[b-hebrew] names and puns

dwashbur at nyx.net dwashbur at nyx.net
Mon Oct 13 14:46:06 EDT 2008

On 13 Oct 2008 at 10:53, Gabe Eisenstein wrote:

> Dear Dave,
> Sorry to attribute to you a global denial of punning names in Genesis.
> Guess what set me off was this:
> "Gen 48:22 isn't a pun on anything.  It's a perfectly legitimate and 
> common Hebrew word, and once again, it says Jacob took by force the 
> piece of land he's describing, whereas the texts talking about Shechem 
> say he bought land."
> Puns connect different words, each of which is "perfectly legitimate" on 
> its own. In this case the author was almost certainly aware of the 
> linguistic similarity between the common word "shoulder" or "slope" and 
> the name of the city (which I assume itself derived from the "shoulder" 
> meaning), given the association between the "house of Joseph" and the 
> early seat of Israelite authority.

I just love expressions like "almost certainly" in contexts like this, were no actual evidence is 
adduced.  It sounds more like projection to me.  The similarity between words seems to be 
coincidental, if we take the full context into consideration.  It takes more than just verbal 
similarity to make paronomasia, it takes a deliberate act.  Given the fact that we have a 
different explanation here for how Jacob came by the land, such a deliberate act by the 
author appears unlikely.  Now, if he had said "the $KM that our family bought from so-and-
so," we would have a pun that makes sense in the context.  But that's not what we have.

> If you are saying that the text has some different location in mind, 
> which Jacob took by force, I find that very implausible. It seems much 
> more likely that there are simply different traditions about Shechem.

So let me get this straight: you're saying that, on the basis of nothing more than verbal 
similarity between a "shoulder" of land ("mountain-ridge" as Holladay glosses) and the 
name "Shechem," we're supposed to posit that some different tradition, in which Jacob took 
the town by force with his "sword and bow," somehow got stuck into just this one statement 
and then promptly vanished again, never to be seen in any ANE literature again.  And you 
find this more plausible than the idea that Jacob is talking about an unnamed piece of land 
that he actually did take by force, which the text plainly says is the case.  Does that about 
sum it up?

Dave Washburn
"I'll hold the nail.  And when I nod my head, you hit it with the hammer."

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