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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Oct 9 09:46:54 EDT 2008


Perhaps we can agree that there’s at least a possibility that the Patriarchs’
 “Hebron” may be the fine pastureland of the Aijalon Valley, instead of 
being, as traditionally supposed, the city of Hebron south of Jerusalem, where 
there is little good pastureland.  The name “Hebron” is not attested south of 
Jerusalem until the 8th century BCE, long after the Patriarchal Age, and as a 
city name it may have been chosen by the Hebrews in honor of the Patriarchs’ “
Hebron”, a rural meadowland at a different locale.  But is the name “Hebron” 
attested at the Aijalon Valley in the Late Bronze Age?  I think it is.  Let’s 
examine the inscriptional evidence.  Language issues like this are the b-hebrew 
list’s long suit.   
 
There are four items called “JBR” on the mid-15th century BCE list of places 
in Canaan compiled by conquering Egyptian pharaoh Thutmosis III.  In 
examining the possible relation of these four “JBR” items to the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”
, we should look at four puns on the name “Hebron”.  As we will see, one of 
these puns is a play on “JBR”.
 
“Hebron” is heth-bet-resh-vav-nun/XBRWN.  The -on/-vav-nun/-WN is a suffix, 
that means “place”.  Thus for example the “-on” ending of “Sharon” means “
place”, with the Sharon Plain being a geographical area, not a town.  (The root 
of “Sharon” is yod-shin-resh/YSR, meaning “level”.  The geographical name “
Sharon” is always preceded by he/H, meaning “the”, which causes the yod 
[which is not a guttural] to drop out completely.  H + [y]$R + WN = the level place 
= H + $RWN = the Sharon (Plain).  Note that some form of a he/H must always 
precede the name of this geographical area which ends in “-on”.  We will see 
that “Hebron” is somewhat similar, except that an initial guttural (aleph or 
ayin) in the root does not drop out completely, but rather causes the he/H, 
meaning “the”, to become the guttural heth/X.]  
 
A heth/X has two components for sound:  an H sound, plus a guttural sound.  
In English, a heth/X is usually transliterated as an H (at least where, as 
here, it is the first letter in a word), because of its H sound.  But unlike a 
he/H, a heth also has a guttural sound.  The two other guttural sounds in Hebrew 
are aleph and ayin.
 
As a pun, a heth can naturally suggest any of the following three 
possibilities:  
 
(1) heth = heth
 
(2) heth = he + aleph
 
(3) heth = he + ayin.
 
All three of those patterns feature both an H sound and a guttural sound.  
 
Although neither #2 nor #3 would sound exactly like #1, the sound would be 
fairly similar, being close enough to be a close pun.  In cases #2 and #3, the 
heth would in part be a prefix, representing a he/H, meaning “the”.  But the 
heth would also, simultaneously, represent as well the first letter in the 
underlying root -- either an aleph or an ayin.  Remember, it is commonplace in 
Biblical Hebrew for a geographical place (like “the Sharon”) to be preceded by a 
he/H/“the”.  And as we previously saw concerning the name “Hamor”, an 
initial heth/X can represent two letters --  he-aleph/H), being the H sound + a 
guttural -- so that “Hamor” is revealed to mean, most appropriately, “the Amorite
”.  XMWR = XMR = H + )MR = “the Amorite”.  [“Hamor” is the name of the 
Amorite ruler of Shechem in chapter 34 of Genesis.  See also Genesis 48: 22.]  (By 
contrast, heth would not ordinarily represent he + yod, as in “Sharon”, 
because a yod is not a guttural, whereas a heth is a guttural.)  As to heth vs. 
he, we must remember that (i) there was some similarity in the sound, (ii) there 
was great similarity in how these two letters were written, and (iii) 
confusing heth vs. he is one of the commonest scribal errors in ancient times:  “also 
this word ‘darkness’ from choshek is written with a he not a heth” (re the Q 
scribe’s mistakes in transcribing Isaiah 42: 16).
 
As to the resh/R in “Hebron”, in Egyptian transcriptions an R represented 
either a west Semitic resh/R or a west Semitic lamed/L.  Even within Biblical 
Hebrew itself, Gesenius and modern scholars have recognized that in certain 
circumstances, a resh/R and a lamed/L can sometimes be interchangeable.  In 
particular, a resh/R sometimes softens over the centuries into a lamed/L.  
Accordingly, the resh/R in “Hebron’ can be either a resh/R or a lamed/L, at least for 
punning purposes.
 
Putting the foregoing together, we get the following four puns on (or 
meanings of) the name “Hebron”:
 
1.  XBR + WN =       XBR + WN
2.  XBR + WN = H + (BR + WN
3.  XBR + WN = H + )BR + WN = H + )RB + WN (inversion or anagram)
4.  XBR + WN = H + )BL + WN [where R later softens to L]
 
All four of those are close puns, and would have had similar sounds (though 
by no means identical sounds) in Biblical Hebrew.  The name “Hebron” 
intentionally has  a-l-l  f-o-u-r  of these meanings.  The reason why the early Hebrew 
author of the Patriarchal narratives chose to spell “Hebron” with a heth/X, 
rather than with a he/H, was precisely in order to generate these four puns, 
which collectively define the essence of the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”.  Meaning #4 
of “Hebron” is “the JBR place”, based on the mid-15th century BCE 
inscription “JBR”, where JBR = )BR = )BL, meaning “a meadowland through which flows a 
wadi”.
 
