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

Yigal Levin Yigal.Levin at biu.ac.il
Sun Sep 18 10:29:51 EDT 2011

That "Ab-ram" is a perfectly normal and common Northwest Semitic theophoric name meaning "the father [=deity] is high\exalted" I think that we can agree on. The same for "Sarai/h", both forms meaning "Lady" - perhaps a reference to a female deity. The question is where the form "AbraHAm" came from. Assuming, as Jim claims that he does, that there is a historical reality behind the Patriarchal narratives (P-I-N-P-O-I-N-T), Abram's name was changed to Abraham WAY AFTER Abram's stay in Egypt. So there is no reason to assume that there is anything "Egyptian" about the name (unlike, say, Moses, which is very likely to be originally Egyptian). So the most likely probability is that the from "Abraham" is also NW Semitic, perhaps Amurru/"Amorite", in a local Canaanite dialect. But we know so little about local Canaanite dialects (despite what can be gleaned from the Amarna texts) that we really can't get any further.

The case or Reuben that Jim cited below, like most of the names of the sons of Jacob, is a great example of internal "midrash" - despite what the name probably "really" meant, the story uses it to convey something else. The same is true of "Yisrael", "Shemuel" and many others.

Yigal Levin

-----Original Message-----
From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of jimstinehart at aol.com
Sent: Sunday, September 18, 2011 4:42 PM
To: George.Athas at moore.edu.au; b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] The Names "Abram" and "Abraham"

George Athas:

1.  You wrote, apparently referring to my suggestion that the R in “Abraham” may be short for R(, and as such may reference Deity by using Hebrew resh/R as short for the Egyptian word r‘:  

“In addition to the linguistic impossibilities….”

But rather than being a “linguistic impossibility”, as you would have it, it’s exactly the type of brilliant, inspired linguistic gambit that we see at Genesis 29: 32:

“And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben [R)WBN]:  for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon [R)H] my affliction [B(NYY];  now therefore my husband will love me.”

Gesenius comments [with the brackets in the original]:  “R)WBN (‘see, i.e., behold, a son!’, although the author of the book of Genesis , Gen. 29:32, seems so to speak of this name as if it were for R)W [for R)WY] B(NYY ‘provided for my affliction’….).”

The author of Genesis 29: 32 is seeing BN as being short for B(NYY, where the ayin/( has been dropped in the name Reuben/R)WBN.  That’s exactly parallel to the author of Genesis 17: 5 seeing R as being short for R(, where the ayin/( has been dropped in the name )B-R-HM.  Same.

What you try to write off as a “linguistic impossibility” is precisely the type of brilliant wordplay in the Patriarchal narratives that is utterly breathtaking.

If the ayin in B(NYY can disappear in the name “Reuben” at Genesis 29: 32, then the ayin in r‘ or R( can likewise disappear in the name “Abraham” at Genesis 17: 5.  Same.

2.  Please set forth your own view as to the statement at Genesis 17: 5 as to what the name “Abraham” means.  Does the author of Genesis 17: 5 know what he’s talking about?  How does the author of Genesis 17: 5, and how should we, view the resh/R in the name “Abraham”?  Does the name “Abraham” have a different meaning than the name “Abram”, and if so, in what way do the meanings differ and why?

Andronic Khandjani, Jack Kilmon, William Parsons and Garth Grenache have each raised important, substantive objections to my theory that the resh/R in the name “Abraham”/)B-R-HM is short for r‘ or R(.  Now I am setting forth the corroborating example of the name “Reuben” at Genesis 29: 32, where the Biblical author certainly appears to have dropped an ayin/( in setting forth the Biblical explanation of the name of Jacob’s oldest son.

Why is this fascinating discussion of a linguistic analysis of the name “Abraham” being cut short?  Is it because so far not a single poster on this thread has overtly defended the scholarly analysis of the name “Abraham”, which holds that “Abraham” is supposedly merely a “lengthening” of the name “Abram”?  Shouldn’t we explore other ideas, especially a theory that relies very heavily on what the Biblical text explicitly says at Genesis 17: 5 and 29: 32?

Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

b-hebrew mailing list
b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list