[b-hebrew] Is "Kiriath Arbe" in Genesis an Historically-Documented City Name?
JimStinehart at aol.com
JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Oct 17 09:29:43 EDT 2008
Is “Kiriath Arbe” in Genesis an Historically-Documented City Name?
In looking for the secular historical equivalent of the city name “Kiriath
Arbe” in Bronze Age Canaan, the first linguistic issue to consider is “Kiriath”
vs. “kiriath”. The word “kiriath” is the construct form of a Hebrew word
that means “city”. Although Genesis 23: 2 initially suggests that “
Kiriath-Arbe” might be the name of this town, Genesis 35: 27 seems to indicate that, on
the contrary, the word “kiriath” is just a general reference to a “city”,
rather than being an integral part of this city’s name. Genesis 35: 27 has the
definite article in the middle, so the reference there seems to be to the “city
of [kiriath] the Arbe”.
Based on that slight ambiguity, what we are most likely to see in secular
history is the following: (i) the root of the city name either will be only the
key true consonants in “Arbe”, or it will be some slight variation on “Arbe”
itself, and (ii) there will probably be a standard suffix, -T, meaning “city”
. That is the most likely pattern that we should expect to see in secular
history (even though there are a handful of actual city names in ancient Canaan
that include some version of the word “kiriath”). For Biblical confirmation
of the well-documented secular historical ancient west Semitic practice of
creating a city name by adding a final tav/T to a common word, see Genesis 26:
22, where Isaac does exactly that in naming a place after a well he has re-dug.
“Arbe” is aleph-resh-bet-ayin, or: )RB(.
Per Gesenius, the initial aleph in )RB( is prosthetic. The aleph is not part
of the root word, but rather is there merely to aid pronunciation. The root
of this word clearly is R-B. R-B means “to be many”, or “to be great”, or
even, “to be more than three”. In the form “arbe”/)RB(, the word can mean
the number “four”. But the root, which is what we are looking for, is simply
What we should primarily look for, then, is “R-B city”. Though perhaps we
may also find just “R-B”, or even aleph-R-B. Any one or more of those,
especially R-B + T as meaning “R-B city”, would be the secular historical
linguistic equivalent of the Biblical city name “Kiriath Arbe”/“city of the Arbe”.
In particular, here is what we should look for in secular history in order to
document the Biblical city name “Kiriath Arbe”:
1. If the prosthetic aleph is not there, and a tav/T suffix is used, in
order to get, in effect, “R-B city”, then we would expect to see R-B-T. That’s
what we would expect to see on the mid-15th century BCE list of places in
Canaan compiled by conquering Egyptian pharaoh Thutmosis III.
2. If it’s a really old city name that had a case ending, then there would
be a vowel at the end, along with implied vowels in the interior. An English U
is the most common such vowel we see in the Akkadian cuneiform of the Amarna
(a) If the base name is R-B-T, then after adding in a bunch of U’s, we might
expect to see “Rubutu” in the Amarna Letters.
(b) But if there’s no tav/T suffix meaning “city”, and if the prosthetic
aleph is already in place, then (adding an English U at the end, as per usual)
we might expect to see something like “Arabu” (a-ra-bu) in the Amarna Letters.
What’s the result of such a search?
All three of the above hypotheses come true! There is one Late Bronze Age
city, located in the Aijalon Valley, 17½ miles west of Beth-el, that matches all
three above hypotheticals.
1. We see R-B-T at item #105 on the Thutmosis III list. Egyptologist Cowie
renders this alternatively as “Rubutu” or “Rabba”.
R-B-T, meaning “Rubutu” or “city of Rabba” (or Rabbah), is located on the
Thutmosis III list right next to Gezer at item #104, and Gibbethon at item
#103, all being located near the Aijalon Valley. At nearby item #100, we see the
city of Aijalon. (The root of “Aijalon” is Y-L, which is spelled Y-R by the
Egyptians. On the Thutmosis III list, “Aijalon” is in the form YRT, where
either the R represents L, or the R later softened to L, and the T is, as usual,
a standard suffix meaning “city of”. So YRT is “Y-L city”/Aijalon. Later,
the Hebrews and other west Semitic speakers decided to use a –WN suffix
instead, and to add a prosthetic aleph for pronunciation. So the root YL became:
) + YL + WN suffix = )YLWN/“Aijalon”.) “JBR” is, fittingly enough, right
next to Aijalon at item #99, where JBR + WN suffix = JBRWN = XBRWN/ “Hebron”.
2(a). We see “Rubutu” at Amarna Letter EA 289: 13; 290: 11. Rubutu is
well-known as being located in the Aijalon Valley.
