[b-hebrew] The Names "Abram" and "Abraham"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Sep 16 17:18:38 EDT 2011

David Kolinsky wrote:  “Avram = exalted father AND  one whose willingness 
(to engage life ) is elevated

Avraham = one who spread his wings [?BR] in pursuit of stirring experiences 
Compare my own more controversial explanation of those two names.
Abraham’s birth name was )BRM, which is )B-RM.   RM is probably from the 
verb RWM, meaning “to exalt”.
The )B in Abram, though literally meaning “father”, may well be a 
theophoric, meaning “my Father above”.
In fact, unlike the unusual and unattested (in secular history) name “
Abraham”, the name “Abram” is well-known in the secular history of the ancient 
world, being attested at Ugarit among other places.  The normal meaning of 
this vintage, normal west Semitic name would be “[My] Father [above] is exalted
”.  That’s a standard issue west Semitic name.  But that was Abraham’s 
run-of-the-mill name before he met YHWH.
When the he/H is added into the middle of )BRM, resulting in )BRHM, 
scholars are baffled.  True, adding a yod/Y into the middle of the name, resulting 
in )BYRM, would be fine, as scholars have noted.  That’s well attested in 
secular history, and would not change the meaning of the name at all.  But that
’s a yod/Y, not a he/H.  The scholarly “explanation” of the name “Abraham”
 is that either it is a mere lengthening of the name, or it is a dialectal 
variation of Abram.  Scholars take pains to add that though they themselves 
cannot really explain the meaning of the name “Abraham”, they are, 
surprisingly enough, certain that the Biblical explanation of the name “Abraham” at 
Genesis 17: 5 is completely wrong.  We’ll see about that.
Consider now the following possible etymological explanation of the 
seemingly inexplicable name )BRHM.
The )B looks the same as in )BRM, but now that )B, in )BRHM, has its more 
normal, prosaic meaning, meaning “father” in the normal sense of a human 
male who procreates [no longer referencing a deity, as in )BRM].
Consider also that the 3rd syllable in the name )BRHM may well be HM.  That 
is the root of, and hence could well be a shortened form of, the word HMWN, 
which means “multitude”.  (As will be discussed in a moment, that very 
word HMWN is used at Genesis 17: 5 in setting forth the Biblical explanation of 
the name “Abraham”.]
The -WN at the end of HMWN seems to be a mere suffix, with HMWN having a 
2-letter root:  HM.  Consider also that the Hebrew common word HM, as an 
alternative form of HMH, means “they” or “them”, as in HM at Genesis 14: 24, 
meaning “them” and referring to all of Abram’s allies [who would be a “
multitude” as it were].  HM means “more than one”, and hence could imply “a 
multitude”.  So the HM in )B-R-HM may mean “multitude”.
So far, so good, but now we get to the super-controversial part, that no 
one will like. 
On the foregoing analysis, )BRHM implies:  )B + R + HM.  That may further 
imply the following:  )B + Ra + HM, where )B is a human father, and HM means “
multitude”.  The analysis works nicely for the first and third syllables, 
but how about that super-controversial 2nd syllable?  Though it may well seem 
blasphemous today, in ancient times, prior to the Hebrews and a developed 
form of monotheism, perhaps Ra could on occasion have been used as a generic 
reference to the Deity, rather than being a reference to a particular 
Egyptian sun-god in the pantheon of pagan gods.  For example, most Egyptian 
pharaohs did not have a sun-god as their favorite or primary god, but every 
Egyptian pharaoh nevertheless cherished sa-ra/“son of God” as being his most 
important kingly title.  Thus the Egyptians themselves sometimes used Ra as a 
generic, all-purpose reference to God.  Moreover, although %R/“ruler” [or “
leader”, “commander”, “prince”, “high government official”] is usually 
viewed as deriving from the Hebrew verb %RR/“to rule” or “to act like a prince”
 or “to have power”, it is possible that, alternatively, %R was originally 
a 2-syllable word, %a-Ra, which derives from the world-famous Egyptian 
kingly title sa-ra.  [Though the etymologies are disputed, it is possible that 
such ancient Egyptian kingly title may be one basis for similar-sounding 
words meaning “king” in other ancient languages, such as the west Semitic 
sharru that was ubiquitous in Late Bronze Age Canaan during the Amarna Age, and 
the Akkadian name of Sargon the Great, Sharru-kinu, where Sharru means “king”
.  If there is a connection here, then obviously the reference in other 
ancient languages is not to a particular Egyptian sun-god.]  Thus it is 
possible that in the Bronze Age, resh/R, implying Ra [or Re in Egyptian, possibly 
Ru in other languages], could be a generic reference to Deity, not 
necessarily meaning a particular polytheistic pagan Egyptian sun-god.  
If resh/R/Ra could at the time of the pre-Hebrews have sometimes had the 
neutral meaning of God/god/deity [rather than necessarily referencing a 
particular Egyptian sun-god], then “Abraham” means:  “father [)B], [by grace of] 
God [R = Ra], [of a] multitude [HM = HMWN]”:  “father, by grace of God, of 
a multitude”.  Before insisting that such analysis is both wrong and 
blasphemous, consider what Genesis 17: 5 explicitly sets forth as the Biblical 
explanation of the name “Abraham” [per JPS1917]:
“Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be 
Abraham; for the father [)B] of a multitude [HMWN] of nations have I made thee.”
If for the pre-Hebrews resh/R could at times be a generic reference to 
Deity, then the name “Abraham” makes perfect sense, and its explanation at 
Genesis 17: 5 is completely correct.  
[On my view, there is only one author of the Patriarchal narratives.  So I 
reject the scholarly view that the author of Genesis 17: 5 had no idea 
whatsoever what the name “Abraham” meant.  On my controversial view, the author 
of the Patriarchal narratives knows of what he speaks.  I totally reject the 
following two scholarly views:  (1) that “Abram” and “Abraham” have 
identical meanings, and that (2) Genesis 17: 5 is out to lunch as to setting 
forth the meaning of the name “Abraham”.]
Moreover, in the Patriarchal Age, when the Egyptians were not yet generally 
viewed negatively by the first Hebrews, the presence of the 
Egyptian-sounding R/Ra in the middle of Patriarch Abraham’s name could be a deliberate 
attempt to portray Abraham as being the Hebrew equivalent, as to power and 
majesty, of an Egyptian pharaoh.  Though anathema to the later Hebrews, whose 
experiences with Egypt were often very negative, by contrast in the context of 
the Patriarchal Age, when Egypt was a potential ally with the early Hebrews 
against the dreaded Hittites, such an Egyptian-sounding reference in a 
Patriarch’s name makes sense.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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