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

jimstinehart at aol.com jimstinehart at aol.com
Sat Sep 17 15:17:32 EDT 2011

William Parsons:
1.  You wrote:  “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".”
I agree with everything you say except your conclusion.  We know that Ra or Re or r‘ or ri‘a is spelled R( in full form in the Patriarchal narratives, because the name of Joseph’s Egyptian priestly father-in-law ends in P-R(, representing pa-Ra, and meaning “T-h-e Ra”.  Genesis 41: 45.  But what would be the shortened form of R(?  Certainly it would be expected to be R, which we see in both the names “Abraham” and “Sarah”:  )B-R-HM and %-R-H.
2.  You wrote:  “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).”
Wouldn’t you agree that the Egyptian pharaonic title sa-ra was the best-known phrase in the ancient world?  Everyone knew that phrase, and many cultures had somewhat similar phrases, as I indicated in my prior post.  Most pharaohs didn’t care much about a sun-god, but they all proudly bore the title sa-ra.  For example, Amen is totally unlike Ra the sun-god, yet the Amen-loving pharaohs of the early 18th Dynasty all proudly bore the title sa-ra [not sa-Amen].  Here’s a standard explanation of pharaonic titles:  “royal titulary.  Classic sequence of names and titles held by each of the pharaohs consisting of five names (the so-called ‘five-fold titulary’), which was not fully established until the Middle Kingdom.  It consisted of the Horus name, the Golden Horus name, the Two Ladies name (nebty), the birth name (nomen;  sa-Ra) and the throne name (prenomen;  nesu-bit).”  Beatrix Midant-Reynes, “The Prehistory of Egypt from the First Egyptians to the First Pharaohs” (2000), at p. 273.  The point is that since  e-v-e-r-y  pharaoh had a sa-Ra title, but few pharaohs honored the sun-god Ra in particular [with Amen often being by far the most popular Egyptian god in the 18th Dynasty], in my view the grand pharaonic title sa-Ra effectively honored Deity, not just the sun-god.

It seems to me that an early Hebrew author could (i) use R as a shortened form of R(, and (ii) have the intended meaning of Deity, not focusing on a particular Egyptian sun-god.  That’s my theory of the case.

Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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