[b-hebrew] The Meaning of the Name "Bera", Ruler of Sodom

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Dec 4 09:57:31 EST 2008


The Meaning of the Name “Bera”, Ruler of Sodom
 
1.  The name of the ruler of Sodom is “Bera”:  bet-resh-ayin/BR(.  Genesis 
14: 2  The meaning of the name “Bera” has long been misunderstood.  As we will 
see, this name does not mean “in evil”, but rather means essentially the 
opposite:  “Mr. Clean”.
 
The people of Sodom are portrayed as being truly evil in chapters 18 and 19 
of Genesis, and they properly receive the ultimate divine punishment when Sodom 
is utterly destroyed.  Nevertheless Bera, the ruler of Sodom, is portrayed in 
chapter 14 of Genesis as being a good person who is the proper ruler of 
Sodom.  In chapter 14 of Genesis, Bera properly (though unsuccessfully) fights the 
four invading rulers, who nefariously kidnap Abraham’s nephew, Lot.  Then 
after Abraham has rescued Lot and recovered Sodom’s loot, Bera graciously offers 
Abraham a share of the recovered loot, which Abraham magnanimously declines.  
Genesis 14: 21-24  This may be the only time in the entire Hebrew Bible when a 
Hebrew or Jewish leader is portrayed as standing shoulder to shoulder with a 
secular ruler.  Abraham then hands his nephew Lot over to Bera, the good ruler 
of Sodom, at Bera’s request.  Abraham would not have done that if Bera had 
been an evil ruler, or if Sodom itself had been a den of inequity at that point.  
Note that by the time we get to Sodom’s very evil ways in chapters 18 and 19 
of Genesis, Bera is no longer in the picture at all as Sodom’s ruler.  Thus 
despite the ultimate evil of Sodom, Bera as Sodom’s rightful leader in chapter 
14 of Genesis is portrayed in the text as being a good person.  (The odd remark 
at Genesis 13: 13 that the people of Sodom are “evil” must be viewed as 
foreshadowing the later evil ways of the people of Sodom in chapters 18 and 19.  
Chapter 14 of Genesis does not present the men of Sodom as being evil at that 
point, as the men of Sodom, led by Bera, properly oppose the four invading 
rulers, and Abraham hands over his nephew Lot to Bera of Sodom.  Note that Genesis 
18: 21 strongly implies that YHWH has only at that point, many years after 
the “four rulers against the five” military conflict chronicled in chapter 14 
of Genesis had concluded, recently learned of a horrible iniquity by the city 
of Sodom.  Only recently has the “heartrending cry” gone out from Canaan that 
Sodom is now evil.  The men of Sodom were fine people in chapter 14 of 
Genesis, but by the time we get to chapters 18 and 19 of Genesis, everything has 
dramatically changed for the worse.)
 
Of critical importance in understanding the meaning of the name “Bera”, the 
foregoing analysis means that Bera should have a good name, not a horrible 
name, since Bera of Sodom is portrayed in the Patriarchal narratives as being a 
good person and a good ruler.  Hence it makes no sense to analyze BR-ayin as B 
+ R-ayin, where bet/B means “in”, and resh/R-ayin/( means “evil”.  “Bera” 
does not mean “in evil”, per the leading traditional analysis.  I myself had 
originally gone along with that traditional view, but I now see that it is 
completely untenable.  Bera is not evil, but rather is portrayed in the 
Patriarchal narratives as being good.  It is the people of Sodom who are evil in 
eventually overthrowing their rightful, good ruler Bera and no longer following Bera’
s good guidance.  Accordingly, the traditional analysis of the name “Bera” as 
meaning “in evil” must be rejected.  (The other traditional analysis of the 
name “Bera” is that the name has no known meaning and/or is simply the 
historical name of an historical person, rather than being a name that is 
particularly appropriate for the ruler of Sodom.)  
 
