[b-hebrew] "Oak Tree" in Biblical Hebrew

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Apr 19 09:35:41 EDT 2011

There is only one word in the entire Bible where the KJV translation is 
wildly different than all other English translations [of which I am aware]:  
the word )L-NY at Genesis 13: 18;  14: 13;  and 18: 1.
The phrase B-)L-NY at Genesis 13: 18 is translated “by the oaks” by ASV, 
ESV, and Darby, and “among the oaks” by Young’s Literal.  It is translated “
by the terebinths” in JPS1917 and JPS1985.
But totally different from all of the above, KJV uniquely has “in the plain”
 at Genesis 13: 18 and 14: 13, and “in the plains” at Genesis 18: 1.  Why?
The KJV translators certainly knew that (i) )L-NY probably alluded to “
strong trees”, such as “oaks” or “terebinths”, (ii) it was probably plural 
(construct), and (iii) )L-NY would not ordinarily mean “plain” or “plains” or 
anything like that.
I think that the KJV translators saw )L-NY in context as meaning “
tree-lined valley(s)”, or to be more specific:  “(a valley or valleys lined by) 
strong trees (such as oaks or terebinths)”.  In other words, although the 
literal meaning was “oaks” [or “terebinths”, “pistachio trees”, “strong trees”
, etc,], what was being referred to was the valleys of the eastern Shephelah 
that are notable for being lined with oak trees and terebinths.  Abram 
sojourned between or by these oak trees, in the Aijalon Valley [or in the 
valleys generally of the eastern Shephelah]. 
So instead of saying “by” the oaks or terebinths, or “among” the oaks, 
the KJV translators decided to say “in the plain” or “in the plains”.  “In 
the plain” means “in the tree-lined Aijalon Valley”.  “In the plains” means 
“in the tree-lined valleys of the eastern Shephelah”.
Unless the KJV translators thought that Abraham sojourned in the Aijalon 
Valley or in the valleys of the northeast Shephelah, which are notable for 
being separated from each other by magnificent groves of oaks and terebinths, 
it is hard to see why they would translate )L-NY as “plain” or “plains”.
Of course, the KJV translators knew that the King David references to XBRWN 
are to the mountainous city south of Jerusalem.  But they also knew that 
both in the Bible and in non-biblical sources, it is extremely common for two 
or more different places in Canaan to have the same name.  The KJV 
apparently is seeing XBRWN in the Patriarchal narratives as referring to the eastern 
Shephelah, whereas XBRWN in the rest of the Bible clearly refers to the 
mountainous city northwest of the Judean Desert.  The KJV translators may have 
been well aware of two facts that I myself have often noted:  (1) nothing in 
the description of the Patriarchs’ XBRWN fits the rugged mountains that 
surround the city south of Jerusalem, while everything fits the low-lying rural 
paradise of the northeast Shephelah [located west of Bethel], and (2) no 
later book in the Bible ever explicitly asserts that King David’s first capital 
was established at the place where the Patriarchs of old had sojourned.
Though no subsequent translator has followed KJV’s lead in this regard, 
perhaps the KJV translators were onto something here.  It certainly makes more 
sense for the Patriarchal narratives to portray the Patriarchs as sojourning 
in the low-lying rural paradise of the eastern Shephelah, rather than in 
the rugged mountains that tower above the city located 20 miles south of 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list