[b-hebrew] "The Negev" at Genesis 12: 9 Is Not the Negev Desert

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Aug 26 10:45:06 EDT 2008

Bill Rea:
You wrote:  “In translating the way I did I was merely trying to capture the 
fact that the
 directional He is attached to a word so as to become part of it. Thus I 
suggested southward or Negev-ward would be suitable translations.  If you wish to 
use a separate word, which is what Joel suggested and is perfectly acceptable 
in my view, you could use the word ``toward''.”
To the best of my knowledge, the Hebrew directional suffix he/H can never be 
properly translated as “toward” in the Patriarchal narratives.  The 
directional suffix means either “into” or “to”, not “toward”.  The directional 
suffix means that the person actually got to where he was going (where he went “to”
, or where he went “into”), not that the person was merely going in the 
direction of that place, “toward” that place.
1.  Since “the negev” is a region, the two closest parallels to Genesis 12: 
9 and 13: 1 are at Genesis 26: 2 and 29: 1, where the directional suffix is 
used with “Egypt” and “the land of the Easterners”.
(a)    At Genesis 26: 2, YHWH tells Isaac not to go “into” Egypt, or not to 
go “to” Egypt.  YHWH does not tell Isaac not to go “toward” Egypt.
(b)    At Genesis 29: 1, Jacob is said to go “into” the land of the 
Easterners, or to come “to” the land of the Easterners.  Jacob is not said to go “
toward” the land of the Easterners.
Thus we see that in the Patriarchal narratives, the Hebrew directional suffix 
he/H appended to a region or country means “into” or “to” (or, in context, “
into and through” or “to and through”), but it does not mean “toward”.
2.  Moving now to cities, the directional suffix simply means “to”, not “
toward”.  Thus regarding the city of Sodom, see Genesis 18: 22 and 19: 1.  In 
both cases, the angels come “to” Sodom, or arrive “at” Sodom.  The angels do 
not go “toward” Sodom.
3.  There are several cases in the Patriarchal narratives where the English 
word “toward” works perfectly, but none of those cases involves the 
directional suffix.  Thus Genesis 11: 31 could be rendered as being that Terakh’s party 
went “toward” Canaan, but they did not get past Harran.  Note that in 
English, the word “toward” implies that although a party started off in the 
direction of Place X, and was going “toward” Place X, something happened to prevent 
that party from actually getting to Place X.  But the Hebrew directional suffix 
never has that meaning.
A somewhat different use of the English word “toward” occurs at Genesis 18: 
16, where the angels look “toward” Sodom.  Once again, the directional suffix 
is not involved.
4.  Accordingly, the natural reading of Genesis 12: 9 and 13: 1 is that 
Abraham traveled “into the South”, or “into and through the South”, or “to the 
South”, or “to and through the South”.  But it does not make sense to translate 
those passages as saying that Abraham traveled “toward the South”, much less 
that Abraham traveled “toward the Negev”.  Instead of forcing the Hebrew 
grammar like that, the natural reading is that Abraham traveled “into the South”
Based on the Hebrew grammatical structure of Genesis 12: 9, the English 
phrase “in stages” could be used here.  That nicely reflects the fact that Abraham 
pitched his tent at several different places along the way.  With “in stages”
 being added, it is now smoother in English to say “through” instead of “into
” or “into and through”.  On that basis, we can come up with the following 
accurate translation of Genesis 12: 9:
“And Abram journeyed on, going in stages through the South.”
In context, that must mean that Abraham traveled into and through the hill 
country south of Beth-el, with “the South” here meaning “the hill country south 
of Beth-el”.  Abraham gradually moved through the hill country south of 
Beth-el, confirming that the drought/famine that Abraham had just witnessed in the 
eastern part of northern and central Canaan was also in full effect here in 
the hill country south of Beth-el.
These geographical matters are much more important than most people realize.  
The Patriarchal narratives  n-e-v-e-r  reference the Negev Desert.  Isaac 
does not live in the Negev Desert after his mother’s death (Genesis 24: 62).  
Isaac does not walk in a “cultivated field”/sadeh/sin-dalet-he (Genesis 24: 63) 
in the Negev Desert, a locale where there were few if any cultivated fields.  
Isaac does not (for heaven’s sake) move deeper into the arid Negev Desert when 
faced with a drought/famine (Genesis 26: 1-16).  Nor is Isaac in the Negev 
Desert when he plants a bumper crop and gets rich selling that crop! (Genesis 
26: 12-14)  None of that makes any logical sense.  Nor is it what the text says, 
once we realize that in the secular history of the ancient world, “negev” 
was never used as the proper name of the Negev Desert.
“The negev” or “the land of the negev” in the Patriarchal narratives means “
the South”.  The geographical locale of “the South” depends entirely on the 
immediate context.  In the Patriarchal narratives, “the South” refers at 
different times to three different places.  But in the Patriarchal narratives, “
the negev”/“the South” never turns out to mean “the Negev Desert”.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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