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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Mar 26 12:16:18 EDT 2008

You wrote:  “I think, Jim, that in medieval times the points were either 
created or put 
 on the consonantal text just to get a BETTER understanding of the text.
 Namely, I see the points not as something troubling or creating troubles or 
 making the text understanding more difficult.. but just the contrary!
 Now, maybe in this or in that word ... the pointing is wrong?...  Yes, it is 
 quite possible! But from a global viewpoint the points are here to help, not 
 to make thing more difficult...  …I feel that at making your comparisons 
between words, vowels must be taken into account.”
O.K., let’s look at the vowels in sin-resh-yod/sary.
Scholars tell us that the yod here, in Sarah’s birth name (but not in the 
common noun having the same three Hebrew letters), is an archaic feminine ending. 
 Is that true?
“[T]he only difference between Sarai and Sarah is that the former reflects an 
archaic feminine suffix, the latter, the normative feminine suffix:  both 
versions of the name mean ‘princess’.”  Robert Alter, “Genesis:  Translation 
and Commentary” (1996), at p. 73.
Let’s leave aside the facts that sin-resh does not mean “prince” when 
applied to a human being, and that Abraham’s wife was not a “princess” (with a “
princess” being a female whose father is the king, and who is not a queen).
If we focus exclusively on Biblical Hebrew grammar, which is the long suit of 
the b-Hebrew list, is it true that a yod suffix is sometimes “an archaic 
feminine suffix”?
This argument is made in an article on the Internet:  “The Engendered Shema: 
Sarah-Echoes in the Name of Israel”, in “_Judaism_ 
(http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0411) ”, _Summer, 2000_ 
(http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0411/is_3_49) , by _Elizabeth Wyner Mark_ 
(http://findarticles.com/p/search?tb=art&qa=Elizabeth+Wyner+Mark) :
“The original name Sarai bears the archaic feminine suffix ai, as in shaddai, 
the name of God related to the word ‘breast’.  [19] This suffix is found in 
early West Semitic, usually in the names of deities or mythical beings, and 
appears in Ugaritic in the names of a series of nature goddesses. [20] 
Significantly, Sarai is the only feminine biblical name with this suffix.
…(19.) David Biale, "The God with Breasts: El Shaddai in the Bible," History 
of Religions 2l.3 (1982): 240-256. W. F. Albright, "The Names Shaddai and 
Abram," Journal of Biblical Literature 54.3 (1935): 173-204.
(20.) Harriet Lutzky, "Shadday as a Goddess Epithet," Vetus Testamentum 48,1 
(1998): 15-36.”
Is that grammatical argument correct?  Is Abraham’s wife the only female 
human being in the entire Bible whose birth name embodies an archaic feminine 
suffix?  Wouldn’t that normally be called “special pleading”?  Is the divine name 
“shaddai” a feminine word, related to the word “breast”?  I do not think 
that mainstream scholars buy that argument (see below).  Does the name 
sin-resh-yod/Sary/Sarai embody a “suffix [that] is found in early West Semitic, usually 
in the names of deities or mythical beings, and appears in Ugaritic in the 
names of a series of nature goddesses”? 
Why would the Jews in the Middle Ages, who put the pointing into the Bible, 
have known that the birth name of Abraham’s wife is an archaic feminine suffix, 
a “suffix [that] is found in early West Semitic, usually in the names of 
deities or mythical beings"?
BDB says that “shaddai” is masculine, not feminine.  BDB says that the 
etymology of this word is “dubious”.  BDB references “mountain” as one possible 
meaning, and BDB never mentions “breast”.  Gesenius sees “shaddai” as being a 
plural masculine noun, meaning “powerful”.  I see no references to “breast” 
or “feminine” in BDB or Gesenius or Strong’s.  So why should one view “
shaddai” at Genesis 17: 1 as exemplifying “the archaic feminine suffix ai, as in 
shaddai, the name of God related to the word ‘breast’"?
This all seems like special pleading to me.  I do not see “shaddai” as being 
a feminine noun with an archaic feminine suffix, nor do I see sin-resh-yod 
(as Sarah’s birth name) as being a feminine noun with an archaic feminine 
suffix.  Abraham’s wife is a human being, not a deity or mythical being, so why 
should I care about Ugaritic feminine endings of nature goddesses? 
I’m here to learn, like everyone else.  I myself see no “archaic feminine 
suffix” in Sarah’s birth name, that is unique in the Bible to Sarah.  All I see 
in the unpointed text is sin-resh-yod, a word which applies to Pharaoh’s top 
officials at Genesis 12: 15.
Isn’t it more likely that medieval Jews pointed sin-resh-yod at Genesis 12: 
15 in a different way than when the same three Hebrew letters apply to Abraham’
s wife, precisely to prevent people from associating beloved Sarah with 
despised top officials of an Egyptian pharaoh?  (Egypt was hated because of the Book 
of Exodus, a book the Masoretes read prior to pointing the Patriarchal 
narratives.  The Patriarchal narratives in and of themselves are not anti-Egypt.)  
Or, on the contrary, was this based on the Masoretes correctly divining that 
Sarah’s birth name is the only woman’s name in the entire Bible that embodies 
an archaic feminine suffix?
Whether the pointing is right or wrong, do you view the yod suffix in the 
birth name of Abraham’s wife as being “an archaic feminine suffix”?  If that 
argument were accepted, would that indicate that the Patriarchal narratives are 
much older than the rest of the Bible?  Can we really think that there is one 
name of a female human being, and only one name in the entire Bible, that 
embodies “an archaic feminine suffix”, which is apparently otherwise only 
encountered regarding west Semitic non-Hebrew deities and mythical beings, and 
Ugaritic nature goddesses?
Instead, why not view sin-resh-yod (Abraham’s wife) as acting like 
sin-resh-yod (Pharaoh’s top officials)?  Like Pharaoh’s top officials, Abraham’s wife 
is strong-willed and assertive.  Unlike the rest of the Bible, the author of 
the Patriarchal narratives does not hate Pharaoh’s top officials.  In his world, 
being compared to Pharaoh’s top officials would be a good thing, especially 
in a birth name (before such person’s name is divinely changed to a much 
grander name -- “Sarah”).
My own explanation is so very, very simple.  Is there any objective basis for 
going the complicated route of seeing the Hebrews as ever having had “an 
archaic feminine suffix”, so that sin-resh-yod should be viewed as being an 
archaic version of the name “Sarah”?
As I see it, sary deal with Sary at Genesis 12: 15, and Sary acts like sary 
in being strong-willed and assertive.  Neither “sary” nor “Sary” means “prince
” or “princess”.  And “Sary” is not an archaic version of “Sarah”.  
Neither “Sary” nor “Sarah” means “princess”.  No matter how the Masoretes decided 
to point sin-resh-yod in the Middle Ages, (1) “Sary” is not an archaic 
version of “Sarah”, and (2) neither “Sary” nor “Sarah” means “princess”.  
Unless, that is, the “archaic feminine suffix” theory could be documented for the 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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