[b-hebrew] Does Genesis 13: 18 Have an Archaic, Non-Standard Spelling of "Aijalon"?

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Oct 15 09:56:14 EDT 2008


Does Genesis 13: 18 Have an Archaic, Non-Standard Spelling of “Aijalon”?
 
At Genesis 12: 6, Abraham comes to )LWN, which is spelled with a vav/W, near 
Shechem.  In the very next chapter of Genesis, at Genesis 13: 18, Abrahams 
comes to )LNY, spelled without a vav/W, after splitting from Lot at Beth-el.  
Since the spellings of these two words, which appear in fairly close succession, 
are different, we should investigate the possibility that, contrary to 
conventional wisdom, these two words may be two entirely different words, instead of 
)LNY simply being the plural of )LWN, with )LNY having unaccountably dropped 
the vav/W.
 
In focusing on the presence or absence of a vav/W, we now note that the 
precise four Hebrew letters aleph-lamed-nun-yod/)LNY appear only three times in the 
Hebrew Bible, always in the identical context, in the Patriarchal narratives 
at Genesis 13: 18;  14: 13;  18: 1.  (Note the absence of a vav/W.)  Scholars 
have heretofore viewed )LNY as being an orthographic variant of the 
five-letter word )LWNY at Deuteronomy 11: 30 (which is used in a similar, though not 
identical, context), which contains a vav/W, and as being the plural version of 
the four-letter word )LWN, which also contains a vav/W, a combination that 
appears five times in the Bible, at Genesis 12: 6;  Deuteronomy 11: 30;  Judges 4: 
11;  Judges 9: 6, 37;  and I Samuel 10: 2.  Scholars view all these words as 
meaning, either in the singular or in the plural, “oak tree” or “terebinth”. 
 This post, however, will explore a different theory of the case.  The 
spellings are different, so we should not simply assume, without investigation, that 
the unique )LNY at Genesis 13: 18;  14: 13;  and 18: 1 is the same word as in 
the other cases.
 
Now let’s consider the textual context.  A meaning of “oak tree” makes 
perfect sense at Genesis 12: 6, where Abraham likely considered that particular 
tree near Shechem to have a special significance, perhaps signifying Abraham’s 
arrival in central Canaan.  But by contrast, a meaning of “oak trees” or “a 
grove of oak trees” has a very odd ring about it in the context of Genesis 13: 
18;  14: 13;  and 18: 1.  Reflecting this very odd context, the KJV creatively, 
and uniquely among all translations of which I am aware, translates )LNY at 
Genesis 13: 18 as “plain”!  A “plain” is the exact opposite of “a grove of oak 
trees”, and does not seem to be a defensible translation here at all.  Yet 
having said that, it would make more sense for Abraham, having just split from 
Lot at Beth-el, to go to a plain, rather than to take his huge flock of sheep 
and goats to a place that is characterized by “a grove of oak trees”.  There 
is no reason to think that a place with a grove of oak trees would be a 
suitable place for Abraham’s huge flock of sheep and goats.  Yet that very same, 
specific phrase is repeated three times, at Genesis 13: 18;  14: 13;  and 18: 1, 
as if it were something of particular importance.  Something seems askew here.  
Let’s try a new approach to this old conundrum.
 
It is possible that the )LNY in the received text, which is unique to Genesis 
13: 18;  14: 13 and 18: 1, may be an archaic, non-standard spelling of “
Aijalon” (meaning the ancient city named Aijalon, not the nearby valley, which was 
not at that time called the Aijalon Valley).  Beginning with Joshua 21: 24, 
the standard spelling of “Aijalon” is )YLWN.  Let’s compare that with the )LNY 
in the received text of Genesis 13: 18.
 
As noted above, the absence of the vav at Genesis 13: 18 is significant in 
the context of being a different spelling than the other versions of what has 
heretofore been considered to be the same word, especially the presence of the 
vav at Genesis 12: 6, the chapter that precedes Genesis 13: 18.  Yet the 
absence of that vav is of very little significance in comparing this word at Genesis 
13: 18 to the standard spelling of “Aijalon” in other books in the Bible.  
The vav in the standard spelling of “Aijalon” is a mere vowel indicator, being 
part of the standard –WN suffix that, as a noun indicator, is so very common 
in geographical place names.  I Samuel 14: 31 shows that such vav can be 
omitted.  Secondly, the final yod at Genesis 13: 18 has long been viewed as being a 
plural indicator.  But if this is a truly ancient geographical place name, 
that ending vowel could instead be viewed as having been an archaic case ending 
(that would as a matter of course be dropped in later books in the Bible, such 
as Joshua, which were composed many centuries after the use of such case 
endings had ceased).
 
Thus if we are asking if this may be an archaic, non-standard spelling of “
Aijalon”, the only really important linguistic question here is why the )LNY at 
Genesis 13: 18 has no yod after the aleph.  If that word originally had a yod, 
then )YLNY (after restoring the missing yod) would certainly look like an 
archaic spelling of “Aijalon”.  If so, then what Genesis 13: 18 is really saying 
is that Abraham “dwelt near (the city of) Aijalon of the Amorites, that is, 
(in the valley of) Hebron”.
 
