[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Oct 12 10:48:54 EDT 2007

We have seen that neither the Sinai Desert nor the Negev  Desert fits either 
the text of the Patriarchal narratives or secular history as  the place where 
Isaac was born and raised.  Now lets look at southern Lebanon. 
C.  Sur  ("Tyre") in Southern Lebanon 
Historical Garu (Biblical "Gerar") likely extended as far  west as the 
city-state of Sur in southern Lebanon.  Amarna Letter #256: 19-28.  So Abraham could 
simultaneously (i)  sojourn in Garu/Gerar, (ii) settle between Qadesh and 
Sur, and (iii) go to the  southland between Qadesh and Sur.  The mainland just 
northeast of the tiny island of Sur ("Tyre") fits all  three descriptions 
perfectly.  (The  Lebanese city-state of Sur was "Surru" in Akkadian cuneiform and 
"Sur" in  Arabic, so shin/sin-vav-resh in Hebrew at Genesis 20: 1 is a close 
match as to  sound.  It is true that later books  in the Bible decided to spell 
the name of this city-state as tsade-vav-resh, but  a tsade in Biblical Hebrew 
was a kind of an S-type sound, and spellings of  foreign place names varied 
widely in the ancient world [as we saw previously in  the many various 
spellings of "Qadesh" in the Amarna  Letters].) 
If there was an historical Patriarchal Age, a likely time  period for it 
would be the mid-14th century BCE (the time period of  the voluminous Amarna 
Letters).  That would give the first Hebrews just enough time to grow into a large  
tribe by the mid-13th century BCE, and then be important enough for  pharaoh 
Merneptah to brag about defeating "Israel" in the Merneptah Stele (or  Israel 
Stele) of about 1207 BCE, near the end of the 13th century  BCE.  Much of the 
nomenclature in  the Amarna Letters matches the Patriarchal narratives 
beautifully.  The Levant is called "Canaan" in both  sources, both sources reference 
"the land of Seir" (which probably references  the Trans-Jordan and 
Seir/Jazeer, not the future state of Edom southeast of the  future state of Judah), and 
both sources are very concerned about the  "Hittites"/"Hatti".  "Qadesh" and  
"Sur" are prominent in the Amarna Letters as Lebanese city-states (and, in my  
controversial view, these same words are used in that exact sense in the  
Patriarchal narratives as well).  Egypt is something like "Misraim" in both 
sources ("Missari" or  "Misriniwe" in the Amarna Letters), Asshur is Asshur in both 
sources, and  Shechem is Shechem (or "Sakmu") in both sources.  In terms of 
geographical names, the  world of the Amarna Letters seems in many cases to be 
the same world as the  world of the Amarna Letters.  Excluding, that is, the 
many new Hebrew nicknames for geographical places  created by the author of the 
Patriarchal narratives, such as "Sodom",  "Gomorrah", and as locales in the 
Sinai Desert, "Qadesh" and "Shur".  Both sources prominently feature  
tent-dwelling people, called "habiru" in the Amarna Letters and "Hebrews" in the  
Patriarchal narratives.  It is true  that most scholars today try to insist that 
any similarity in sound between  "habiru" and "Hebrew" is 100% coincidence.  But 
those same scholars are even more unanimous in trying to insist that  the 
Patriarchal narratives are mid-1st millennium BCE fiction,  despite the manifest 
wealth of matches to the geography and peoples set forth in  the ancient 
Amarna Letters.  We will  now examine one droplet of that plenitude of spectacular 
matches between what is  in the Amarna Letters, and what the received Hebrew 
text of the Patriarchal  narratives says.  (There is simply  no way that any 
group of mid-1st millennium BCE Hebrews, regardless  of their motivation, 
brilliance or divine inspiration, could possibly have made  this stuff up.  It fits 
the  well-documented ancient secular history far, far too closely for  that.) 
(i)  In the  mid-14th century BCE, the ruler of Sur was named "Abimilki".  
