[b-hebrew] "Sary" vs. 'sary"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Mar 21 11:59:29 EDT 2008

Isaac Fried:
1. You wrote:  “It could be a grave mistake to consider a, context-less, 
Hebrew name as a grammatically structured Hebrew word.”
I agree.
2.  You wrote:  “Thinking of SARAH as being 'a princess' may be no more than 
an appealing homiletic interpretation of a dear name.”
I think you may be agreeing with me that neither Sarah’s birth name, nor Sarah
’s divinely-changed name, means “princess”.
So to this point, we agree.  “Sary” and “Sarah” do not mean “princess”.  
We must be alert to the possibility of there being non-Hebrew words in names 
like these.
So far, so good.
3.  But then you wrote:  “I suspect that (all?) names in the patriarchal 
narrative are names of foreign gods bestowed upon children by their fathers, 
mothers or nurses, steeped in idol worship, starting with the first patriarch 
AB-RAM [compare Arabic RAM-ADAN].”
I disagree with you completely there.  The Patriarchal narratives were 
composed by a pre-Hebrew or a very early Hebrew, in my controversial view.  That 
pre-Hebrew or Hebrew does more brilliant punning and clever Hebrew wordplay than 
anyone else has ever accomplished.  There is no way that he would give most of 
his characters names that are “names of foreign gods…steeped in idol worship”
.  No way.
This Hebrew author is master of his own material.  He is not passively 
recording pagan names that are based on “names of foreign gods…steeped in idol 
worship”.  No way.
4.  You wrote:  “The name SaRay may well be but a variant of the names a$eR, 
a$eRah [See 2 Kings 21:7], a$toReth [see Judges 10:6], and eSteR, the queen.”
“Sary” starts with an S sound.  The other four names you mention start with 
a guttural sound.
“Sary” is indistinguishable in unpointed text from “sary”, meaning a king’s 
“top officials”.
Now let’s compare the storyline straight up.  First we’ll compare my view of 
the case.  Then we’ll compare your view of the case.  
(a)  Sary acts like sary, like a king’s “top officials” (Jim’s view)
Sary acts like a king’s “top officials”, in that she is strong-willed and 
assertive.  She never complains about the awkward situation in Pharaoh’s 
household.  She never complains about the awkward situation in Abimelek’s household.  
When Abraham seems a bit wobbly as to which son of his to choose to be his 
rightful heir, Sary/Sarah lays down the law in no uncertain terms, in as 
strong-willed and assertive action taken by any female in the entire Bible:
“Wherefore she said unto Abraham:  'Cast out this bondwoman and her son;  for 
the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.'”  
Genesis 21: 10
Sary/Sarah is Golda Meier on steroids.  Sary/Sarah is a tremendous role model 
for women, being strong-willed, assertive, righteous, and praised.  
Sary/Sarah eminently deserves to be buried in the place of highest honor, with the 
Patriarchs at Hebron in southern Canaan.
(b)  Sary acts like Asherah, Ashtoreth or Esther (Isaac Fried’s view)
(i)  Esther.  Sary does not win a sex context with a Gentile king, and 
thereby put herself in position to save her people from that king’s evil minister.  
How could a Persian-era, non-historical composition like the Book of Esther 
match up with the incomparable Patriarchal narratives?  I see no comparison 
whatsoever there.
(ii)  Asherah  [Note:  Since pagan goddesses are not my long suit, I am just 
going to cite Wikipedia for both Asherah and Ashtoreth.]  In the Ugaritic 
myths, the mother goddess Asherah is “She who treads upon the sea.”  Sary/Sarah 
never treads on any sea.  In the Ugaritic myths, Asherah/Athirat is the consort 
of the god El.  Sarah is not YHWH’s consort.  No way.  Jeremiah 44: 17 
scathingly denounces Asherah, the so-called “queen of heaven”.  Sary/Sarah is not a 
queen of heaven.
“The word asherah also refers to a sacred tree or pole that stood near 
shrines to honor the mother-goddess.”  Sary/Sarah is not associated with a sacred 
tree or pole, and she is not a mother-goddess.  Deuteronomy 16:21 reads: "Do not 
set up any [wooden] Asherah [pole] beside the altar you build to YHWH your 
God."  Asherah has nothing to do with Sary/Sarah.  
(iii)  Ashtoreth/Astarte/Ishtar.  Ashtoreth may simply be the Iron Age 
version of Bronze Age Asherah.  “Astarte was connected with fertility, sexuality, 
and war.  Her symbols were the lion, the horse, the sphinx, the dove, and a star 
within a circle indicating the planet Venus.  Pictorial representations often 
show her naked.”  Sary/Sarah has no connection to war, the lion, the horse, 
the sphinx, the dove or the star Venus, and she is never shown naked.
