[b-hebrew] Hebron: The Linguistic Search for the Patriarchs' "Hebron"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Oct 8 10:15:02 EDT 2008


Hebron:  The Linguistic Search for the Patriarchs’ Bronze Age “Hebron”
 
The name “Hebron”, as a city name for the city 20 miles south of Jerusalem, 
is not known in secular history prior to the 8th century BCE, many centuries 
after the Patriarchal Age.  Moreover, there is very little good pastureland 
near the high altitude city of Hebron, so it would not make sense for Abraham to 
sojourn for decades with his large flock of sheep and goats at the city of 
Hebron.  Finally, as we saw in my prior post, chapter 13 of Genesis strongly 
suggests that Abraham went w-e-s-t  of Beth-el upon splitting from Lot, not south 
toward the city of Hebron.  The Patriarchs’ “Hebron” may be a completely 
different place than the city of Hebron referenced in the rest of the Bible.
 
Let’s now see if we can find a Late Bronze Age inscription that documents the 
Patriarchs’ “Hebron”, west of Beth-el, in a locale that had  i-d-e-a-l  
pastureland.  As noted in a prior post, I believe I may have located a mid-15th 
century BCE inscription that refers to the “Hebron” where Abraham sojourns in 
the Patriarchal narratives (which is not the city of Hebron referenced in later 
books in the Bible).
 
There were no Hebrews in existence yet in the mid-15th century BCE, and no 
Hebrew language.  So what we are looking for in this Late Bronze Age inscription 
is the non-Hebrew west Semitic forerunner of the Hebrew name “Hebron”.  If a 
prefix and a suffix is involved in the Hebrew name “Hebron”, which is my 
view of the case (which is how, for example, the Hebrew place name “the Sharon” 
came about, as discussed below), then we cannot reasonably expect such Hebrew 
prefix and Hebrew suffix to be present in this pre-Hebrew inscription from the 
mid-15th century BCE.
 
Is “JBR” the ancient pre-Hebrew west Semitic root of the Hebrew name “Hebron”
?  Does that “JBR” represent the Aijalon Valley, which is 17½ miles west of 
Beth-el, and which is  i-d-e-a-l pastureland?  That is my theory of the case.
 
An item that is sometimes set forth in English as “JBR” appears four times 
on the topographical list of places in Canaan recorded by conquering Egyptian 
pharaoh Thutmosis III in the mid-15th century BCE.  See items #15, #90, #92 and 
#99 on the Thutmosis III list here (a site maintained by archaeologist and 
Egyptologist Paul James Cowie):
 
_http://www.archaeowiki.org/Topographical_List%2C_First_Campaign_of_Thutmose_I
II_ 
(http://www.archaeowiki.org/Topographical_List,_First_Campaign_of_Thutmose_III) 
 
If we can understand the meaning of J-B-R on the Thutmosis III list, then 
perhaps we can find the missing Hebron, namely Abraham’s “Hebron”.
 
The key is to analyze the west Semitic meaning of the ancient west Semitic 
word that is represented in Egyptian as J-B-R (four times on the Thutmosis III 
topographical list).  If we can do that, then perhaps we can discover “Hebron” 
in the Late Bronze Age, and figure out what the word “Hebron” actually meant 
in secular history in the Late Bronze Age.
 
J on the Thutmosis III list represents an aleph (based on the other uses of J 
on such list).  J = aleph.
 
B is simply bet/B.
 
R is either resh/R or lamed/L.  (The Egyptians used R to represent either 
west Semitic resh/R or west Semitic lamed/L.  Egyptian R seems to represent 
lamed/L in a slight majority of cases.  Scholars here routinely assume that this 
Egyptian R represents a west Semitic lamed/L.  [For example, Anson Rainey shows 
item #99 on the Thutmosis III list, at p. 73 of “The Sacred Bridge”, as “
aleph/u-bi-la”, treating the J as an aleph, the R as a lamed, and implying various 
possible vowel sounds.]  But L and R are fully interchangeable in these 
Egyptian inscriptions of names of Late Bronze Age towns in Canaan, and R is the 
letter that Egyptians used to represent either resh or lamed.  As noted by 
Gesenius and modern scholars, sometimes lamed/L and resh/R can even be interchanged 
within Biblical Hebrew itself.  In particular, sometimes resh/R softened to 
lamed/L over the centuries.  The interchangeability of L and R may be especially 
likely here, in a truly ancient inscription like this which pre-dates the 
emergence of the first Hebrews.)
 
Why is J-B-R on the Thutmosis III list four times?  What does J-B-R mean in 
that context?  Is J-B-R connected in some way to the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”?  
 
Instead of letting historians, archaeologists and Egyptologists do all the 
thinking, why not bring some Biblical Hebrew expertise to these matters?  Can we 
on the b-hebrew list use our knowledge of Biblical Hebrew to find secular 
historical Late Bronze Age “Hebron”?  In particular, is “Hebron” there, in some 
sense, as “JBR” (aleph-bet-resh/lamed) on the Thutmosis III topographical 
list?  
 