The proper linguistic analysis of “Bera”/BR-ayin is to view this name as 
being an archaic Bronze Age proper name.  As an archaic Bronze Age proper name, 
BR-ayin = BR + ayin.  This is a slight variant on the common pattern we so 
often see with Bronze Age proper names:  archaic 2-consonant root + ayin.  
Although common Hebrew words in fully-developed Biblical Hebrew almost always have a 
3-consonant root, many archaic proper names from the Bronze Age have, by 
contrast, only an archaic 2-consonant root.  Here, the archaic root is BR, as a 
shortened form of the well-known ancient word and Hebrew root:  BRR.
 
As we will see in this post, for a man’s name in the Bronze Age, the final 
ayin is a mere suffix (not part of the root), which in effect means “Mr.” in 
that very limited context.  The archaic shortened 2-consonant root here is BR, 
from BRR, meaning “clean”.  In Ugaritic there is “brr”, meaning “pure”.  In 
Akkadian and Assyrian there is “bararu”, whose consonants are BRR, meaning “
glimmer, shine”.  The Biblical Hebrew equivalent is the verb BRR, meaning “to 
be clean” or “to cleanse of impurities” or “to make bright” or “to be pure”
.  II Samuel 22: 27  Note that in most forms of this Biblical Hebrew verb, the 
only key consonants one sees are BR (only one resh/R, not two).  Moreover, 
Hebrew also has the shortened form BR, meaning “clean, clear, pure”.  Proverbs 
14: 4  So we see that BR is a natural shortened form of BRR.  Indeed, BR can 
be viewed as being the archaic 2-consonant root that underlies both BRR and BR 
in the ancient languages.
 
The real key here, however, is that in archaic Bronze Age proper names 
(unlike Iron Age common words), a final ayin is not part of the root. 
 
BR-ayin = BR + ayin.  BR means “clean” or “pure”, and in a Bronze Age 
proper name, a final ayin is a suffix (not part of the root) that effectively means 
“Mr.”.  We now see that “Bera” means “Mr. Clean” or “Mr. Pure”.  “Bera”
/BR-ayin = BR + ayin = “Mr. BR” = “Mr. Clean” or “Mr. Pure”.  One of the 
reasons why the people of Sodom in chapters 18 and 19 of Genesis are so evil is 
that they have wrongfully ousted the proper ruler of Sodom, “Mr. Clean”
/Bera/BR + ayin.  The key is to realize that in a man’s name from the Bronze Age, a 
final ayin is a mere suffix (not part of the root), effectively meaning “Mr.”.
 
2.  Likewise, the archaic Bronze Age proper name “Arba”, as the name of the 
Anakim giant in the Book of Joshua, is based on a 2-consonant archaic root:  
RB.  RB is omnipresent as a 2-consonant archaic root in the Semitic languages 
that pre-date the Hebrew language:  Akkadian, Assyrian and Ugaritic.  In order 
to pronounce the 2 consonants, a vowel-type sound must be implied, either 
before the R or between the R and B.  The Hebrews used a prosthetic aleph for such 
implied vowel-type sound (which was not part of the root).  In the Bronze 
Age, the final ayin was merely a suffix, which in effect meant “Mr.” for a man’s 
proper name.  So “Arbe”/aleph-resh-bet-ayin/)RB( is [after dropping the 
prosthetic aleph] RB + ayin = Mr. RB.  The archaic 2-consonant root RB often means 
“great” or “large” or “big”.  So the name of the Anakim giant in Joshua (“
Arbe”) is, very fittingly, “Mr. Big”.  Note that the Bronze Age name “Arbe” 
does not have the same meaning as the Hebrew common word “arbe”, which means “
four”, despite their identical spellings.  Rather, the archaic Bronze Age 
name “Arbe” is based on the archaic 2-consonant root RB, meaning “great” or “
large” or “big” or “many” (which only in some cases meant “more than three” 
or “four”).  (By contrast, the Biblical Hebrew common word “arbe” has a 
3-consonant root, RB(, and the final ayin is  n-e-v-e-r  dropped in any Biblical 
Hebrew common word that is based on the meaning “four”.  But archaic Bronze Age 
proper names are quite different, and are often based on an archaic 
2-consonant root, with a final ayin being a mere suffix that effectively means “Mr.”.)
 