The name "Abimilki" is either the same  as, or sounds quite similar to, 
"Abimelech" in the Patriarchal narratives.  Amarna Letters  #146-#155 
(ii)  The  only Amarna Letters that talk about jousting over rights of access 
to valuable  water wells are 8 Amarna Letters from Abimilki of Sur.  Amarna 
Letters #146-#151;  #154-#155.  Thus both in the Amarna Letters and the  
Patriarchal narratives, the only ruler who is involved in jousting over water  wells 
is named Abimelech/Abimilki.  Historical ruler Abimilki specifically refers 
to the "habiru" as an  ambiguous factor in this volatile mix. 
(iii)  In the mid-14th century BCE,  the classic Philistines did not yet 
exist.  But in that time period, the Hebrew word translated into English as  
"Philistines" could easily be a pejorative Hebrew nickname for foreign  
mercenaries, calling them "Invaders".  The root of  P'lishti/"Philistines" may likely be 
p-l-sh, which means "invade".  Southern Lebanon (unlike the Negev  Desert) was 
crawling with foreign mercenaries in the mid-14th century  BCE, as we know 
from the Amarna Letters.  In particular, three Amarna Letters talk about the 
Sherden foreign  mercenaries in Lebanon.  Amarna  Letters #81: 16;  #122: 35;  
#123:  15 
The Sherden foreign mercenaries (who could be viewed by  the first Hebrews as 
being "Invaders"/"Philistines") were notorious for doing  exactly what the 
"Philistines" are reported to do in the Patriarchal  narratives:  foreigners 
hired by  rival rulers, who fight on both sides of a dispute.  By stark contrast, 
the classic  Philistines never did anything like that in any time  period. 
On  this analysis, Biblical "Abimelech" is closely modeled on historical 
Abimilki, a  west Semitic-speaking Amorite princeling ruler of Sur in the mid-14th 
 century BCE (the historical Patriarchal Age), who has hired Sherden foreign  
mercenaries ("Philistines") to try to assure him access to the invaluable 
water  wells on the mainland of Lebanon opposite the tiny island of Sur.  The 
leader of Abimelech's small militia  of foreign mercenaries has a foreign name 
befitting a non-west Semitic-speaking  Sherden foreign mercenary:  "Phicol".  
Abimelech's  "herdsmen" and "servants", by contrast, are all west 
Semitic-speaking Amorites  like Abimelech.  Only Phicol and  Phicol's military subordinates 
are non-west Semitic Sherden foreign  mercenaries/"Philistines"/"Invaders".  
Abimelech is "king of the Philistines" in the ironic sense that Abimelech  (who 
himself is an Amorite, not a Philistine) can get and maintain access to the  
desperately-needed water wells on the mainland of Lebanon only by the drastic  
expedient of hiring Sherden foreign mercenaries  ("Philistines"/"Invaders"). 
Since the mainland northeast of the tiny island of Sur  off the southern 
coast of Lebanon is located both (i) in "Gerar", if Biblical  "Gerar" is 
historical Garu, and (ii) "between Qadesh and Sur", that means that  southern Lebanon 
meets all of the above tests, including fitting the specific  wording of all 
three portions of Genesis 20: 1 perfectly.   
D.  Conclusion 
Note how everything fits historically if "Gerar" is the  Biblical version of 
historical Garu, with Isaac being born and raised near Sur  in southern 
Lebanon.  By sharp  contrast, nothing matches to secular history if Isaac is born 
and raised in the  Negev Desert near the site of the modern Israeli city of  
Why should we continue to ignore the middle third of  Genesis 20: 1, which 
clearly and unequivocally states that Abraham "settled  between Qadesh and 
S(h)ur"?  Let the  Biblical Minimalists ignore that text.  The rest of us should 
give full credence to that text.  If "Qadesh" means the real Qadesh, in  
northern Lebanon, and "S(h)ur" means the real Sur, in southern Lebanon, then  
everything is a perfect historical fit. 
