[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Oct 11 10:31:18 EDT 2007

Based on the critical comments made concerning my first attempt at a new  
translation of Genesis 20: 1, I have revised my new translation.  Set forth below 
are three versions of my  new translation.  Each version uses  identical 
English wording, but different punctuation and capitalization are used  in each 
version, recognizing (per Version #1) that the original Hebrew had no  
punctuation or capitalization at all. 
1.  Version #1 
No punctuation or capitalization [ambiguous as to whether Isaac is born  in 
southern Lebanon at Sur or in the Negev Desert] 
"and departed from there abraham to the south land and he settled between  
kadesh and s(h)ur and he sojourned in gerar" 
2.  Version #2 
Dashes [Isaac is born in southern Lebanon at Sur] 
"And departed from there Abraham to the southland -- and he settled --  
between Kadesh and Sur and he sojourned in Gerar." 
3.  Version #3 
Semi-colons and capitalization [Isaac is born in the Negev  Desert] 
"And departed from there Abraham to The South Land;  and he settled between 
Kadesh and  Shur;  and he sojourned in  Gerar." 
*       *       * 
I agree that Version #3, the traditional interpretation of Genesis 20: 1,  
works grammatically.  But what I am  saying is this: 
(i)  Version #2 is also a  legitimate interpretation of Genesis 20: 1, and is 
not impossible  grammatically. 
(ii)  Version #2 makes  perfect sense substantively, whereas Version #1 is 
virtually nonsensical  substantively.  If Abraham journeyed  into The Land of 
Negev, how then could Abraham settle in the Sinai Desert?  Wrong desert.  And 
having "settled" in the middle of  the Sinai Desert, how is it then that Abraham 
sojourned at Gerar in the Negev  Desert?  Wrong desert again.  And there's 
not enough time for Abraham  first to settle in the Sinai Desert, and then 
commence sojourning in the Negev  Desert at Gerar, with all this happening over a 
period of less than 30 days  after Abraham leaves Hebron.  Sarah  must get 
pregnant about 30 days after they leave Hebron, which is presumably  after Abraham 
and Sarah have interacted with Abimelech at Gerar (in chapter 20,  with 
Sarah's pregnancy becoming known only in chapter 21), in order for Sarah to  bear 
Isaac "when the season cometh round", that is, when spring returns  again.  
Finally, it makes no sense  for Abraham and Sarah to go to a desert in order to 
have, and raise,  Isaac. 
On this list, the key issue is the Hebrew grammar.  I view Version #2 as 
being a legitimate  possible interpretation of Genesis 20: 1 based on Hebrew 
grammar, even though I  admit that Version #3 would be most people's first reading 
of Genesis 20:  1.  In my view, the author of the  Patriarchal narratives did 
all this deliberately.  He is deliberately causing us to think  initially that 
Abraham may have followed in Hagar's footsteps from chapter 16 of  Genesis, 
leaving Hebron and going toward Kadesh(-barnea) and Shur.  But we gradually 
figure out that in  fact, Abraham went in exactly the opposite direction.  
Abraham went north from Bethel/Ai (not  southwest from Hebron), toward the Lebanese 
city-states of Kadesh and Sur  ("Tyre").  Isaac is born near Sur,  in southern 
Lebanon, in fulfillment of the Covenant. 
I see the ambiguity in Genesis 20: 1 as being deliberate.  The Hebrew author 
is forcing us to  think.  And by forcing a parallel  with Hagar from chapter 
16 of Genesis, who (along with her son Ishmael) is left  outside of the 
Covenant, the author is making an important point by this  deliberately ambiguous 
wording of Genesis 20: 1. 
Jim Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois

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