The pattern of these archaic Bronze Age names ending in ayin is actually 
quite simple, though it is not well-understood:  archaic root + ayin.  In many but 
not all cases, the archaic root may be a 2-consonant root.  In the very 
limited context of a Bronze Age man’s proper name, the final ayin in effect means “
Mr.”, and of great importance, that final ayin is not part of the root.  The 
meaning of such a Bronze Age man’s name depends entirely on the archaic root.
 
3.  But I’ve saved the best for last.  We turn now to the Bronze Age name of 
the ruler of Gomorrah/Megiddo.  Aside from battles, Megiddo was most famous 
for the Megiddo Harp made out of the cypress trees at Megiddo.  “…the 
cypress-studded plain of Megiddo….” 
_http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/06/ AR2005110600478.html_ 
(http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/06/%20AR2005110600478.html)   “The Megiddo harp appears 
to be the prototype…for all known triangular frame-harps….”  
_http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-3174066/On-drums-and-strings-and.html_ 
(http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-3174066/On-drums-and-strings-and.html)   “A young 
Jewish couple that made aliyah to Israel discovered a 3500 year old drawing of 
a small harp in a cave located at Megiddo.”  
_http://www.haderekministries.com/NewsletterArticles/Signs.html_ 
(http://www.haderekministries.com/NewsletterArticles/Signs.html)   II Samuel 6: 5 reports:  “And David and all the house of 
Israel played before the LORD [YHWH] with all manner of instruments made of 
cypress-wood, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with 
sistra, and with cymbals.”
 
So the ideal name for the ruler of Megiddo/Gomorrah would be “Mr. Cypress”, 
which in effect would mean “Mr. Megiddo Cypress Harp”.  Genesis 14: 2 gives 
the following name for the ruler of Gomorrah:  BR$(/“Birsha”.  Based on the 
foregoing approach, we know that the final ayin of this Bronze Age proper name 
in effect means “Mr.”, and is not part of the root.  That leaves BR$ as the 
archaic root word for this ancient Bronze Age man’s name.  Adding an optional 
vav/W to turn this archaic root into a well-known Biblical Hebrew word, we get “
Mr. BRW$”.  BRW$ means “cypress” or “fine musical instruments made from 
cypress”.  Isaiah 41: 19  (See also BDB for BRW$ meaning a fine musical instrument 
made from cypress.  The word for “cypress” in Assyrian, per BDB, is burasu, 
featuring BR$.)  There could be no better name for the ruler of 
Megiddo/Gomorrah than “Mr. Cypress”, effectively meaning “Mr. Megiddo Cypress Harp”.  “
Birsha” does not mean, per Strong’s, “in wickedness”, where the final ayin is 
an integral part of a root word, R$(, meaning “wicked”.  Rather, in a Bronze 
Age proper name, a final ayin was a mere suffix.  Birsha is good, not wicked, 
when his name is set forth in chapter 14 of Genesis.  However, since “Birsha” 
means “Mr. Cypress”, which is a morally neutral name, it is very possible 
that Birsha, unlike Bera (who bears the morally positive name “Mr. Clean”), had 
turned to the dark side by the time we get to chapters 18 and 19 of Genesis.
 
4.  Returning now to Sodom/Beth Shan, “Bera”/BR-ayin, as the name of the 
good ruler of Sodom (on the other end of the Jezreel Valley), means “Mr. Clean”. 
 Sodom/Beth Shan went over to the dark side and became evil only upon the 
ouster of Bera/Mr. Clean as the proper ruler of formerly virtuous Sodom.  Only 
after Bera’s wrongful ouster as the ruler of Sodom did a heartrending cry in due 
course ring out in Canaan at Genesis 18: 21 that Sodom/Beth Shan 
unfortunately had just now become, to Canaan’s grave detriment, totally dominated by very 
evil people, whose terrible iniquity threatened the future of all the peoples 
of Canaan (including in particular the tent-dwelling Hebrews).
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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