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

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Sat Sep 17 13:42:13 EDT 2011

Hello Jim,

I will comment only on the aspect of Ra below...

On Fri, 16 Sep 2011 17:18:38 -0400 (EDT), JimStinehart at aol.com wrote:

> 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.

I see a phonological problem with "Ra" here.  Although the form "Ra" is
commonly used in English for the Egyptian sun god, this transcription is
based on a earlier misunderstanding of the Egyptian writing system, in which
the name is written in a way corresponding to   /R( in Hebrew.  The second
letter corresponds to Hebrew `ayin and is definitely consonantal in Egyptian,
but was earlier thought to represent a long "a".  The spelling "Re" is better
in that it uses the Coptic vocalization, but even this is far from how the
name was pronounced in much earlier times, such as that of Abraham.  We happen
to have a cuneiform transcription of a name containing r` from the Amarna
period that indicates the vocalization of the name at that time was ri`a, so I
can't see how this fits particularly well with the [ra] in "Abraham".

On another note, I don't see that "Ra" was ever used as a generic term
for God in Egypt.  As far as I can see, it always referred to a specific
deity (although there could be identification with other, specific, deities,
such as Ammon).

William Parsons

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