[b-hebrew] XBR vs. XBL: One Key to Understanding the Patriarchal Narratives

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Dec 9 09:33:10 EST 2008

XBR vs. XBL:  One Key to Understanding the Patriarchal Narratives
One surprising key to understanding the secular historical context of the 
Patriarchal narratives is to focus on the words XBR [heth-bet-resh] and XBL 
[heth-bet-lamed].  An analysis like this is the long suit of the b-hebrew list.
1.  Similar Meanings
We start by noting that XBR and XBL, both as verbs and nouns, often have 
similar meanings.  
(a)  As one example of the close connection between XBR and XBL in Biblical 
Hebrew, consider the following two small portions of the definitions of these 
two words in BDB.  One portion of the BDB definition of XBR as a noun is:  “‘
company, band’ of (bad) priests Ho 6.9”.  One portion of the BDB definition of 
XBL as a noun is:  “‘band, company’ of prophets I S 10.5, 10”.  We see that 
in certain contexts, XBR and XBL can have essentially the same meaning:  “
company” or “band”.  
(b)  BDB sees the basic meaning of XBL as a verb as being “to bind”.  
Switching now to XBR, note that in setting forth the etymology of XBR as a verb, BDB 
points out that Assyrian abaru and ubburu mean “bind”.  Although BDB does 
not use the English word “bind” in defining XBR (unlike its definition of XBL), 
the main meaning of both XBR and XBL as verbs focuses on the concept of “to 
bind”, as we will now see.
BDB sees the basic meaning of XBL as a verb as being “bind, pledge”.  Note 
that by making a pledge, the borrower “binds” himself to the lender, and vice 
versa, so the concept of “to bind” is strongly present in “to pledge”.  BDB 
sees the basic meaning of XBR as a verb as being “unite, be joined, tie a 
magic knot”.  Note that the underlying concept here in fact is “to bind”:  to “
unite” is to agree to be “bound” together;  to “be joined” is to be “bound” 
together;  and to “tie a magic knot” is to “bind” something.
(c)  Switching now to the noun forms, BDB sees XBR as a noun as basically 
meaning “company, association”, including “band” or “society” or “house of 
association”.  The underlying concept again is of people voluntarily being “bound
” together, closely related to the meanings of both XBR and XBL as verbs, 
which emphasize “to bind”.  BDB sees one of the meanings (though not the most 
common set of meanings) of XBL as a noun as being “band” or “company” (as 
noted in #a above).  That meaning is essentially identical to the foregoing 
meaning of XBR as a noun, referencing people who voluntarily are “bound” together, 
in a “band”, “company”, “society” or “association”.
But the other meanings of XBL as a noun, which are the more common meanings, 
will prove to be more important to us in understanding the Patriarchal 
2.  XBL:  “Rope” and “Rope Imagery”
The basic meaning of XBL as a noun is “rope”.  A rope is obviously something 
that can be used to “bind” things together.  So this meaning of XBL as a 
noun is related to the above-noted fact that both XBR and XBL often mean “to bind”
, and otherwise are often related to the concept of people or things being “
bound” together.  
KJV translates XBL as “ropes” at II Samuel 17: 13, I Kings 20: 31-32;  as “
cord” at Joshua 2: 15, Job 41: 1, Ecclesiastes 12: 6, Micah 2: 5;  and as “
cords” at Esther 1: 6, Job 36: 8, Psalms 140: 5, Proverbs 5: 22, Isaiah 5: 18;  
33: 20, Jeremiah 38: 6, 11-13,  Ezekiel 27: 24, and Hosea 11: 4.  Thus on 19 
occasions, XBL as a noun has its most basic meaning of “rope” or “ropes” or “
cord” or “cords”.  
But then why are there so many other meanings of XBL as a noun?  What’s going 
on here?  How can a word whose basic meaning is “rope” have such a broad 
range of meanings?  And in particular, why this peculiar focus in Biblical Hebrew 
on “rope” and “rope imagery”?  Does that peculiar focus on “rope imagery” 
in Biblical Hebrew distinguish Biblical Hebrew from all preceding Semitic 
languages?  What would be the secular historical significance of that?
We may be able to isolate when the immediate predecessors of the Hebrews 
lived, by honing in on the unique fascination of the language of Biblical Hebrew 
with a great manifold of positive “rope imagery”, in the context of XBR and 
XBL.  There was only one small window of time in secular history when a 
fascination with “rope imagery” like this would make historical sense.
A related question is why it is that XBR is in the Patriarchal narratives as 
a common word (at Genesis 14: 3), but there’s no XBL in the Patriarchal 
narratives.  And what is the meaning of the name of Asher’s grandson, “Heber”, at 
Genesis 46: 17, whose name is spelled XBR?  And what about “Hebron”/XBRWN, 
which appears five times in the Patriarchal narratives?  I think we would all 
agree that XBRWN is certainly XBR + the suffix –WN.  If so, then XBR appears in 
the Patriarchal narratives an auspicious seven (7) times.  But there’s nary a 
XBL in the text.  
Moreover, we haven’t even really begun to take a serious look yet at the 
Bronze Age predecessors of XBR and XBL.  In fact, we are just getting started on 
this fascinating journey.  If we pursue our analysis of XBR vs. XBL, we may be 
surprised to discover some most interesting facts about the secular historical 
time period of the Patriarchal narratives.
The extensive, unprecedented, positive “rope imagery” eternally, and 
uniquely, embedded in the very fabric of the language of Biblical Hebrew may be able 
to provide us with a surprising amount of information about the historical 
time period of the first Hebrews.  The Hebrew language itself is giving us these 
exciting, key historical clues.  As Prof. Mark Smith (Dept. of Hebrew and 
Judaic Studies at NYU) says in the introduction to his new book, “God in 
Translation”:  “Words…contain traces of cultural realities lying within the ancient 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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