[b-hebrew] Ephron

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Jun 21 09:44:32 EDT 2010

Common words in the Patriarchal narratives started out with defective 
spelling, which was later updated in many cases to full spelling.  However, that 
process of updating spelling likely did  n-o-t  happen in most cases with 
proper names in the Patriarchal narratives.  [For example, )B-RM was never 
updated to )B-RWM.]  This is especially the case regarding foreign proper 
names.  Later editors were very reluctant to update the spelling of a foreign 
proper name in the Patriarchal narratives, either because they weren’t sure how 
to update it, or because they thought that a foreign proper name should be 
left in its original form.  This thread will examine the foreign proper name 
(PRWN in chapter 23 of Genesis on the basis that (PRWN is likely the 
original, so-called “defective” spelling of this Biblical name.
1.  Foreign Name.  (PRWN is probably being presented to us as a foreign 
proper name.  Genesis 23: 3 says that the people of whom (PRWN is a leading 
member are the “sons of the Hittites”.  The Hittites were foreigners who did 
not speak a Semitic language.  If the “sons of the Hittites” represent the 
Hurrians [which would make good historical sense, for a short period of time 
in the mid-14th century BCE after most Hurrians, in Syria, were forcibly 
made part of the new Hittite Empire], the Hurrians also did not speak a Semitic 
language.  “Sons of the Hittites” seems an odd name for [west 
Semitic-speaking] Amorites [though there were Amorite landowners in Canaan], and it’s 
hard to see how such a phrase could possibly fit indigenous Canaanites.  These 
people seem to be foreigners [while nevertheless being landowners in the 
southern half of Canaan].
2.  Final –N = Ni.  In a foreign proper name, -ni or –nu is routinely 
brought into the Bible as simply –N.  Thus the name of the city where Abraham’s 
father died, Haran, is Xari-ni in Hurrian, and Xarra-nu in Akkadian, but 
that final suffix –ni or –nu is simply –N in Biblical Hebrew:  XR-N.  The 
converse of that is that the final –N in (PRWN likely may mean –ni, which I 
will henceforth represent as Ni.
3.  The Vav/W.  If the final –N is actually Ni, which is very likely per #2 
above, that then puts tremendous pressure on the W.  If the vav/W was in 
the original text, which is very likely, then this is starting to look like a 
3-syllable foreign name:  (P-RW-Ni.  Certainly WNi makes no sense as a 
discrete syllable.  So the W here is probably representing a vowel in the foreign 
language, rather than being a full-spelling late addition to the text.  Let’
s represent that as an I [which may be the Hurrian true vowel I, in 
interior position].  –RWN in the received text likely reflects –RI-Ni in the 
underlying foreign language.
4.  The Ayin.  If the foreign language here is Hurrian, that foreign 
language has no ayin.  As such, the Hebrew ayin would presumably be representing 
an important true vowel in the foreign language, call it E.  [It could 
alternatively be the Hurrian true vowel I in initial position;  I and E are often 
interchangeable in Hurrian.]  To represent the true vowel E [in the 
important initial position, not being a prosthetic and not being in interior 
position], the best choice in Biblical Hebrew is ayin.  Old Biblical Hebrew has no 
true vowel letter, and Hurrian has no ayin [whereas Hurrian, in addition to 
having true vowels, also has aleph, yod and vav, which would be the other 
three possible choices in Hebrew].  So ayin is the logical choice here to 
represent this important Hurrian true vowel E in initial position.
5.  (PRWN = EP-RI-Ni.  On the foregoing analysis, the (PRWN that we see in 
the received text should not be viewed as being (P-RWN, as conventionally 
viewed.  Rather, (PRWN in the received text should be viewed as being 
EP-RI-Ni.  The keys are to see the final –N as being a discrete syllable, -Ni, and 
then realize that the vav/W is not a full-spelling late addition, but rather 
was there from day #1, representing a vowel in the foreign language, so that 
the discrete second syllable here is RW, representing RI in Hurrian.
