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

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Thu Dec 4 17:48:53 EST 2008


On Thu, Dec 4, 2008 at 12:25 PM, <JimStinehart at aol.com> wrote:

> Karl:
> 1.  You wrote:  "Where do you get the silly idea that his [Bera's] name
> meant "in evil"?"
> I don't know why you characterize that traditional view as being "silly".
> Here is the thoughtful analysis of that traditional view by one of the
> finest
> commentators on the Patriarchal narratives, Gordon J. Wenham, "World
> Biblical
> Commentary:  Genesis 1-15" (1987), Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee, at
> p.
> 309:
> I never heard of him before.

> "It is striking that the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah have names compounded
> with resh-ayin 'evil' and resh-shin-ayin 'wicked'.  It is not surprising
> that
> from the targumists onward, commentators have suggested that 'Bera' and "
> Birsha' are pejorative nicknames given to these kings."
> That traditional view is not "silly", even though I no longer accept the
> validity of that traditional view.
> Targumic and similar views are not Bible, so fall outside Biblical
tradition. From the point of view of the text itself, often are silly
because of how they contradict the text.

> 2.  You wrote:  "[S]hort of interviewing his parents, we cannot know what
> the
>  name meant. Or did you somehow manage to interview his parents?"
> You are assuming that each name in the Patriarchal narratives is a passive
> recording of an actual historical name.  Most scholars, by contrast, see
> many
> such names as having an appropriate underlying meaning.
> Define ¨Most scholars¨.

All of those I read, which I admit is not many, have commented on how the
Biblical history is different from the myths of the ancient Levant, such as
the Enuma Elish for example, in that the names of the characters almost
never presaged the role they were later to play in life. True, all names
have meaning, but with only a couple of exceptions, cannot be connected with
a person´s life and what he did.

> 3.  You wrote:  "The king who went out to fight against the invasion fled,
> and fell (died).  See verse 10."
> Bera did not die at Genesis 14: 10, in the aftermath of his military
> defeat.
> Here are the relevant sections of the text:
> "Now the vale of Siddim was full of slime pits; and the kings of Sodom and
> Gomorrah fled, and they fell there, and they that remained fled to the
> mountain.
>  …And the king of Sodom went out to meet him [Abraham], after his return
> from
> the slaughter of Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, at the vale
> of Shaveh--the same is the King's Vale."  Genesis 14: 10, 17
> You assume that the king who led his forces to battle, and the one who met
Abraham after the battle were one and the same. But the text says no such
thing. In fact, the wording of Genesis 14:10 indicates that this was a new
king of Sodom, but king none the less. If the line of succession is clear,
it is possible to have the new king as king within hours of the demise of
the previous king.

> The scholars who have focused on this issue do not see Bera of Sodom as
> dying
> at Genesis 14: 10.

Where in the text does it indicate that Bera survived? Who cares what the
scholars say? The text itself has the final say!

>  We are not, however, sure whether or not Bera died until
> Genesis 14: 17, when we effectively find out that Bera survived, as Abraham
> is
> warmly greeted by the ruler of Sodom, who must logically be Bera himself.
> You make a logical assumption that is not supported by the text. In other
words, eisegesis. Verse 17 and following could be Bera, or another king, the
text doesn´t specify. Verse 10 indicates that Bera died.

> 4.  You wrote:  "[T]here was nothing magnanimous in Abraham's rejection of
> the loot.
>  When we look at Abraham's words, he basically said in modern terms 'Keep
> away from me, I don't want to touch you nor yours with a ten foot pole'."
> That's not a fair reading of the text.  Abraham's words are in fact very
> magnanimous and gracious:
> "And Abram said to the king of Sodom: 'I have lifted up my hand unto the
> [YHWH], God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth, that I will not take a
> thread nor a shoe-latchet nor aught that is thine, lest thou shouldest say:
>  I
> have made Abram rich;  save only that which the young men have eaten, and
> the
> portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, let them
> take
> their portion.'"
> When Abraham starts by referring to "LORD [YHWH], God Most High, Maker of
> heaven and earth", one knows that what will follow will be magnanimous and
> gracious to a fault.
> You, who claims alone to have the key to decipher the mythology of Genesis
to bring it into the real world, completely misread this passage. In a
society with interleaving connections, Abraham wants to remain free from any
answerability to the wicked king of wicked Sodom. Therefore, he refuses the
reward so as to remain free of any leverage that the king of Sodom might
bring to bear. You in your cultural isolation of modern Illinois, you can´t
see this.

