[b-hebrew] Ephron

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Jun 21 11:26:12 EDT 2010


1.  I believe that George Athas was thinking primarily about linguistics, 
not history, when he responded to my claim that Ephron in chapter 23 of 
Genesis is portrayed as being an important Hurrian landowner in Canaan as 
follows:  “This is all highly tendentious and speculative, Jim.”  
 
In fact, there is nothing tendentious or speculative about the following 
key facts.  The best-known Hurrian word is ep-ri, meaning “lord”, especially 
in the form ep-ri-ni, meaning “the lord”.  We know from the Amarna Letters, 
as augmented by other sources such as the Taanach Letters, that a majority 
of the landowners in Canaan in the mid-14th century BCE were Hurrians.  So 
the early Hebrews in the mid-14th century BCE were very familiar with Hurrian 
landowners, and would have known the best-known Hurrrian word, which was 
very relevant to those Hurrian landowners in Canaan:  ep-ri-ni.  The question 
I am raising on this thread is whether (PRWN in chapter 23 of Genesis is a 
dead ringer for the Hurrian word ep-ri-ni, meaning “the (Hurrian) lord”.  If 
an early Hebrew had tried to produce the Hurrian word ep-ri-ni using 
defective Hebrew spelling, the best he could have done is what we see in the 
received text:  (PRWN.  The first syllable is (P, representing EP in Hurrian.  
The vav/W being present in defective spelling strongly indicates that there is 
a second syllable, as distinct from the final syllable.  That second 
syllable is RW, representing RI in Hurrian, just as is attested on two occasions 
in the Amarna Letters.  The final syllable is N-, being Ni in Hurrian, but in 
defective Hebrew spelling that does not require the final vowel sound to be 
set forth as a Hebrew letter.  Using defective Hebrew spelling, I do not 
see how the Hurrian word ep-ri-ni could be expressed in old Biblical Hebrew 
better than precisely what we see in chapter 23 of Genesis:  (PRWN. 
 
2.  On the other hand, Prof. Yigal Levin focused exclusively on history 
(not linguistics) in his response to my post:  “WITHIN THE BIBLE, there is NO 
indication that the "Hittites" are anything other than a Canaanite sub-group. 
There is NO indication anywhere that the Hittites are "non-Semitic" or have 
anything to do with "Hurrians".”
 
Is that true?  How could a people called “sons of the Hittites” at Genesis 
23: 3 be thought to be “a Canaanite sub-group”?  Is there anything in 
history to support that view?  No.  The Hurrians were closely connected to the 
historical Hittites from a Hebrew point of view in the mid-14th century BCE.  
As such, it makes perfect sense for a slightly derogatory Patriarchal 
nickname for the Hurrians to be “sons of the Hittites”.  In the mid-14th century 
BCE, the Hittites conquered a majority of the Hurrians and brought a 
majority of Syria into the newly-formed Hittite Empire, in the Great Syrian War. 
After that, the Hurrians were in some sense “sons of the Hittites”, in that 
the Hurrians were now junior to the Hittites in terms of controlling Syria.  
Moreover, the Hurrians had close cultural affinities to the Hittites.  Most 
of the Hittite kings had Hurrian wives.  The Hittites adopted Hurrian names 
and Hurrian gods and goddesses.  The Hurrians’ fame throughout Syria as 
fine metalworkers actually owed a lot to the Hurrians’ close (if not always 
friendly) contact with the best metalworkers in the world, the Hittites.  So 
near the end of the Amarna Age, for a short period of time the phrase “sons of 
the Hittites” is an apt, if somewhat pejorative, Patriarchal nickname for 
the Hurrians, from an early Hebrew point of view.
 
3.  Though not expressly so stated, I presume that both George Athas and 
Prof. Yigal Levin accept the scholarly view that (PRWN is a west Semitic name. 
 But does that seemingly unanimous scholarly view make sense?  Let’s take a 
look.
 
For the scholarly analysis of (PRWN as allegedly being a west Semitic name, 
we start with the fact that (PR in Hebrew means “a fuzzy, tawny, harmless 
young animal”, or “fawn”.  Yes, (PR could easily be the root of a Hebrew 
name (PR + WN = (PRWN [although in the defective spelling of old Biblical 
Hebrew, the presence of that vav/W in this proper name is somewhat unexpected].  
But then notice what the meaning of that name would be:  “a person who acts 
like a fuzzy, tawny, harmless young animal” or “fawn”.  A loose, but 
telling, American English paraphrase of the Hebrew name Ephron, if it’s a west 
Semitic name, would be:  “Bambi”.  If Ephron is a west Semitic name, as 
scholars would have it, then that’s exactly what the name would mean:  “Bambi”.
 
Now compare how Ephron acts when Abraham desperately needs to buy a 
gravesite for Sarah from him.  Does he act like “the lord”, “Mr. Great”, being an 
imperious Hurrian nobleman, the Hurrian ruler of a Hurrian-dominated city, 
who takes Abraham to the cleaners in extorting a gargantuan sum for this 
gravesite?  Yes.  Does he act like “Bambi”?  No.  Biblical Ephron in no way, 
shape or form acts like “a fuzzy, tawny, harmless young animal” or “fawn” 
in dealing with Abraham.  It’s so clear that anyone should be able to see it. 
 Ephron [“the lord” or “Hurrian princeling” or “Mr. Great” in Hurrian] 
charges Abraham an arm and a leg for that gravesite:
 
“Land for four hundred shekels.  A comparison with the prices stipulated 
for the purchase of property elsewhere in the Bible suggests that this 
[alleged] pittance [that Abraham pays Ephron for Sarah’s gravesite] is actually a 
king’s ransom[, a] huge sum….”  Robert Alter, “Genesis:  Translation and 
Commentary” (1996), at p. 111.
 
(PRWN works perfectly as a Hurrian name, EP-RI-Ni, meaning “the lord”.  In 
a mid-14th century BCE historical context, if Abraham wanted to buy a 
gravesite for Sarah, then he likely would have had to make that land purchase 
from a Hurrian lord, which is the very meaning, in Hurrian, of the Biblical 
name (PRWN:  (P-RW-N[i] = ep-ri-ni = “the (Hurrian) lord”.  The scholarly 
claim that Abraham is non-historically portrayed as buying Sarah’s gravesite 
from an indigenous Canaanite, a “son of the Hittites”, whose west Semitic name 
is, in effect, “Bambi”, is completely untenable on all counts.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois



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