1.  Here, X = X.  So XBRWN = XBR + WN = “Binding Friendship place”.  XBR = 
binding friendship, alliance, etc.  In all of these cases, the suffix –WN means 
“place”.  At Genesis 14: 13, Abraham has a binding friendship/confederate 
relationship/covenant with tent-dwelling Amorites, who help Abraham rescue Lot 
way up north.
 
2.  Here, X = H(.  So XBRWN = H + (BR + WN = “the Hebrew place”.  H = “the”
.  (BR = “Hebrew”.  [The full spelling of “Hebrew” is (BRY, but the final 
yod/Y is a generic suffix meaning “people”.  The root of “Hebrew” is (BR.]  
Genesis 14: 13 is the first Biblical reference to “the Hebrew”.  It cannot be a 
“coincidence” that Abraham “the Hebrew” primarily sojourns at a place that 
is so easily viewed as meaning “the Hebrew place”.  No, the Hebrew author of 
the Patriarchal narratives has chosen to spell “Hebron” with a heth/X in 
order to generate this very fitting pun, where heth/X represents he-ayin/H(.
 
3.  Here, X = H).  So XBRWN = H + )BR + WN = H + )RB + WN = “the Arbe place”
.  H = “the”.  )BR = )RB, either by inverting the BR to get RB, or as an 
anagram.  )RB = “Arbe”, where the full spelling of “Arbe” is )RB(, but the root 
is simply R-B [meaning “to become many, to multiply, to become great”;  one 
variant of this R-B root is that )RB( = “four”].  At Genesis 23: 2, we later 
find out that the name of the city (“kiriath”) at the Hebron place is Arbe, 
that is, Kiriath Arbe.  The Hebron place itself is not a city, but rather is #4 
below, a well-watered rustic meadowland, where the city of Arbe/Kiriath 
Arbe/the R-B city is located.
 
4.  Here, as in #3 above, X = H).  So XBRWN = H + )BR + WN = H + )BL + WN = “
the well-watered meadowland place”, being good, open pastureland through which 
flows a wadi.  H = “the”.  )BL = stream or wadi, per Daniel 8: 3, 6, and 
preceded by a he/H;  but also:  )BL = meadow or grassy place, implying good, open 
pastureland, per Judges 11: 33.
 
On the scholarly view that “JBR” = )BL, this #4 could alternatively be 
expressed as H + JBR + WN, which is H + )BR + WN, which in turn, if heth represents 
the two letters HJ/he-aleph/H), is X + BR + WN = XBRWN/“Hebron”.
 
As noted above, “JBR” appears four times on the TIII list (the mid-15th 
century BCE list of places in Canaan by conquering Egyptian pharaoh Thutmosis 
III).  The last three times on the TIII list, the JBR items appear fairly close to 
Rubutu and Gezer, in the Shephelah.  These three JBRs must be representing 
several important wadis which bisected the Shephelah and which featured good, 
open pastureland.  The fact that these several places were fine pastureland is 
precisely why an Egyptian pharaoh took note of these particular places, such as 
the Aijalon Valley.  On the TIII list, J is an aleph, B = bet/B, and R is 
either resh/R or lamed/L.  Scholars treat JBR on the TIII list as being aleph-B-L 
= stream.  But that same word aleph-B-L also means “meadow” in Hebrew.  
Rather than just recording streams or wadis in general, the Egyptians would only 
have taken particular interest in those wadis that were surrounded by good, 
open pastureland.  So aleph-B-L/JBR meant good, open pastureland through which 
flowed a wadi, reflecting the two different meanings of the Hebrew word 
aleph-B-L.
 
The Aijalon Valley features luxuriant meadowland, through which flows a wadi. 
 The Aijalon Valley is “the JBR place”, where “JBR” means “a fine 
meadowland through which flows a wadi”.  The name “Hebron”, as shown above, has as one 
of its key meanings “the JBR place”.  “The”/he/H + aleph/J is represented 
by heth/X, as is also the case with the name “Hamor”.  So H + JBR + WN becomes 
XBRWN, and that is the name “Hebron”.  Both “Hamor” and “Hebron” are 
deliberate puns, where heth/X represents he-aleph/H).
 
We have succeeded in locating the Patriarchs’ Bronze Age “Hebron”!  It is 
the Aijalon Valley, “the JBR place”, a fine meadowland with a wadi flowing 
through it, located 17½ miles west of Beth-el.  Since Lot went 17½ miles east of 
Beth-el to get to the Jordan River, the text strongly implies that Abraham went 
exactly the opposite direction, namely 17½ miles west of Beth-el, to get to 
the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”, which is the Aijalon Valley.  The name “Hebron” is 
based on, and is the Biblical Hebrew version of, the pre-Hebrew west Semitic 
mid-15th century BCE inscription for the Aijalon Valley:  “JBR”.  
 
H + JBR + WN = XBRWN/“Hebron” = “the well-watered meadowland place” = the 
Aijalon Valley, which is the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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