[b-hebrew] Kadesh-barnea

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Apr 13 10:19:09 EDT 2010

Off-line I was asked a question about “giants” at Genesis 14: 5.  Since 
this question goes to the issue of the meaning of certain key words in 
Biblical Hebrew, let me answer that question on-line.
In my opinion, there are no “giants” in the Patriarchal narratives.
The “Rephaim” at Genesis 14: 5 are maryannu charioteers, often with 
Hurrian names, who were common in the Transjordan, as we know from Amarna Letter 
EA 197.  Ugaritic literature frequently associates Rephaim, or the singular 
form rpu, not only with noble charioteers, but also with being “in Ashteroth”
, which is the exact phrase at Genesis 14: 5.
The “Zuzim” at Genesis 14: 5 are the Shasu.  The Shasu nomads are all over 
Egyptian documents from the Late Bronze Age, such as the Papyrus Anastasi.  
The spelling of the S-type sound varies slightly in Biblical Hebrew as 
opposed to Egyptian, but they’re the same historical people.  As to the Biblical 
Hebrew language issue here, the early Hebrew author of the Patriarchal 
narratives often uses an unusual Hebrew S-type sound -- samekh or ssade or zayin 
-- to represent a sibilant in a non-west Semitic proper name, even where 
modern linguists, erroneously focusing exclusively on sound, expect a 
sin/shin.  In Egyptian, s’s means “to move on foot”.  That became s3sw/Shasu in 
Egyptian for the nomadic people in and near the Transjordan, and it’s Zuzim at 
Genesis 14: 5.  In the original, “defective” Hebrew spelling, that’s Z-Z + 
plural ending. 
Finally, the “Emim” at Genesis 14: 5 are “the dreaded ones”, that is 
tent-dwelling Apiru.  One recurring theme in the Patriarchal narratives is that 
some bad ruler might try to organize the tent-dwelling Apiru and grab huge 
chunks of land.  One reason why the early Hebrew author of chapter 14 of 
Genesis did not use the term “Apiru” is because Abraham himself is called a “
Hebrew” just a few verses later.  So in order to avoid confusing those 
somewhat similar-sounding words, the author calls the tent-dwelling, disaffected 
peoples of the Transjordan “Emim”.
Once one understands the nomenclature, Genesis 14: 5-6 reads like the 
Hebrew version of Amarna Letter EA 197.  Both documents are talking about the 
same threat to the Transjordan, and hence potentially to all of Canaan:  the 
dreaded Hittites, under mighty Hittite King Suppiluliuma I.
Authors of later books in the Bible, writing in the 1st millennium BCE, did 
not know who the historical Rephaim, Zuzim or Emim had been.  It makes no 
sense to rely on those later books in the Bible in evaluating chapter 14 of 
Genesis, since most scholars concede that the composition of chapter 14 of 
Genesis pre-dates the composition of those later books by 500 years or more.  
Late Bronze Age literature from Ugarit or Egypt is a far better source for 
identifying peoples mentioned in chapter 14 of Genesis.  (Authors of later 
books in the Bible did not even know that the Amorites were historical people 
in the Bronze Age who had lived in Lebanon, not south of the Dead Sea.)
There’s no talk of “giants” in the Patriarchal narratives, which rather 
have pinpoint historical accuracy in a Late Bronze Age historical context.  
The Patriarchal narratives were composed centuries before the myths in the 
early part of Genesis about the Flood.  If you want to know what life was 
really like in Canaan for the first Hebrews in the mid-14th century BCE, read 
either the Patriarchal narratives or the Amarna Letters.  Though the viewpoint 
is somewhat different, those two sources are talking about many of the same 
issues in the same time period in the same geographical locales.  Neither in 
the Patriarchal narratives nor in the Amarna Letters is there any talk 
about the irrelevant, desolate area south of the Dead Sea.  If we could just get 
university scholars to, for the first time, glance north of the Dead Sea in 
analyzing Genesis 14: 6-7, and stick to historical inscriptions from the 
ancient world, instead of constantly citing later books in the Bible that 
often post-date the composition of the Patriarchal narratives by over 500 years, 
then all of a sudden university scholars would realize that the Patriarchal 
narratives are not non-historical fiction.  It’s just a question of getting 
one university scholar, somewhere, to glance north of the Dead Sea and look 
solely to secular historical inscriptions in identifying the peoples and 
places at Genesis 14: 6-7.  They’re all fully historical, in a Late Bronze Age 
historical setting, but only for locales  n-o-r-t-h  of the Dead Sea.
There are no “giants” or other mythical peoples in the Patriarchal 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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