[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Oct 15 11:12:17 EDT 2007

Yigal  Levin: 
You wrote:  "[T]he context  definitely points to Abraham wandering in the 
south of Canaan;  it makes no sense to think that he went  all the way to 
Lebanon.  …[A]ll of  Jim's assumptions about where and when Abraham and Sarah would 
go to have their  baby are nonsensical…." 
In this post I will address the issue of  "where… Abraham and 
Sarah would go to have their  baby". 
1.  Distance 
"…all the way to  Lebanon…" 
It is approximately 112 miles from Hebron to  either (i) the half-way point 
between Qadesh-barnea and the Shur Desert, or (ii)  Sur ("Tyre") in southern 
Lebanon.  Thus it is not a longer distance to go to Sur in Lebanon than it would 
be  to go to the middle of the northern part of the Sinai  Desert. 
On my view, Abraham had already gone up to  Bethel/Ai, which is about 27 
miles north of Hebron.  So if Abraham is starting from  Bethel/Ai, which is where 
we last see Abraham at Genesis 19: 27-28, when at  Genesis 20: 1 Abraham 
leaves "from there", then it would only be another 90  miles or so to Sur, whereas 
it would now be about 140 miles to the middle of the  northern half of the 
Sinai Desert. 
It simply is not the case that going to a  spot between Qadesh-barnea and the 
Shur Desert in the Sinai Desert would be  shorter than going "all the way to 
2.  Conditions 
The land between Hebron (or Bethel/Ai) and  Sur has plenty of water for 
humans and animals.  Much of that land is either good  pastureland or fit for 
growing regular agricultural crops.  By contrast, the Negev Desert and the  Sinai 
Desert are very different.  True, the Negev Desert likely was not as bad in 
Biblical times as it is  today.  But it still was a desert,  and it still would 
be difficult to deal with a huge flock of sheep and goats  there and a huge 
number of people in Abraham's party there.   
The Negev Desert, however, is not nearly as  horrible as the Sinai Desert, 
which then and now is like a moonscape.  There is simply no way that Abraham  
would take a huge flock of sheep and goats, 318 armed retainers, and all of  
Abraham's other people and animals, into the Sinai Desert and "settle" in the  
Sinai Desert.  Genesis 20: 1  explicitly states that Abraham "settled between 
Qadesh and S(h)ur".  If you interpret that to be a reference  to the Sinai 
Desert, that is a nonsensical place for Abraham to  "settle". 
Think  of how huge the text presents Abraham's entourage of humans and 
animals as  being.  "And he [Abram] had sheep, and  oxen, and he-asses, and 
men-servants, and maid-servants, and she-asses, and  camels.  …And Abram was very rich 
in  cattle [livestock]….  And Lot also,  who went with Abram, had flocks, and 
herds, and tents.  And the land was not able to bear them,  that they might 
dwell together;  for  their substance was great, so that they could not dwell 
together.  …And when Abram heard that his brother  was taken captive, he led 
forth his trained men, born in his house, three  hundred and eighteen…."  
Genesis 12:  16;  13: 2, 5-6;  14:  14 
It would be nonsensical for Abraham to lead that huge  entourage of humans 
and animals into the barren Sinai Desert and "settle" in the  desolate Sinai 
3.  Each of you and Yitzhak Sapir have argued that for many, many years,  
Abraham kept going back to the Sinai Desert, as he split his time between the  
Negev Desert (Gerar) and the Sinai Desert (between Qadesh and Shur).  But that 
is not consistent with what the  text says.  Here is what happens  once Abraham 
gets to Gerar and the land of the "Philistines", according to the  text: 
"And Abimelech said [to Abraham]:  'Behold, my land is before thee:  dwell 
[yashab] where it pleaseth  thee.'  …And Abraham sojourned in  the land of the 
Philistines many days."  Genesis 20: 15;  21:  34 
How can the above  text be consistent with a reading of Genesis 20: 1 that 
Abraham "settled" in the  Sinai Desert upon leaving Hebron?  Isn't it clear that 
Genesis 20: 1 cannot possibly be talking about the  bleak Sinai Desert?   
There is no way that Abraham would continually, over many  years, lead his 
huge flock, 318 armed retainers, and all his other people and  animals into the 
Sinai Desert.  That  makes no logical sense whatsoever, and it also flies in 
the face of what the  text says above. 
4.  All of  the foregoing terrible problems in understanding the text 
disappear instantly  once one realizes that (i) the area "between Qadesh and S(h)ur" 
is in southern  Lebanon, and (ii) the western portion of Gerar (historical 
Garu) is in southern  Lebanon as well.  Abraham "settled  [yashab] between Qadesh 
and Sur", and lived for years in Gerar -- because they  are one and the same 
Why are you straining so hard to make the Patriarchal  narratives 
nonsensical?  There is  nothing nonsensical about the Patriarchal narratives.  Abraham 
acts rationally at Genesis 20:  1.  Abraham goes straight to Sur in  southern 
Lebanon to have the baby.  Abraham does not take the nonsensical action of 
"settling" in the  desolate Sinai Desert, a place that could not possibly support 
Abraham's large  number of animals, or Abraham's large number of armed 
retainers and other  people.  Ruler Abimilki/Abimelech  historically is at Sur in the 
period of the first Hebrews, not in the Sinai  Desert or in the Negev Desert.  
Foreign mercenaries/"Philistines" jousting over access to water wells  
historically are at Sur in the period of the first Hebrews, not in the Sinai  Desert 
or in the Negev Desert.  It  all makes historical sense, if we would just 
adopt a sensible translation and  understanding of Genesis 20: 1 and view Abraham 
as going to Sur, in southern  Lebanon, where Isaac is born.   
Abraham did not settle in the Sinai Desert.  That would be  nonsensical. 
5.  Yigal  Levin, you have the power to change the way the world looks at the 
Patriarchal  narratives.  Please look at Genesis  20: 1 with new eyes.  For 
just one  moment, please drop the millennia-old, erroneous assumption that 
Genesis 20: 1  was composed by a southern Hebrew with a southern Hebrew bias.  If 
you look at Genesis 20: 1 with new  eyes, you will see that it is talking 
about southern Lebanon -- a logical place  for Abraham and Sarah to go to have a 
baby.  Genesis 20: 1 cannot possibly be talking  about the desolate Sinai 
Jim Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois

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