A geographical place name of a region in Biblical Hebrew (like “the Sharon 
(Plain)”, for example) (i) is often preceded by a he/H, meaning “the”, and (ii) 
often has an “-on”/-vav-nun/-WN suffix at the end, meaning “place”, with 
these two items surrounding the root.  If JBR on the Thutmosis III list is the 
pre-Hebrew west Semitic root (where J is an aleph, and R is either resh or 
lamed), then in Biblical Hebrew format (similar to how the geographical name “the 
Sharon”/H$RWN was formed, with yod-shin-resh/Y$R/“level” being the root of “
the Sharon”), would H + JBR + WN, meaning “the JBR place”, get us pretty 
close to XBRWN/“Hebron”?  Since a heth/X has both an H/he sound and a guttural 
sound (such as )/aleph), the H + J here could be represented by a single 
Biblical Hebrew letter:  X/heth (as is done in the pun embodied in the name “Hamor” 
in chapter 34 of Genesis, as discussed in a prior post).  On that analysis, 
the Patriarchs’ “Hebron” is “the JBR place”.
 
“JBR” on the Thutmosis III list is almost certainly not a city (whether the 
city of Hebron, south of Jerusalem, or any other city), because JBR appears 
four separate times on that list.  As discussed in a prior post, JBR/aleph-BR is 
probably the same word as the later aleph-BL Biblical Hebrew spelling (Judges 
11: 33;  Daniel 8: 3, 6), meaning “well-watered meadowland”, i.e., ideal 
pastureland.  Remember, Genesis 13: 12 explicitly tells us that Abraham, unlike 
Lot, did  n-o-t  live in a city.  Rather, according to Genesis 13: 12, Abraham 
sojourned with his large flock of sheep and goats in the  
c-o-u-n-t-r-y-s-i-d-e  of Canaan.  So logically, we should be looking for a rural location in 
Canaan which, so unlike the mountainous city of Hebron, would be a good place for 
Abraham to maintain his large herd of sheep and goats.  The Patriarchs’ “
Hebron” should be fine pastureland that, unlike the city of Hebron high “up” in “
hill” country, could support both Abraham’s large flock of sheep and goats 
and Abraham’s 318 armed retainers referenced at Genesis 14: 14.  The Patriarchs’
 “Hebron”, unlike the city of Hebron, should have a magnificent grove of oak 
trees “in” it, per Genesis 13: 18, as is the case with the Aijalon Valley, 
which is also  i-d-e-a-l  pastureland.  Genesis 37: 14 says that the Patriarchs’
 “Hebron” is a “valley”.  And note that the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”, unlike 
the city of Hebron in later books in the Bible, is never stated to be “up”, 
and is never stated to be in the “hills”, so there’s no reason to restrict our 
search for the Patriarchs’ “Hebron” to hill country.  Indeed, nothing about 
the city of Hebron, located 20 miles south of Jerusalem, fits what the text of 
Genesis tells us about the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”!  It seems likely that the 
city name of “Hebron”, which is unattested as a city name in the secular 
history of the ancient world prior to the Judean monarchy in the Iron Age, was 
adopted by the Hebrews in  h-o-n-o-r  of the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”, with the city 
of Hebron not being located anywhere near the Patriarchs’ rural “Hebron” place.
 
If the linguistic analysis being developed here is correct in seeing “Hebron”
 as meaning “the well-watered meadowland place”, then the name “Hebron” 
fits the Aijalon Valley perfectly, while not fitting the city of Hebron at all.  
 
The mid-15th century BCE “JBR” on the Thutmosis III list may be the same 
place as the Patriarchs’ “Hebron” (in the northeastern Shephelah), and may also 
be the linguistic basis for the Hebrew name “Hebron”.  Perhaps we on the 
b-Hebrew list can do what no historian, archaeologist or Egyptologist has ever 
accomplished -- find Abraham’s “Hebron” in a secular historical inscription from 
the Late Bronze Age.
 
As discussed in a prior post regarding the names “Nahor”, “Hamor” and “
Hebron”, the Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives sometimes uses a heth/X 
to represent the two letters he-aleph/H), since a heth has both an H sound and 
a guttural sound.  If that is the case here, then “the JBR place” = “the 
well-watered meadowland place” = H + “JBR” + WN = H + )BR + WN = XBRWN/“Hebron” 
[where X = H)/he-aleph, as in “Hamor”, where XMWR = XMR = H + )MR = “the 
Amorite”].  If we pay close attention to the unending puns used throughout the 
Patriarchal narratives, such as the key pun embodied in the name “Hamor” (where 
heth/X represents H)/he-aleph), we can see how “Hebron” is the Biblical 
Hebrew version of the pre-Hebrew west Semitic aleph-BR/“JBR”:  “the well-watered 
meadowland place”/the Aijalon Valley.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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