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

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Wed Jun 25 17:37:04 EDT 2008

I do not have to defend either Von Rad or his theories, many of which are 
now outdated. However you are right about one thing, the expression "was 
gathered unto his fathers/people" does sound redundant. But that's simply 
because Hebrew tends to do that, where English is more word-thrifty. Note, 
by the way, that the same expression is used of Jacob (Gen. 49:33), who dies 
in Egypt. Only much later is he brough to burial in Canaan. So the 
expression "he died and was gathered unto his fathers/people" is just that.

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <JimStinehart at aol.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 11:20 PM
Subject: [b-hebrew] Canaan as the Original Homeland of the Hebrews: Part II

> 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 (a)  Do you have any support in ancient historical documents for that 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
> Canaan.
> (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
> **************Gas prices getting you down? Search AOL Autos for
> fuel-efficient used cars. 
> (http://autos.aol.com/used?ncid=aolaut00050000000007)
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