True, Sary/Sarah is the mother of a line of sons who will be kings.  Genesis 
17: 15-16 tells us that that is what the divinely-changed name “Sarah” means. 
 With virtually all pagan goddesses, Sarah shares the basic attribute of 
being a mother, and an emphasis on fertility.  But that’s it.  Note that while 
having the name “Sary”, Sary is not fertile and is not a mother.  Sary only 
becomes fertile and a mother after her name has been changed to “Sarah”.
The name “Sary” has nothing to do with Asherah, Ashteroth, or Esther.  
Rather, the name “Sary” means that Abraham’s wife is strong-willed and assertive, 
like a king’s sary/“top officials”.
5.  You wrote:  “The addition of H to the names of both the first patriarch 
and first matriarch was intended, methinks, to give them a YHWH-ic component.”
As to the name “Sa-Rah”, doesn’t that sound like the best-known and greatest 
title in the ancient world?  Didn’t every human being in the greater Middle 
East know the title “sa-Ra” in ancient times?  In particular, didn’t 100% of 
the Hebrews know the grand Egyptian pharaonic title “sa-Ra”?  True, the 
spelling was slightly different (‘sa-Ra’ vs. ‘Sa-Rah’), but the sounds are either 
the same or similar.  Why go with Asherah or Ashteroth or Esther, which 
clearly have the wrong initial sound?  Why not think of the Egyptian title “sa-Rah” 
(spelled “sa-Ra”) in connection with the Hebrew name “Sa-Rah”/“Sarah”, 
where the initial sound is identical, and the whole word is either nearly 
identical in sound or at least quite similar?
The Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives had nothing to gain by 
honoring pagan goddesses.  That wasn’t going to save the first Hebrews from being 
wiped out by the Hittites from the north.  The Amorites in what is today 
northern Lebanon had just now iniquitously sold out Amurru to the dreaded Hittites.  
That’s the historical “iniquity of the Amorites” at Genesis 15: 16.  Would 
Canaan proper now fall to the barbarous Hittites next year?  It would take an 
alliance between the people of Canaan, including the first Hebrews, and the 
powerful state of Egypt, to keep the dreaded Hittites from annihilating the first 
Hebrews in the next military campaigning season.  This was no time to irritate 
temporarily monotheistic Egypt by gratuitous and blasphemous references to 
pagan goddesses, for heaven’s sake.  No, this was the time to portray 
magnificent Sarah who, if the terrible Hittite threat could somehow be contained, would 
bear of line of sons who would be Sa-Rah, that is, “kings by the grace of God”
.  These future Hebrew kings in Canaan then would, along within Egypt’s 
pharaohs, keep Canaan free from being overrun by the dreaded Hittites from the 
north.  That was the divinely-inspired grand vision of the pre-Hebrew author of 
the Patriarchal narratives.  What a grand vision that was!  And after a fashion, 
it more or less came true, historically, to a certain extent.  At least the 
Hebrews did prosper in Canaan for many centuries.
That terrific play on words (“sa-Ra” in Egyptian vs. “Sa-Rah” in Hebrew) 
was impossible for an Egyptian, because to an Egyptian, “sa-Ra” is totally 
masculine.  But to the brilliant Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives, it 
was a natural for a woman’s name, because in Hebrew, “-ah” is the standard 
feminine ending of women’s names (like Keturah, Rebekah, Debrah, Leah, etc.).  So 
to a Hebrew, unlike to an Egyptian, the word “Sa-Rah” works beautifully as a 
woman’s name.  The “-ah” ending means, in Hebrew, “she”.  The “sa” 
literally means “son” in Egyptian, but in the super-famous pharaonic title “sa-Rah”
, the “sa” had also come to mean “king”.  The reference to “Rah” 
temporarily meant a reference to a monotheistic deity at this point in time.  So the 
name “Sarah” means exactly what Genesis 17: 15-16 tells us it means:
“And God said unto Abraham:  'As for [Sary] thy wife, thou shalt not call her 
name [Sary], but Sarah [that is, Sa-Rah] shall her name be.  And I will bless 
her, and moreover I will give thee a son of her;  yea, I will bless her, and 
she shall be a mother of nations;  kings of peoples shall be of her.'”
The name “Sa-Rah” means, fully in accord with Genesis 17: 15-16:  “she [per 
the ‘-ah’ ending in Hebrew] (who will bear) a line of sons [‘sa’, in 
Egyptian] who will be kings [‘sa’, in Egyptian, as used in the pharaonic title ‘sa-Ra
’] by grace of God [‘Ra’ or ‘Rah’, used in Egyptian during this one short 
time period to refer to a monotheistic deity]”.
6.  Well, at least we appear to agree on one thing.  Neither “Sary” nor “
Sarah” means “princess”. 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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