[b-hebrew] Archaic Word for "The Older" at Genesis 25: 23

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Jun 26 14:53:44 EDT 2008

Archaic Word for “The Older” at Genesis 25: 23
It has often been noted that the famous prophecy at Genesis 25: 23 concerning 
Rebekah’s unborn twins Esau and Jacob can be interpreted in opposite ways in 
Hebrew, either “the older shall serve the younger”, or “the older shall be 
served by the younger”.  Yet of equal interest here is the less-commented upon 
fact that the word for “the older” here is archaic, going all the long way 
back to the mid-2nd millennium BCE.
The word for “the older” at Genesis 25: 23 is resh-bet/rab.  That word would 
normally mean “numerous” or “plentiful”, though it could mean “great”.  
But only at Genesis 25: 23 does resh-bet/rab mean “the older”.
Bruce K. Waltke observes at p. 358 of “Genesis:  A Commentary” (2001):
“the older.  The Hebrew here for the eldest son has so far been found only in 
an Akkadian cognate from the middle of the second millennium [BCE].”
A much longer explanation, to the same effect, is provided by E.A. Speiser at 
p. 194 of “Genesis” (1962):
“The normal sense of Heb ‘rab’ is ‘numerous, plentiful,’ rather than ‘great
’;  actually, the two adjectives are etymologically distinct.  In the latter 
connotation, ‘rab’ is a cognate of Akk. ‘rabu’.  And it is worthy of special 
notice that the present pair ‘rab : sair’ has its exact counterpart, both in 
etymology and usage, in the Akk. pair ‘rabu : sehru’, which has a precise 
function in family law.”   
Why are there so many words in the Patriarchal narratives that are either (i) 
unique in the Hebrew Bible, and/or (ii) not attested in secular history 
except in the mid-2nd millennium BCE?
All mainstream scholars staunchly reject my theory that the Patriarchal 
narratives were composed in the mid-2nd millennium BCE.  But if mainstream scholars 
are right that the Patriarchal narratives are coming out of the 1st 
millennium BCE, by the same authors (JEPD) who brought us most of the rest of the 
Bible, then why is it that the Patriarchal narratives uniquely feature so many 
words that are either (i) unique in the Hebrew Bible, and/or (ii) not attested in 
secular history except in the mid-2nd millennium BCE?
Isaac Fried has pointed out that “aqad” occurs only at Genesis 22: 9, 
nowhere else.
We have seen that Genesis 34: 3, 12 describes Dinah as being a “boy” (an 
archaic usage that has its only Biblical parallel in Deuteronomy).
Many scholars have observed that chânîykîm, referring to Abraham’s “armed 
retainers”, is unique to Genesis 14: 14, with its only secular historical usage 
coming in the 15th century BCE.
“Naharim” at Genesis 24: 10 is unique to the 16th - 14th century BCE period.
“Paddan-Aram”, used 10 times in the Patriarchal narratives (for example at 
Genesis 25: 10) but nowhere else in the Bible, comes right out of 14th century 
BCE Ugarit.
Can we really believe mainstream scholars that JEPD somehow shrewdly managed 
to stud the Patriarchal narratives with all this unique, archaic vocabulary, 
whose only secular historical precedent is often in the mid-2nd millennium BCE? 
 Is that a believable theory of the case?
If we do not believe in miracles (and I do not), then how could JEPD in the 
1st millennium BCE have managed, on a non-miraculous basis, to come up with all 
this vintage mid-2nd millennium BCE vocabulary in the Patriarchal narratives?
The substantive content of every story in the Patriarchal narratives is, 
without exception, redolent of the well-documented world of the mid-2nd millennium 
Every number in the text is, without exception, redolent of the peculiar 
circumstances of the mid-14th century BCE.  And so much of the vocabulary in the 
Patriarchal narratives comes right out of the mid-2nd millennium BCE.  Yet 
mainstream scholars, on a unanimous basis, tell us not to worry, the Patriarchal 
narratives are nevertheless coming out of the same time period -- the 1st 
millennium BCE -- and from the same authors -- JEPD -- as the rest of the Hebrew 
Bible.  How could that possibly be?  No matter how shrewd JEPD may have been, 
how could JEPD possibly, under any circumstances, have come up with this 
veritable cornucopia of vintage mid-2nd millennium BCE substantive content, numerical 
symbolism and vocabulary in the Patriarchal narratives?  I myself do not see 
the mainstream scholarly view here as being plausible, much less as being 
Here, in the specific context of the unborn twins Esau and Jacob, why is it 
that resh-bet/rab, a usage unknown since the mid-2nd millennium BCE, is used to 
mean “the older” at Genesis 25: 23?
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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