[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1
JimStinehart at aol.com
JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Oct 12 10:45:57 EDT 2007
We all agree that the Patriarchal narratives (i) portray Isaac as being born
and raised in Gerar, and (ii) provide an extensive description of Gerar in
chapters 20, 21 and 26 of Genesis. Based on that extensive Biblical
description of Gerar, was Gerar located in the Sinai Desert, in the Negev Desert, or
in southern Lebanon?
Here are the three most obvious attributes of Gerar as portrayed in the
The ruler's name is "Abimelech". That is a classic west Semitic name. The
one and only foreign name is "Phicol", with Phicol being the head of
Abimelech's military forces.
2. Jousting Over Water Wells
There is very serious, and continuous, jousting over water wells. Obviously
water wells are very important in Gerar.
3. Philistines on Both Sides
(a) There are "Philistines" present at Gerar.
(b) Though often overlooked by modern analysts, it appears from the text
that "Philistines" are fighting on both sides of these interminable disputes
over water wells:
"Now all the wells which his father's servants had digged in the days of
Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with
earth." Genesis 26: 15
"And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the
days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the
death of Abraham…." Genesis 26: 18
A. Sinai Desert
Although unknown to secular history, the Bible uses the words "Qadesh" (or
"Qadesh-barnea") and "Shur" to refer to sites in the Sinai Desert. In the
Sinai Desert, between Qadesh-barnea and the Shur Desert, (i) there was no ruler
named "Abimelech", (ii) there was no jousting over water wells, at least in
the manner described in the Patriarchal narratives, and (iii) there are no
Philistines of any type.
Certainly Gerar cannot be in the Sinai Desert. Moreover, when Genesis 20:
1 says that Abraham "settled between Qadesh and S(h)ur", it seems unlikely
that the text really means that Abraham settled in the Sinai Desert. Even in
ancient times, the Sinai Desert was not a fit place to go to have a baby.
Yigal Levin wrote: "[A]ll of Jim's assumptions about where and when Abraham and
Sarah would go to have their baby are nonsensical". I stand by my
statement that it would be nonsensical for the Patriarchal narratives to portray
Abraham and Sarah as going to the desolate Sinai Desert to have their
divinely-promised baby. They know that Sarah will become pregnant very soon, so there's
no way that they would to the bleak Sinai Desert.
B. Negev Desert Near Site of Modern Beersheba
(i) There is no known ruler named "Abimelech" here.
(ii) No jousting over water wells in the manner described in the
Patriarchal narratives is recorded in secular history here.
(iii) No Philistines of any kind are here. In particular, the classic
Philistines (who would be an anachronism for an historical Patriarchal Age) never
fought amongst themselves on both sides of a dispute over water wells. No
foreign mercenaries operated here either.
The site of modern Beersheba in the Negev Desert is nowhere near either
Qadesh or S(h)ur (regardless of which set of meanings one attaches to "Qadesh"
and "S(h)ur). Despite the traditional (and seemingly unanimous) reading of
Genesis 20: 1 to the contrary, namely Version #3, it is hard to see how Genesis
20: 1 could be talking about Abraham sojourning at the site of modern
Beersheba in the Negev Desert, since the text clearly says that Abraham "settled
between Qadesh and S(h)ur", and the site of modern Beersheba is nowhere near
either Qadesh or S(h)ur (no matter how one views Qadesh and S(h)ur).
It is unwise to assume that each and every reference in the Bible to a
"Beersheba" is necessarily to a site that is in the Negev Desert, much less a site
that is close to the modern Israeli city of Beersheba. In particular, the
author of the Patriarchal narratives seems perfectly willing to call any site
where a well of water has been providentially found "Beersheba". Thus in
chapter 21 of Genesis, Abraham exiles Hagar and Ishmael to a place in the lonely
wilderness that is called "Beersheba", where a well of water is
providentially found. Meanwhile, "at that time" (Genesis 21: 22), Abraham himself
providentially finds a well of water by digging where he is at, amid many
"Philistines" and general hubbub, and Abraham names that place "Beersheba". Thus it
would seem that any place where a well of water is providentially found may be
called "Beersheba" by the author of the Patriarchal narratives, even a place
not located in or near the Negev Desert.
Despite Yigal Levin's insistence that Gerar is in the Negev Desert (near the
site of the modern Israeli city of Beersheba), we must ask ourselves how any
Hebrew author, under any circumstances, could possibly describe life in the
Negev Desert as follows:
"Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar. …And Isaac
sowed in that land, and found in the same year a hundredfold; and the LORD
[YHWH] blessed him. And the man waxed great, and grew more and more until he
became very great. And he had possessions of flocks, and possessions of herds,
and a great household; and the Philistines envied him." Genesis 26: 1,
Does that sound like life in the Negev Desert? Come on. The Patriarchal
narratives are not nonsensical like that.
My next post will examine whether Sur ("Tyre") in southern Lebanon fits the
relevant secular history.
Jim StinehartEvanston, Illinois
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