We all know that errors regarding interior yods are fairly commonplace in the 
copying and re-copying of Hebrew texts, so that could account for the missing 
yod here.  But more likely in this case is the following scenario, under 
which a scribe may have deliberately decided to delete the yod that had originally 
been there.
 
It is likely that the aleph-yod at the beginning of “Aijalon” may have been 
pronounced, at least during some time periods, as a contracted diphthong, 
instead of the theoretically more correct, but cumbersome, pronunciation as two 
separate syllables.  In fact, the aleph here is almost certainly a prosthetic 
aleph, because historically, the only two significant consonants that are 
attested on the Thutmosis III list in the mid-15th century BCE for this town’s name 
are yod/Y (used as a true consonant, not as a vowel indicator) and a lamed/L.  
(Similarly, the editor of the Amarna Letters references “Yalo” as being one 
name for the city of Aijalon in the mid-14th century BCE.)  But the Hebrews 
(along with many other west Semitic speakers) having added an aleph at the 
beginning of this word for ease of pronunciation, it is likely that the aleph-yod 
was pronounced, at least during some time periods, as a single syllable, with 
the yod/Y in effect being pronounced as if it were a mere vowel indicator 
(though historically, the yod here in fact is not a vowel indicator, but rather is 
a true consonant).  Accordingly, a scribe somewhere along the line may have 
honestly thought that dropping the yod in the spelling of “Aijalon” would more 
accurately reflect the actual Hebrew pronunciation of “Aijalon”.  The yod 
would henceforth be implicit, as the scribe doubtless knew that the yod had 
historically been there, but the yod would no longer be explicitly set forth as a 
separate letter in the word, with the simplified spelling thereby accurately 
reflecting the simplified pronunciation.  Thus the )LNY we see in the received 
text of Genesis 13: 18 may at one time have been viewed as being an acceptable 
spelling of the older, more cumbersome (if more historically correct) )YLNY, 
meaning the city of “Aijalon”.  That is to say, instead of scribal 
carelessness, the yod that was originally there may have been deliberately dropped by a 
later scribe for the sake of updating the spelling of this word, to reflect how 
the word was actually being pronounced at the time.  Centuries later, it was 
decided that in compiling the Bible, the new standard spelling of “Aijalon”, 
which naturally dropped the archaic case ending, would for books such as 
Joshua use the older (and more historically correct) practice of having an explicit 
yod after the aleph (as well as usually having an explicit vav as well).  But 
the spelling of the now strange word )LNY in the Patriarchal narratives was 
not changed (back).  The missing yod remained eternally missing.  The meaning 
of Genesis 13: 18 had become strange, as )LNY was no longer an acceptable way 
to spell “Aijalon”.  But after all, there were a fair number of other strange 
words with strange spellings like that in the ancient Patriarchal narratives.
 
Regardless of the precise manner in which the scribal dropping of this yod 
came about, in the mid-1st millennium BCE the spelling in the received text of 
Genesis of )LNY was thereafter read/mis-read as being the proper spelling of 
the plural of “terebinths” or “oaks”.  But all other versions of “oak tree” 
or “oak trees” in the Bible have a vav/W, which letter is conspicuously absent 
in the word )LNY we are investigating. 
 
Why would the text be telling us that Abraham came to dwell by a grove of oak 
trees called “Mamre”?  Isn’t that a strange thing for this ancient text to 
say?  And why would Genesis 14: 13 and 18: 1 repeat that same very odd 
statement?  Wouldn’t it be much more logical for the text to be telling us that 
Abraham came to dwell near the city of Aijalon, using an archaic Late Bronze Age 
spelling of “Aijalon”?  On various different scenarios, )LNY in the received 
text may well be an archaic, non-standard spelling of “Aijalon”.
 
As a herder of sheep and goats, Abraham would not be interested in a grove of 
oak trees.  But Abraham would logically be interested in the well-watered 
meadowland of the place that we today call the Aijalon Valley.  That was not the 
name of that valley in ancient times, but that valley is located near the town 
which, from the 15th century BCE to the present, has indeed always been 
called “Aijalon”.
 
If we are willing to consider that it is possible that one interior yod may, 
concerning this one word that appears three times in the Patriarchal 
narratives, have been improperly dropped in the received text by a scribe, whether as 
an honest scribal attempt to reflect the actual Hebrew pronunciation of this 
word or for whatever other scribal reason, then Genesis 13: 18 can be read as 
having originally explicitly referred to Aijalon.  The received text uses an 
archaic, non-standard spelling of “Aijalon”, that’s all.  On this view, Genesis 
13: 18 is indirectly, but surely, referencing the place that we today call the 
Aijalon Valley.  The Aijalon Valley is the tract of land [XBR/XBL] that is a 
well-watered meadow [)BR/)BL and YBR/YBL], located 17½ miles west of Beth-el, 
which is the exact location and type of pastureland where it makes perfect 
sense for Abraham to have taken his large flock of sheep and goats upon splitting 
from Lot at Beth-el.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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