[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) 
)L-H [“Elah”].
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.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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