[b-hebrew] "Oak Tree" in Biblical Hebrew
JimStinehart at aol.com
JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Apr 13 10:15:59 EDT 2011
A person sent me some information about trees in Canaan, including the
following comment: “As you may know I'm studying the Biblical flora and there
is a difference between אלה elah or alah "oak" and אלון de Pistachia or
Terebinth according Michael Zohary and other botanists.” Let’s check out
that insight as it applies to the Patriarchal narratives.
1. At Genesis 13: 18, 14: 13 and 18: 1, three times in fairly quick
succession, the text insists that the Patriarchs’ X-BR-W-N is characterized by:
)L-N. So that is the #1 word here. I see the Patriarchs’ X-BR-W-N as being
a Hurrian-based Patriarchal nickname, xa-vur-u-ne, meaning “Heaven on Earth”
, and applying to the low-lying eastern Shephelah in the Late Bronze Age.
By contrast, all university scholars accept the traditional, pre-scholarly
view that X-BR-W-N refers to the city northwest of the Judean Desert that is
surrounded by the Hebron Mountains. Scholars are not bothered by the fact
that there is no non-biblical evidence pre-dating the post-exilic period to
support the view that such mountainous city had such name, but that bothers
me. The key to figuring out this enigma may be to focus on what kinds of
trees were found in which parts of Canaan during which ancient time periods.
(a) )L-N seems to be the defective, original spelling of )L-WN, which
botanist Michael Zohary sees as being the pistachio tree or terebinth. Note
that when Jacob is at X-BR-W-N, one of the gifts he selects for an Egyptian
official [a disguised Joseph] is pistachios [and also almonds]. Genesis 43:
11. Although the text does not insist that the pistachios were locally grown
at X-BR-W-N, that seems to be the implication. So in the Abraham segment,
X-BR-W-N is characterized by )L-N, and in the Jacob segment, the pistachio
nuts from the )L-N are a gift from Canaan to Egypt. Nice!
(b) Now consider the standard Hebrew spelling of the name in the Amarna
Letters for the same place as I see as being the Patriarchs’ X-BR-W-N: )YL-WN
[“Aijalon”]. Compare that proper name, )YL-WN, to the Hebrew word for the
pistachio tree: )L-N or )L-WN. We see that the only difference is that
the interior yod is missing in the proper name.
I myself see both )L-N and )L-WN as being but orthographic variations on
)YL-WN. If )L-N and )L-WN mean “pistachio tree”, then )YL-WN [“Aijalon”]
means “Pistachio Tree City”.
(c) If the foregoing linguistic analysis is right, then we know, based on
Hebrew linguistics, that the pistachio tree was prominent in the
northeastern Shephelah during the Late Bronze Age, based on that proper name from the
Amarna Letters. Historians and historical botanists say the same thing, but
instead of quoting them, on the b-hebrew list it is more appropriate to
demonstrate this key item by using Hebrew linguistics.
(d) Now consider that there are no names of that type in the Hebron
Mountains. That is one important indication that at least as of the Late Bronze
Age, it was too hot and dry in southern hill country for pistachio trees to
flourish. No place in the southern hill country is named for pistachio trees
because from the Late Bronze Age to the present, that locale has never been
notable for pistachio trees or similar such trees. And an oak tree needs
even more water than a pistachio tree.
Yet just as surely, proper names that reflect trees similar to the
pistachio tree are a dime a dozen in the lovely Shephelah. Here are three more:
(i) )YL-WN [“Elon”]; (ii) )YL-WN BYT HNN [“Elon-Bet-Hanan”]; and (iii)
Thus if we pay attention to Hebrew linguistics instead of blindly following
the pre-scholarly view, we find that the Shephelah in the Late Bronze Age
was famous for pistachio trees and similar such trees, whereas southern hill
country was not. That’s what the objective evidence from all these various
geographical place names is telling us.
2. In determining which time period is being reflected by the text of the
Patriarchal narratives, based on evaluating these trees, we should consider
the dramatic difference in climate between the Late Bronze Age on the one
hand, and the Early and Middle Bronze Ages on the other hand. Prior to the
Late Bronze Age, the climate was much wetter and better. In fact, prior to
the Late Bronze Age, a majority of Canaan was covered by forest. In that
world, there would be little reason to call a city )YL-WN [“Aijalon”], meaning “
Pistachio Tree City”, because trees such as that were commonplace
throughout Canaan. But then the terribly dry period of the Late Bronze Age afflicted
Canaan. Southern hill country lost many of its strong trees, because now
it was too hot and dry for those trees to flourish there. But strong trees
like the pistachio tree [and oak trees and sycamores as well] continued to
flourish in the humid Shephelah. What had formerly been commonplace was now
notable in the Late Bronze Age: all those magnificent pistachio trees and
oak trees and sycamores that lined the low ridges that separate the various
valleys in the Shephelah. So as of the Late Bronze Age [but not earlier], the
Shephelah became famous in southern Canaan as the place that featured
magnificent pistachio trees and oak trees and sycamore trees. Not only do
historians and historical botanists see it that way, but also the Hebrew
linguistic analysis on this thread leads to the same result.
3. After Lot left Bethel going east, tentatively claiming the Jordan River
Valley that he and Abram had traversed not too long ago, that naturally
left for Abram the area west of Bethel that the two men had just now traversed “
in stages”, per Genesis 12: 9 and 13: 3: the famed Diagonal Route through
the Shephelah, which includes (i) Lachi-$a [Biblical Beer Laxi-Rai]; (ii)
Beth Shemesh, formerly known at RB-T/Rubutu, featuring R-B [Biblical Kiriath
Arba, which likewise features R-B]; and of course (iii) Aijalon/)YL-WN
[being the “pistachio trees” place, which the text references three times
regarding the Patriarchs’ X-BR-W-N: )L-N]. The linguistics match for the
Shephelah, and for nowhere else.
If we focus on the Hebrew word for “pistachio tree”, we can determine
based on linguistics that the Patriarchs’ X-BR-W-N is the eastern Shephelah in
the Late Bronze Age. That linguistic analysis fits in perfectly with
Amarna Letters EA 271: 16 and EA 299: 12-21 from princelings in the Aijalon
Valley, which refer to “the power of the Apiru” and say that “the Apiru are
stronger than we….” So we know historically that tent-dwellers were an
important factor in the Aijalon Valley in the Shephelah in the Amarna Age.
The description in Genesis of where the Patriarchs are portrayed as
sojourning is not Biblical fiction, but rather has pinpoint historical accuracy in a
Late Bronze Age historical context, as confirmed on the linguistic front
by the city name “Aijalon” in the Amarna Letters.
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