6.  Only Hurrian Word Known by All Hebrews.  In the Late Bronze Age, there 
was one, and only one, Hurrian word that was known by all Hebrews.  It means 
“the lord” or “Hurrian princeling” or, as a proper name, could loosely be 
paraphrased as “Mr. Great”.  This extremely common Hurrian word comes in 
many varieties, one of which is:  ep-ri-ni.  [P and B and W are effectively 
interchangeable in Hurrian, as are the vowels E and I.  Ep-ri, eb-ri, ib-ri, 
ew-ri and iw-ri are all attested as meaning “lord” in Hurrian.  There are 
also many variations in the syllable division of this common Hurrian word, 
especially once suffixes are added.  Note that when ep-ri, in any form, 
appears in a Hurrian name, it’s always the first part of the name, and then is 
usually followed by a suffix.]
We know from the Amarna Letters that in the 14th century BCE, a majority of 
landowners in Canaan were Hurrian lords [with Biblical Ephron being a 
landowner in chapter 23 of Genesis]. So the famous Hurrian word for “lord” would 
have been known by all the Hebrews at that time.  This Hurrian word may be 
found at Amarna Letter EA 286: 7 from Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem [the second 
half of whose name honors a Hurrian goddess].  What’s written there is EN-ri, 
and in context the meaning must be “lord”.  The Sumerian logogram EN means “
lord”, and ep-ri or eb-ri or ib-ri or ew-ri or iw-ri all mean “lord” in 
Hurrian.  Wm. Moran notes at p. 327:  “Hurrian influence has also been 
suggested:  EN-ri = Hurrian iwri (ibri);  see Loretz, UF 6 (1974) p. 485, and 
Jerusalem Scribe, p. 163, n. 52.”  As the first part of a Hurrian name, ep-ri is 
also attested [with a P, and meaning “lord”] as Ep-ri-ba-ta.  A variant of 
ep-ri, with the same meaning “lord”, is attested in Amarna Letters EA 27 and 
28 as pi-ri, in the Hurrian name [a diplomat from the Hurrian state of 
NHRYM in eastern Syria] Pi-ri-iz-zi:  “The language represented by this PN is 
Hurrian.  Pi-ri-iz-zi is a hypocoristic name, composed of ewri ‘lord’ and 
zzi, a (hypocoristic) suffix.”  Richard Hess, “Amarna Personal Names” (1993), 
at p. 125.  Note that in both versions of ep-ri [meaning “lord”] in the 
Amarna Letters, the second syllable is –ri-, just as in the Biblical version:  
(P-RW-N[i], where RW in Hebrew there represents RI in Hurrian.  Indeed, the 
key to my analysis is that Biblical RW here is a discrete syllable, 
representing RI in Hurrian. 
7.  (PRWN in chapter 23 of Genesis may well be representing EP-RI-Ni, which 
in turn is the letter-for-letter equivalent of the only Hurrian word that 
all the Hebrews in Late Bronze Age Canaan knew:  ep-ri-ni.  [The Hurrian 
suffix –ni means “the”.]  As just noted, that Hurrian word means “the lord” or 
“the Hurrian princeling” or, more loosely, “Mr. Great (Hurrian)”.  As 
such, that Hurrian word fits Biblical Ephron perfectly, as an imperious foreign 
magnate, an ethnic Hurrian landowner who is the most prominent member of 
the “sons of the Hittites” in a Hurrian-dominated city in southern Canaan.  
The Hurrian great “lord” Ephron charges Abraham an arm and a leg to sell a 
bereaved Abraham a gravesite for Sarah.  “Ephron”/(PRWN is a 3-syllable 
name, being a dead ringer for the Hurrian word ep-ri-ni, meaning “the (Hurrian) 
lord”.  Ephron is a Hurrian.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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