[b-hebrew] names and puns (Jim & Dave)

Gabe Eisenstein gabe at cascadeaccess.com
Sat Oct 11 14:12:04 EDT 2008

Jim Stinehart
Dave Washburn

I'm amazed at some of the implausible arguments Dave uses to refute 
Jim's implausible argument, especially his denial of the punning on 
names in Genesis.

Surely the names Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel are the subject of a 
ton of punning, over and above the fact that the text explicitly gives 
punning associations for the origins of and/or changes in them. (With 
Isaac, for example, there is not only Sarah's laughter, but Isaac's 
"playing" with or fondling of Rebekah and his "playing" with or mocking 
Ishmael.) Many other examples can be given.
(I also note the attitude of the Talmud, that every Biblical name is 
meaningful, often on several levels.)

The idea that "shechem" (as "shoulder" or "portion") in Gen.48:22 is 
only COINCIDENTALLY connected with the place-name Shechem strikes me as 
absurd on its face, purely on literary grounds.
(I might also mention that I think there is an artistic connection 
between this "shechem" and the verb shacham, to rise early, which is a 
leitmotif of certain subtexts.)

In the case of Hamor,  the obvious connection is with donkeys. It has 
been noted that Schechem seems, on the basis of the statement in Joshua 
(and archaeological evidence) that a temple of Baal-Berith already 
existed there before any Hebrews, to have been a religious site with a 
special covenant-making function; and that "cutting a contract" in 
ancient Canaan involved the sacrifice of a donkey. The story of the 
"sons of Hamor" therefore not only relies on this association to 
highlight the fact that the Israelites reneged on their deal with the 
Shechemites, it also mocks the latter. I am persuaded by the argument of 
R.E.Friedman that this shows us the anti-Schechem and anti-Israelite 
bias of the Judahite author of this particular text.

Jim's thesis on the historicality of the patriarchal narratives is 
implausible on many grounds. It has already been observed that he wants 
it to be both historical and to have the marks of fiction (e.g. every 
name is a pun). More important for me is that he wants Genesis to be 
historical and Exodus to be fictional. In my analysis there is 
tremendous linguistic and thematic continuity between them (although 
since I'm a JEDP-er, I see the continuities between sub-texts, not the 
books as wholes). I have tried and failed to imagine a scenario in which 
the historical patriarchs got blended seamlessly with non-historical 
exodus and conquest.
(And yes, Jim's statement that English names have no meaning was a howler.)

I am wondering if there has been any discussion on this list of the 
evolution of Hebrew and the use of linguistic changes to achieve 
relative dating of Biblical texts. I mean things like the archaic nature 
of the Song of Deborah, the relative frequency of plene spelling, 
shifting vowels and consonants, and borrowings from Aramaic. With that 
kind of evidence it should be easy to disprove scenarios like Jim's, 
involving later grafting of fictional texts onto older historical ones.

Gabe Eisenstein

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