Certainly the author of the Patriarchal narratives, and  his audiences, knew 
about the world-famous Lebanese city-states of Qadesh and  Sur.  By stark 
contrast, "S(h)ur"  and "Qadesh", as references to sites in the Sinai Desert, are 
Biblical names  only, with no basis in secular history.  It is likely that the 
author of the Patriarchal narratives decided to use  these names as Hebrew 
nicknames for sites in the Sinai Desert for the precise  purpose of later 
punning on the famous names of these two Lebanese  city-states.  The author 
introduces  the audience to these new Hebrew nicknames for Sinai sites in chapter 16 
of  Genesis, regarding Hagar's brief flight from Hebron (Genesis 16: 7, 14).  
Yet in chapter 20 of Genesis, the  audience of course still knows the 
world-famous Lebanese city-states of Qadesh  and Sur by these names.  When the  
audience hears or reads that Abraham "settled between Qadesh and S(h)ur"  immediately 
before Isaac was born, the audience cannot help but ask "which  Qadesh and 
which S(h)ur"?  Is this  verse referencing the Qadesh and Sur everyone knows 
about in Lebanon, or rather  the sites in the Sinai Desert that we just heard 
about, for the first time,  regarding Hagar's brief departure from Hebron?  The 
author of the Patriarchal narratives  knew that the audience would think like 
that.  That is exactly what the author wants us  to be thinking.  Is Abraham 
going up  north from Bethel/Ai to Sur in southern Lebanon, or is Abraham oddly 
following  in Hagar's footsteps and going southwest from Hebron toward "Qadesh" 
and "Shur"  in the Sinai Desert?  This ambiguity  is intentional on the part 
of the author.   
Note that when Hagar and Ishmael are later exiled, there  is no mention of 
Qadesh or Shur whatsoever in chapter 21 of Genesis.  If Hagar and Ishmael were 
exiled from a  site near the modern Israeli city of Beersheba, why then 
wouldn't Hagar be said  to go in the direction of Qadesh and Shur, as had been stated 
at Genesis 16: 7,  14 when Hagar left Hebron?  The  answer is that Hagar and 
Ishmael are exiled after they have moved to southern  Lebanon.  Hagar is 
desperate because  she has no experience whatsoever in trying to go from Lebanon 
far up north all  the way back to her original homeland of Egypt, by way of 
Qadesh-barnea or  otherwise.  The marked absence of  the words "Qadesh" and "Shur" 
when Hagar and Ishmael are exiled in chapter 21 of  Genesis is a good clue 
that they are in Lebanon, not the Negev Desert.  Hagar is clueless as to how to 
get to  Egypt from Lebanon, though Hagar had felt confident in chapter 16 of 
Genesis  that she knew how to go back to Egypt from Hebron by way of 
Qadesh-barnea on the  way to Shur. 
As  we are seeing, everything fits perfectly, both in secular history and in 
the  Biblical text, if Abraham and Sarah are viewed as going to Sur in 
southern  Lebanon to have Isaac.   
When Genesis 20: 1 says that Abraham "settled between  Qadesh and Sur", it 
means exactly that.  That's what the text clearly says, and that's precisely 
what makes  secular historical sense.  It is at  Sur, in southern Lebanon during 
the time period of the first Hebrews in secular  history, that one finds ruler 
"Abimelech" (historical Abimilki), "Garu"  (Biblical "Gerar"), and 
"Philistines" (foreign mercenaries/"Invaders"/Sherden)  jousting interminably over 
access to valuable water wells.  It's all at Sur, just as faithfully  recorded in 
the Patriarchal narratives, and nowhere else on the planet earth in  mankind's 
long history. 
We  see that an awful lot is riding on the interpretation of the Hebrew 
phrase  "settled between Qadesh and Sur" in Genesis 20: 1.  If it's referencing 
southern Lebanon,  we're talking actual, well-documented, ancient secular 
history, not  mid-1st millennium BCE fiction. 
Jim Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois

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