[b-hebrew] Canaan as the Original Homeland of the Hebrews: Part II

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Jun 25 16:20:00 EDT 2008

Part II
Yigal Levin:
7.  You wrote:  “The expression "gathered unto his people" or "gathered unto 
his fathers" is a euphemism for "died", because many people were buried in 
family tombs. It may also refer to "ancestors" in a more metaphysical sense. It's 
like we use 
 "passed (away)" in English - it's just an expression.”
(a)  Do you have any support in ancient historical documents for that view?  
If what you say is true, then why is Gerhard von Rad so upset by that 
particular phrase?  Professor Von Rad of course accepts the conventional view that the 
Hebrews are portrayed as being indigenous to Mesopotamia, with Abraham and 
Lot being the first of Terakh’s relatives to see Canaan.  It is for that very 
reason von Rad so dislikes Genesis 25: 8:
“The expression ‘he was gathered to his people’ is not correct here, to be 
sure, and is apparently used with a decidedly hackneyed meaning, for it 
presupposes the notion of an ancestral grave.”  “Genesis” (1961), at p. 262
How can you have an “ancestral grave” in Canaan, if not a single one of your 
ancestors had ever been to Canaan?  Does that make sense?  Who is forcing the 
text here, you or me?
The Hebrew text at Genesis 25: 8, as you know, already has two words for 
saying that Abraham died:
“And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of 
years; and was gathered to his people [‘am’].”
On your reading of the text, Genesis 25: 8 in effect says “Abraham died, and 
Abraham died in good old age, and Abraham died.”  Is that a plausible reading 
of Biblical Hebrew?  I think not.  You’re forcing the text, trying to make the 
text say something that it does not say.  The text in effect says, rather, 
that Abraham died, and Abraham died in good old age, and Abraham was gathered to 
his ‘am’/people, being buried in the land of Canaan, where all his ancestors 
before him (except Terakh) had been buried.
That’s precisely why Gerhard von Rad does not like what Genesis 25: 8 says.  
Genesis 25: 8 effectively says that Abraham’s ancestors were indigenous to 
(b)  I note that you make no comment whatsoever about the main point in my 
post, although it is a point that is particularly fitting for the b-Hebrew list. 
 My main argument is that the word “am”/people/ancestors is used frequently 
in the Patriarchal narratives, but never regarding Harran, Ur or Mesopotamia.  
Rather, when relatives in Harran, Ur or Mesopotamia are referenced, the text 
always uses the more unusual term, “molodet”.  I view “molodet” as meaning “
one’s father’s descendants”.
What is your own explanation for the objective fact that the word “am”
/people/ancestors is never once used regarding Ur, Harran or Mesopotamia?  Doesn’t 
that strongly undercut the conventional view that the author of the Patriarchal 
narratives is trying to portray all of Abraham’s “am”/people/ancestors as 
being from Mesopotamia?  Is your view that the author did not know that the 
Hebrews didn’t come from Mesopotamia, or is it your view that the author was 
shrewdly trying to mislead us into thinking, erroneously, that the Hebrews had come 
from Mesopotamia?  In fact, the author of the Patriarchal narratives knew 
that the Hebrews were indigenous to Canaan, he was proud of that fact, and he 
never anticipated that JEPD and modern scholars would misinterpret his 
composition as asserting that the Hebrews came from Mesopotamia.
8.  You wrote:  “The biblical authors depict Canaanites and "Hebrews" all 
speaking the same language, not because that's what happened, but because the 
difference in 
 language was not important to the story. It's like science fiction series in 
 which aliens all speak English. The authors only mention language difference 
 when it adds to the plot or the message.”
(a)  The Patriarchal narratives are not like science fiction, either as to 
language issues or any other issues.
(b)  The author of the Patriarchal narratives portrays the first Hebrews as 
being indigenous to Canaan, speaking west Semitic perfectly from birth, and 
hence having no trouble communicating with the Canaanites, or with Hurrians in 
Canaan who had learned to speak west Semitic.  
Contrast the situation when Jacob goes out to Harran.  Yes, Laban, Leah and 
Rachel all spoke west Semitic, probably as their first language, although they 
would have been bi-lingual in Hurrian.  But note the apparent trouble Jacob 
has in getting the locals at Harran to speak to him.  Jacob is rattling off west 
Semitic a mile a minute, and the locals seem tongue-tied at first, until 
finally one bi-lingual local is able to answer Jacob in complete sentences:
“Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the children of the 
east [near Harran]. …And Jacob said unto them [local shepherds at Harran]: 'My 
brethren, whence are ye?' And they said: 'Of Harran are we.' And he said unto 
them: 'Know ye Laban the son of Nahor?'  And they said: 'We know him.'”  
Genesis 29: 1, 4-5

The initial answers from the locals at Harran are so short as to almost seem 
rude.  But the reason is probably because as native Hurrian speakers, for whom 
west Semitic was a second language, they initially had some trouble talking 
Jacob’s language.
(c)  I myself see Abraham as speaking perfect pre-Hebrew as a toddler growing 
up in Galilee.  Abraham was not the first one of Terakh’s relatives to learn 
a west Semitic language, speaking broken Hebrew as a second language learned 
at age 75 years.  No way.
9.  Rather than insisting that the Patriarchal narratives contradict 
well-known secular history, why not instead interpret the text in light of that 
secular history?  The Hebrews were indigenous to Canaan.  The author of the 
Patriarchal narratives knew that, and he does not try to lead us astray on that 
important issue.
You have not cited a single line of text in the Patriarchal narratives that 
says that Abraham was the first one of Terakh’s relatives to see Canaan and to 
speak west Semitic.  There is no such line of text.  And there is nothing in 
the text to support that conventional mis-reading of the text.
The Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives was rightfully proud of the 
historical facts that the Hebrews were indigenous to Canaan and always spoke a 
virgin pure west Semitic language.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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