[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 
resh-bet/RB.
 
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 
Letters.  So:
 
(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.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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