -- but did not stay  there, instead immediately passing through the 
Negev Desert to settle in the  Sinai Desert.  That to me is  "special 
pleading":  translating  Genesis 20: 1 differently than all other uses of 
aleph-resh-tsade-he in the  Patriarchal narratives, for the purpose of trying to deny 
that each of "the land  of the South" and Gerar is located "between Qadesh and 
S(h)ur".  Note how JPS1917 uniquely comes up with  the word "toward" at Genesis 
20: 1, a word never used in the other 21  occurrences of aleph-resh-tsade-he 
in its translation of the Patriarchal  narratives.  Why is everyone  straining 
so mightily to make Genesis 20: 1 nonsensical?  
C.  Both the place to which  Abraham goes ("the land of the South" per JPS 
1917), and the land where Abraham  sojourns (Gerar), should logically be 
"between Qadesh and S(h)ur", which is the  place where Abraham "dwelt" or, in other 
translations, "settled", or else  Genesis 20: 1 reads very awkwardly.  On my 
view of the case, Genesis 20: 1 reads very naturally, as it conveys  the 
following substantive content: 
(i)  Abraham traveled to a  locale that is located between Qadesh and Sur, in 
the southern part of that area  (near Sur);  and 
(ii) Abraham settled between Qadesh and Sur;  and 
(iii) Abraham sojourned in the part of Gerar that is located between  Qadesh 
and Sur. 
On my view, Abraham did all three of those things simultaneously, in the  
same southern Lebanon locale:  Sur  ("Tyre"). 
I see Genesis 20: 1 as telling us that Abraham traveled from Bethel/Ai to  
the southern region between Qadesh and Sur (in southern Lebanon, near Sur), and  
he settled there between Qadesh and Sur (near Sur), and he sojourned in a 
part  of Gerar that is located between Qadesh and Sur.  It all makes logical 
sense.  Southern Lebanon was a logical place to  go to have the baby.  At the time 
he  left Hebron, Abraham knew that Sarah would be getting pregnant with Isaac 
about  30 days after they left Hebron.  A  desert environment like the Negev 
Desert, or even worse the Sinai Desert, would  not be an appropriate place to 
go to have the baby.  It would make no sense at all, given  Sarah's impending 
pregnancy with Isaac, to first go to the Negev Desert, then go  to the Sinai 
Desert and "settle" in the Sinai Desert, and than go all the way  back to the 
Negev Desert, to a locale not near either Qadesh or S(h)ur.  And how could all 
that traveling be  completed before Sarah gets pregnant with Isaac?  Sarah 
apparently does not get pregnant  with Isaac (in chapter 21 of Genesis) until 
after Abraham and Sarah have  interacted with Abimelech at Gerar (in chapter 20 
of Genesis), yet Genesis 20: 1  tells us that Abraham "settled between Qadesh 
and S(h)ur".  I just do not see how your proposed  translation of Genesis 20: 1 
can possibly make substantive sense (even though it  is possible 
grammatically).  Why  would Genesis 20: 1 tell us that Abraham "settled between Qadesh and 
S(h)ur", if  in fact Abraham settled, less than 30 days after leaving Hebron, 
near the site  of the modern Israeli city of Beersheba, nowhere near to 
either Qadesh or  S(h)ur?  How are you interpreting  the middle third of Genesis 
20: 1, which explicitly tells us that Abraham  "settled between Qadesh and 
S(h)ur"?  We should not ignore that portion of Genesis 20: 1, should we? 
As to whether "negev" may mean "dry land", I will show in a later post  that 
all that jousting over water wells in chapters 21 and 26 of Genesis is  
historically documented at Sur in southern Lebanon in this time period.  And Yes, it 
involves "Philistines", as  frequently referenced in chapters 21 and 26.  As 
you probably know, the urban classic  Philistines were never in the Negev 
Desert or the Sinai Desert (in addition to  not yet being in existence in the 
Patriarchal Age), and "Gerar" is not  associated with the classic Philistines (who 
are described, more or less  accurately, in many other books of the Bible, so 
we should be able to figure out  whether or not the classic Philistines are 
being referenced in the Patriarchal  narratives).  Historically, the  
activities described in chapters 21 and 26 took place only near Sur, in southern  
Lebanon, and only in the time period of the first Hebrews.  We need (i) 
"Philistines" who are (ii)  jousting over water wells, (iii) a leader named "Abimelech", 
and (iv)  interaction with tent-dwelling people (v) in the secular historical 
time period  of the first Hebrews.  The one and  only place to get all that in 
secular history is Sur in the Patriarchal  Age.  There's nothing like that in 
 the secular history of the Negev Desert or the Sinai Desert (regardless of 
how  oddly people may choose to translate Genesis 20: 1, or how insistent 
people are  in resolutely ignoring the part of Genesis 20: 1 that explicitly states 
that  Abraham "settled between Qadesh and S(h)ur"). 
Genesis 20: 1 makes perfect historical sense, if we will  only use a 
sensible, literal translation of that key verse.  Abraham went straight to Sur in 
southern  Lebanon from Hebron, Sarah bore Isaac near Sur, and Isaac was raised 
near  Sur.  Only after the binding  incident did the family leave Sur in southern 
Lebanon and return to Hebron.  After returning to Canaan from Egypt,  Abraham 
on my view never again lived or sojourned in either the Negev Desert or  the 
Sinai Desert.  (Why would an  extremely wealthy man with 318 armed retainers 
[Genesis 13: 2;  14: 14] move into a desert?  Why would his son Isaac later 
move into  a desert when drought/famine hit Hebron?  Does any of that make 
sense?)  Nor did Abraham move around much either.  Rather, Abraham is at Hebron, 
then at  Sur in southern Lebanon, and then back at Hebron, with there being very 
little  wandering involved during this very long period of time.   
It all makes perfect sense, once we accept the fact that,  per Genesis 20: 1, 
Abraham "settled between Qadesh and Sur".   
Jim Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois

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