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

Jack Kilmon jkilmon at historian.net
Sat Sep 17 16:47:43 EDT 2011

From: jimstinehart at aol.com 
Sent: Saturday, September 17, 2011 1:47 PM
To: jkilmon at historian.net ; b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org 
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] The Names "Abram" and "Abraham"

Jack Kilmon wrote:  “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.”

I know people don’t like Egypt, because of the Book of Exodus.  But if the Patriarchal narratives are old [my view], then they were composed before Egypt began to oppress the Hebrews.  So back in the Patriarchal Age, there should be little or no anti-Egypt bias among the first Hebrews.  Thus unlike in the rest of the Bible, one sees this surprising pro-Egypt ancient mindset of the first Hebrews in Genesis:  “And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Say unto thy brethren, This do ye; lade your beasts, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan;  And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.”  Genesis 45: 17-18

JK] If Joseph is historical, Jim (and I think some form of it is), it predated Yahwistic Hebrews.  The Hebrew dialect of Canaanite had not yet developed and I think we need to look at Northwest Semitic for an L/R shift which was not uncommon.

There is no Aramaic word ra, or anything similar, that means “Deity”, is there?  But as noted in my prior post, r’ or ra or re could have the generic meaning of “Deity” in Egyptian.
We have to consider that the Patriarchal narrative may have been constructed in Iron II or even Iron III and placed in the Bronze Age given the anachronism of “Ur of the Chaldees” (post-9th century BCE).  I am really hard pressed to look for Afro-Asiatic roots to a clearly NW Semitic name.

We can see this more clearly if we look at the name “Sarah”.  Gesenius states that %RH, the divinely-changed name of Abraham’s wife, is the feminine of the noun %R.  %R means “prince, ruler, leader, chief, chieftain, official, captain”.  As I noted in my prior post, although %R/“ruler” 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.  The Egyptian way of making sa-ra feminine would be sat-ra, but the Hebrew way of making a foreign word into a name, including a woman’s name, is to add -H at the end, so that sa-ra would be Hebrewized into a woman’s name by becoming sa-ra-h, or %RH.  All of this works perfectly if, in the Patriarchal Age, an early Hebrew could view R as being a generic reference to Deity.  On that analysis, %RH is %-R-H, where -H in effect means “she” [indicating a woman’s name, the Hebrew way], -R- means God, with one meaning of  r’ or ra or re in Egyptian being a generic reference to Deity, and % means sa, which in Egyptian means “son”.  So %-R-H means “she[, from whom will come] sons [who will be] kings”.  That’s exactly what Genesis 17: 15-16 tells us the name “Sarah”/%RH means:  “And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah [%RH] [shall] her name [be].  And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be [a mother] of nations; kings of people shall be of her.”

Thus if R means “God” in both the names “Abraham” and “Sarah”, based on the Egyptian word r’ or ra or re, and if % in the name “Sarah” means “son”, based on the Egyptian word sa, then both the names “Abraham” and “Sarah” have the exact meanings that are stated for them in the text of chapter 17 of Genesis.  I know it’s hard for people to think that a Patriarch or Matriarch could have a name that is in part based on Egyptian words, but remember that if the Patriarchal narratives are old, then they reflect a time period before the Hebrews were oppressed by Egypt.  So why not use sa-ra, the best-known phrase in the entirety of the ancient world, as the basis for the names of Patriarch and Matriarch Abraham and Sarah?  If the Patriarchal narratives are really old, it makes sense.

Well, I use to be somewhat fluent in Middle Egyptian and R) (RA) means “sun” symbolized by a circle/disk and NTR means “god” symbolized by a flag-like glyph, three of them NTRW for “gods.”  Of course, it being difficult to find people to converse with that are not mummified, I have lost a lot of it. <grin> I think the possibility of the L-R shift makes an Egyptian origin unlikely based simply on homophonics.

The two exciting aspects of my controversial etymologies of the names “Abraham” and “Sarah” are that then (1) those two names would mean exactly what chapter 17 of Genesis tells us those two names mean, and (2) the Patriarchal narratives are really old, having been composed [by a single early Hebrew author] before Egypt began oppressing the Hebrews.  “Accurate and old”:  that pretty much sums up my view of the Patriarchal narratives.

I have a chronology problem with that. If we speculate the patriarchal narrative dated to MBA1 there are no “Hebrews” until Iron1.  That these stories may have been the campfire stories of nomadic Canaanite shepherds, I can accept.
Jack Kilmon
Houston, TX
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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