[b-hebrew] Samson's "Jawbone": Geography and Linguistics

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Mar 4 10:07:37 EST 2011

Samson is portrayed as killing a thousand Philistines with a jawbone 
somewhere in the Shephelah, but where?  The text says Lehi/LXY at Judges 15: 9, 
14-15, which as a common word means “jawbone”, but no LXY, with that 
spelling, is attested as a geographical place name.
One logical possibility for the locale of this famous slaughter is the 
southern Shephelah.  The most prominent place in the southern Shephelah is the 
Lachish Valley, which in turn was dominated in Biblical times by the second 
most important city in Judah:  Lachish.  The Hebrew spelling is LKY$, where 
the kaf/K has no dagesh, so is pronounced similar to a heth.  We have this 
name as La-ki-$a in the Amarna Letters, so we know it’s a 3-syllable name:  
L-KY-$.  [Indeed, the later-added yod was probably put in there both to mimic 
the sound I, but more importantly to show that there is a distinct second 
syllable in this name, before the third syllable.]
What most people may not know is that the name La-ki-$a has no known 
etymology, often being explained simply as “from an unused root of uncertain 
meaning”.  This non-Hebrew proper name was thus ripe for re-interpretation by the 
>From a Hebrew point of view, the inexplicable La-khi-$a [where khi sounds 
like XY] might be thought of as having either L-Kh-Y or L-Kh as its root [of 
unknown meaning], plus a suffix $ [also of unknown meaning, though many 
non-Semitic languages have such a suffix].  L-Kh-Y/LKY [where the kaf/K has no 
dagesh] had almost the same sound as L-X-Y, which means “jawbone”.  So the 
author of Judges treated Lachish as having a root that meant, or that at 
least could be an obvious pun on the Hebrew common word LXY meaning, “jawbone”. 
 [Perhaps the final shin was even viewed as indicating “Shaddai”, in which 
case LXY + $ could be thought to mean “Jawbone of God”.]
Since LKY-$, where the kaf has no dagesh, sounds like LXY-$, it’s natural 
for a story about Samson killing all those Philistines with a “jawbone” to 
be set at a place [historical Lachish] whose name means, or at least can be 
an obvious pun on, LXY, meaning “jawbone”.
But wait.  Couldn’t LXY alternatively be viewed as being L-XY, and have a 
different meaning in Hebrew?  Is that in fact the pun being made at Genesis 
16: 14 and Genesis 25: 62?  Linguistics can tell us a lot about geography in 
the Bible.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois   

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