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

Jack Kilmon jkilmon at historian.net
Sat Sep 17 10:27:04 EDT 2011

Hi Jim:

If an historical Abram/Abraham existed, he rose from a community of of a 
moon god cult typical of western Semitic cultures.  Ur and Haran were 
centers of the moon god "Sin" and Abram's father's name, Terah, and his 
brother's name, Haran, are associated with moon worship.  Given the text is 
silent about Abraham's monotheism, the story of Abraham's sojourn to Canaan 
may be a midrash on the adoption/movement by Arameans to Yahwism.  I don't 
think we need to go to Egypt to find a RA theophoric to explain the name 
change but need to look for a Semitic root.  If my critical examination of 
the historicity of Abraham offends anyone, my apologies.


Jack Kilmon
Houston, TX

-----Original Message----- 
From: JimStinehart at aol.com
Sent: Friday, September 16, 2011 4:18 PM
To: yishalom at sbcglobal.net ; George.Athas at moore.edu.au
Cc: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] The Names "Abram" and "Abraham"

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 
world, being attested at Ugarit among other places.  The normal meaning of
this vintage, normal west Semitic name would be “[My] Father [above] is 
”.  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, 
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 
’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 
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 
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 
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 
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 
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, 
the Akkadian name of Sargon the Great, Sharru-kinu, where Sharru means 
.  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, 
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 
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 
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 

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 
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 
attempt to portray Abraham as being the Hebrew equivalent, as to power and
majesty, of an Egyptian pharaoh.  Though anathema to the later Hebrews, 
experiences with Egypt were often very negative, by contrast in the context 
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
b-hebrew mailing list
b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list