At p. 186 of “The Sacred Bridge”, Anson Rainey (in examining the 10th
century BCE list of places in Canaan compiled by pharaoh Shishak) equates “Ru-bu-te”
of the mid-14th century BCE Amarna Letter EA 290: 11 with all of the
following: “Ru-bi-ta”, “Rubboti” and, most importantly for our purposes here, “
Rabbah”. Note that the one common element in all of these names, including
Biblical “Arbe”/)RB(, is the central presence of R-B, in that order, with or
without a final tav/T meaning “city of”/kiriath.
2(b). We see “Arabu” (a-ra-bu) at Amarna Letter EA 281. It’s hard to get
closer to “Arbe” than that. There’s also something illegible after a-ra-bu,
which might be a word or symbol for “city”. (“Arabu” is not “Hebron”, as
has been fancifully and unsuccessfully alleged by some people, stirring up a
fair amount of controversy. No, “Arabu” is the Akkadian cuneiform equivalent of
“Arbe”, as in “Kiriath Arbe” or “city of [kiriath] of Arbe”.)
Thus we’ve got the linguistic equivalent of the city name “Kiriath Arbe”
attested out the wazzoo in Late Bronze Age Canaan, if we’re willing to look at
the Aijalon Valley as being the possible location where the text of Genesis
presents Sarah as being buried.
Chapters 13 and 23 of Genesis reference a-l-l of the three most important
historical Bronze Age names concerning the Aijalon Valley, in geographical
order from east to west. )LNY at Genesis 13: 18 can be viewed as being an
archaic, non-standard spelling of the city of “Aijalon” (whose later spelling is
)YLWN), especially if the original version of this word in the text had been
)YLNY (featuring an archaic case ending, and dropping the optional vav/W). It is
unlikely, in context, that this strange word means “oak trees”. XBRWN/“Hebron
” at Genesis 13: 18 is the Aijalon Valley, and linguistically is the Hebrew
version of “JBR” at item #99 on the Thutmosis III list, where a standard –WN
noun identifier suffix has been added to “JBR” to make this common word into a
specific geographical place name, and the single reed/J comes into Hebrew in
this case as a heth/X. (The single reed/J appears to function as a heth/X at
item #61. The Hebrew word XBL [for example, at Deuteronomy 3: 4, 13, 14 and
Joshua 17: 5, 14], which formerly likely was XBR, meaning “a tract of land”,
may be one of the linguistic foundations of “JBR” at item #99. That again
suggests that the single reed/J here, which is not an aleph or a glottal stop,
might well in this case come into Biblical Hebrew as a heth/X.) And for sure we’
ve got “Kiriath Arbe”, the “city of Arbe”/R-B city, in the form of RBT,
Rubutu, Arabu, and Rabbah, being four different forms of the same historical city
name, and being the other city, besides Aijalon, that was prominently located
at the Aijalon Valley. (That valley’s name in the Late Bronze Age was
JBR-WN/XBRWN/“Hebron”, not “Aijalon Valley”. “JBR” means “a tract of land
[XBR/XBL] that is a well-watered meadow” [)BR/)BL, and YBR/YBL]. Note that before
the resh/R softened in some cases to lamed/L, all four of these words feature:
guttural or vowel-type sound + B + R. And all four such words refer either
to “a tract of land”, or to “a well-watered meadow”, or both.)
Abraham in effect tells Lot that whatever way Lot goes from Beth-el, Abraham
will go the exact opposite direction from Beth-el. “Lot journeyed east”,
going 17½ miles east of Beth-el to the Jordan River, strongly suggesting that
Abraham for his part then went 17½ miles west of Beth-el. That would bring
Abraham first to the city of Aijalon/)LNY, on the northeastern edge of what was
later called the Aijalon Valley, then to the valley itself, which in the Late
Bronze Age was called Hebron/JBR-WN/XBRWN, and finally, at a later time, slightly
southwest of the city of Aijalon to the city of Kiriath Arbe/“R-B city”
/RBT/Rubutu/Arabu/Rabba/Rabbah, which must have been located at or near the
south-central edge of the Aijalon Valley. Note that we are introduced to these three
geographical names in the text in their logical order, from east to west, as
Abraham travels west from Beth-el toward, into, and throughout the Aijalon
Valley. Moreover, the Aijalon Valley (the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”) is the best
pastureland in all of Canaan for Abraham to sojourn with his huge flock of sheep
and goats. The one notable disadvantage of the vast open pastureland of the
Aijalon Valley is its lack of any natural defense. But Abraham enters into a
confederate relationship with certain tent-dwelling Amorites, and Abraham had
318 armed retainers (Genesis 14: 13-14), so Abraham did not lack for security.
All the textual and secular historical evidence leads to the same conclusion.
The Patriarchs are presented in the text as sojourning at, and as being
buried at, the wonderful pastureland of the Aijalon Valley (the Patriarchs’ “
Hebron”), not at the austere high hill country of the 8th century BCE city of
Hebron, 20 miles south of Jerusalem.
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