> 5.  You wrote:  "This is ridiculous! People don't change from fine people
> to
> desperately wicked in just a few short years. That takes generations."
> Not true, not in Late Bronze Age Canaan, from an early Hebrew point of
> view.

The rest of your claim is not worth a detailed response, other than that you
are making a modern real-politik analysis of ancient city-state Canaan.
Eisegesis again.

> 6.  You wrote:  "While a few consonants were sometimes dropped in
> derivative
> words, most were not except in cases of consonantal doubling. Ayin is one
> of
> those that
>  is never dropped except in cases of consonantal doubling. Hence this
> "analysis" violates what is known about Biblical Hebrew linguistics."
> That is precisely the linguistic point I am making.  Whereas a final ayin
> was
> an integral part of the 3-consonant root in Biblical Hebrew (in the Iron
> Age
> and later), that was not the case in the Bronze Age.  The 3-consonant root
> theory often does not work in the context of Semitic languages that precede
> Hebrew, such as Akkadian, Assyrian and Ugaritic.  My point is that in
> proper names
> from the Bronze Age that appear in the Patriarchal narratives, the later
> 3-consonant root theory of fully-developed Biblical Hebrew often does not
> apply.
> That is precisely my point.
> And where do you get your theory? It is not supported by the text. Already
by the 15th century BC, late middle bronze age, when Moses compiled the
record of the patriarchs, the Hebrew language was fully developed such that
a final ayin was never dropped. You have no evidence to back up your claim
that iron age Hebrew was significantly different than bronze age Hebrew. I
find the actual records of the ancients more trustworthy than modern
baseless speculations.

Or is this another one of your clairvoyances where you can blithely
contradict the written record, because you know more than the ancients who
actually lived through the events mentioned?

> 7.  You wrote:  "[E]ven after being directed to professional archeologists
> whose work indicate that Beth Shean at the time you believe Abraham lived
> was
> merely a garrison town with no wealth of its own, you persist in your
> nonsense
> of equating it with Sodom."
> Karl, did you read that fine article that you yourself cited about Beth
> Shan?
>  Let me quote a few passages from that article, which totally contradict
> your
> claim that "Beth Shean… was merely a garrison town with no wealth of its
> own"
> .
> (a)  "The most important finds belonged to the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age
> I, which was the time of the Egyptian New Kingdom (15th-12th centuries
> BCE).
> During this era, Beth-Shean served as the center of Egyptian imperial rule
> in
> the north of Israel. This period yielded temples, governors' residencies,
> and
> dwelling quarters of the soldiers and officials of the Egyptian garrison
> stationed at the site.  …During a period of over 300 years of the Egyptian
> New
> Kingdom, Beth-Shean served as the center of Egyptian Pharaonic rule in
> northern
> Land of Israel.  …[T] here was no significant Canaanite settlement at the
> site
> during this period.  Beth-Shean essentially served only as the headquarters
> of
> Egyptian rule, containing administrative buildings, temples, and dwelling
> quarters of the Egyptian officials and the soldiers serving in the Egyptian
> garrison."
> You are leaving out the comment that during the Egyptian rule, the area
occupied by the town was all of about an acre and a half. Do you realize how
small that is? That´s barely enough room for a barracks, some support
structures, a governor´s ¨mansion¨ no larger than a typical American
suburban house, a chapel and some space to walk around in. Most suburban
blocks are larger than that. Many western ¨forts¨ were larger than that.

>  By contrast, the Hebrews were
> gravely afraid that the Hebrews might be wiped out if the dreaded Hittites
> invaded
> Canaan, with Beth Shan being the Hittites' logical main target.
> On the contrary, it was the cities that invaders want. Wandering nomads on
the fringes are not seen as a credible challenge to invaders´ armies, thus
are usually ignored.

> Jim Stinehart
> Evanston, Illinois

It looks like your theory is based on some cherry picked commentaries and
translations (since you don´t know Hebrew), precisely the wrong type of
evidence to convince anyone who is a Hebrew scholar, like many of those on
this list.

By the way, what are your qualifications? What are you hiding by refusing to
answer this question?

Karl W. Randolph.

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