[b-hebrew] Traveling "By Stages"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Apr 5 10:31:03 EDT 2011

Traveling “By Stages”
In Genesis, the word LMS(YW only appears at Genesis 13: 3.  It means “by 
stages” [Wenham, “Genesis 1-15” (1987), at p. 296], and is often [though not 
always] translated as “by stages”.  The same basic idea is conveyed in 
another manner at Genesis 12: 9, where we see WYS(…WNSW(.  Wenham at p. 267 
explains the grammatical construction here as “Waw consec + 3 masc sg impf NS(.”
  Robert Alter, “Genesis” (1996) also gets excited about this grammatical 
construction at Genesis 12: 9, and comments at p. 51:  “The verb for ‘
journey’ in verse 9 also derives from another term for pulling up of tent stakes, 
and the progressive form in which it is cast is a precise indication of 
movement through successive encampments.”  Alter uses the phrase “by stages” 
to translate Genesis 12: 9:  “And Abram journeyed onward by stages to the 
At p. 281, the earlier part of Wenham’s explanation of this verse is O.K., 
but then he errs grievously in misrepresenting what Genesis 12: 9 says:  “‘
Went on traveling toward the Negev’ summarizes several stages in Abram’s 
journey southward.  The grammatical construction (see Notes [quoted above]) 
suggests a series of encampments.  The root NS( is particularly common in 
descriptions of Israel’s wilderness wanderings (e.g. Num 33), and it may not be 
coincidental that the term is introduced when Abram reaches the area closely 
associated with them, viz., ‘the Negeb’.”
No, no, no!  Genesis 12: 9 does  n-o-t  say that!  Genesis 12: 9 clearly 
and unequivocally says that the time and place when Abram and Lot travel “by 
stages” is when Abraham and Lot are between Bethel and Negev, and have not 
yet reached the Negev, but rather are traveling “toward” the Negev.  It is  
n-o-t  after Abram “reaches” the Negev that Abram journeys “by stages”.  A 
thousand times No!  Rather, it is when Abram and Lot are  b-e-t-w-e-e-n  
Bethel and the Negeb that they travel “by stages”.
The exact term “by stages” is used in the identical locale at Genesis 13: 
3:  “And he went on by stages from the Negeb up to Bethel….”  [Alter 
translation]  Notice that the  o-n-l-y  time in the entirety of the Patriarchal 
narratives when anyone is said to travel “by stages” is precisely when Abram 
and Lot are  b-e-t-w-e-e-n  the Negev and Bethel [not when anyone is  i-n  
the Negev].  Though different wording is used at Genesis 12: 9 and Genesis 
13: 3, both verses insist that when Abram and Lot are  b-e-t-w-e-e-n  Bethel 
and the Negev [not in the Negev], they travel “by stages”.
What’s going on here?  What route did Abram and Lot take in traveling 
between the Negev and Bethel in the context of going to and from Egypt, with some 
animals going with Abram to Egypt, and many animals coming back with Abram 
from Egypt? 
If we focus on the words (i) LMS(YW at Genesis 13: 3, and (ii) WYS(…WNSW( 
at Genesis 12: 9, we can figure out the exact route that Abram and Lot took 
between Bethel and the Negev in traveling to and from Egypt.  The huge payoff 
in paying close attention to the Hebrew text here is that we will find out, 
for the first time, what Lot felt that Lot was giving up in choosing to 
travel east of Bethel when Lot and Abram split up at Bethel.  What life was 
there to be lived in the route that Abram and Lot had taken between the Negev 
and Bethel?  Didn’t Lot give up that lifestyle awfully quickly, and soon was 
living the soft life in Sodom with a roofbeam over his head?  On the other 
hand, why does Abraham seem so content in living in the very place where 
Abram and Lot have traveled between the Negev and Bethel, to the extent that one 
even worries a bit that Abraham might have given up on the divine promise 
of  a-l-l  of Canaan, if Abraham could continue living in harmony there 
[where he and Lot had recently traveled together “by stages”] and have a son by 
Sarah [or maybe, perish the thought, even content himself with a son on Sarah
’s behalf by Hagar]?  YHWH actually seems to have to push Abraham a bit on 
both fronts, insisting that Abraham’s proper heir will be borne by Sarah 
[despite Abraham championing Ishmael’s cause at Genesis 17: 18], and also 
insisting that Abraham get off his duff and start sojourning in GRR.  It is 
critically important to note that (i) Abraham perfects his claim to  a-l-l  of 
Canaan, having moved to GRR, at the same time as (ii) Lot forfeits his claim 
to any part of Canaan, with Lot being unceremoniously [but properly] reduced 
to living in a cave, and (iii) Sarah gets pregnant with Isaac.  All three of 
those events happen at virtually the same time, and that’s no coincidence.  
YHWH in effect won’t let Abraham have a son by Sarah until Abraham moves to 
GRR, and Abraham can’t move to GRR until Lot’s provisional claims to part 
of Canaan are out of the way, so all of these pending issues are going to be 
resolved in one fell swoop, all at the same time:  Lot begins living in a 
cave, Abraham moves to GRR [thereby perfecting his claim to all of Canaan, as 
divinely promised and insisted upon], and Sarah gets pregnant with Isaac.  
Game, set, match.
But we cannot understand the story unless we start from the beginning, and 
focus on the words LMS(YW at Genesis 13: 3 and WYS(…WNSW( at Genesis 12: 9.  
Where exactly were Abraham and Lot when they were traveling “by stages”?  
Why does Abraham love the lifestyle there, seeming to consider it perfect in 
all ways [with Abraham perhaps being a bit too comfortable there, from YHWH’
s perspective], whereas Lot effectively says “good riddance” to that 
lifestyle, and without ever looking back confidently proceeds east from Bethel?  
The words LMS(YW and WYS(…WNSW( are telling us what route Abram and Lot took 
between Bethel and the Negev, if we take the exact wording of the Hebrew 
text seriously, and are willing to question/jettison the traditional and 
scholarly view.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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