[b-hebrew] Order of Death: A Key to Understanding Genesis

Stephen Shead sshead.email at gmail.com
Tue Sep 20 22:23:37 EDT 2011


Jim:

I do not have time to interact in detail with each of your points, but you
still have not presented any evidence for your position. (You make one good
point, which I concede below, but it still doesn't support your theory.) You
repeatedly say things like, "the text presents..." or "the Hebrew text tells
us...", and then finish the sentence with things that the text simply does
not say! What you really mean is: "The reconstruction of events that I would
like to suggest, which I believe is compatible with the details and implied
by the narrative, is...". And in this case, as in many others, my response
is: No, it is not even compatible with the text, much less implied by the
narrative. I will let others decide whether they agree or not.

But in brief, a few points of response:

1. I concede your point on Hagar being Sarai's handmaiden (in Genesis 16:2)
- you're right on the importance of that fact for the child to be Sarai's.
Note: This does NOT amount to evidence for your theory. It adds not a shred
of probability. It simply means Genesis 16:2 does not *undermine* your
theory.

2. However, Genesis 15:2: Despite your long response, this really does
undermine your argument. Your point on (RYRY is meaningless: of course it
means "childless", unless you want to press the etymological fallacy to an
extreme. In fact, vv.3-4 make it perfectly clear that Abraham means,
literally, "childless"; hence:

- v.3, Abraham complains that YHWH has given him no ZR(. No mention of Sarai
- "you have given *me* no seed". And no mention of a proper male heir / a
son by his beloved main wife, just "seed". For Abraham.

- v.4, Furthermore, in response to the strange phrase about "Eliezer of
Damascus" in v.3b, the LORD's promise is that "this one will not inherit
you, but rather he who will come out of your own loins, he will inherit
you." The contrast is very clear: his current heir did not come from his
(Abraham's) own loins. He has no child, period.

3. You wrote: [JS] "At a minimum, Abraham has 8 named sons.  The text
presents Abraham siring Isaac in Abraham’s old age as being semi-miraculous,
a feature which is an integral part of the Covenant between Abraham and
YHWH.  So we know that Abraham’s other 7 named sons were born before Isaac.
The implication is that the 6 named sons by Keturah were born before Ishmael
. . ."

Huh??!?! No, we do NOT "know" the former, and the latter is nowhere
"implied"! Isaac's birth was miraculous mainly because Sarai was barren
(Gen. 11:30; 16:2). Yes, they were both old, but as you point out, there is
clearly no problem with Abraham's virility - he bore Ishmael with no
problem. The main obstacle was that "The way of women had ceased to be with
Sarah" (18:11). Once Isaac was born, who's to say Abraham didn't think to
himself, "maybe more are possible"?

As for ALL the other 6 named children being born before Ishmael: This is
pure speculation. Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born, and lived to 175.
Again, as you point out, there is no problem in the narrative with his
virility. Exactly what is there to suggest that some of these children
weren't born, say, when he was 88, 90, 92, 94, 96 or 98?

We don't even know, in fact, that he married Keturah before Sarah's death!
It's a reasonable proposal - there are any number of reasonable proposals
one could make, because of the millions of details the narrator isn't
particularly interested in - but none of these things are in the text, nor
even implied. You seem to imagine you are sensitive to subtle hints in the
text, but it ain't so!

You even have the audacity to write: "So even on your theory of the case,
Ishmael is the second to last born of 8 named sons of Abraham." Are you
serious, Jim??? Are you even reading what I'm writing? On my theory of the
case, the text seems to present Ishmael as Abraham's first-born son, but if
that's not the case, then we have absolutely no idea where in the order of
sons he came.

4. On NPL, appealing to Genesis 14:10, you write:

[JS] "Several commentators have noted that if the text ended here, we would
think that the princeling ruler of Sodom had “died”, since NPL in a battle
context normally implies “died”, not merely “fell”.  But in fact, we find
out at the end of chapter 14 of Genesis that the princeling ruler of Sodom
had merely literally “fallen” into the slimepits, rather than having died
there.  It’s a great example of how NPL can mean “die”, and it’s also a
great example of how the Hebrew author often makes us wait before giving us
additional important information that is needed to understand things he has
said before."

You have managed to back up my point, and contradict yourself at the same
time! You've helpfully pointed out that, despite what one might be tempted
to think, NPL here clearly does not mean "die", it simply means "fell". So
it is not at all an example of how NPL can mean "die", because it doesn't!
Hence, as I said, NPL n-e-v-e-r means "die" in the Patriarchal Narratives.
(Oh, and even if it did mean "die" in Gen 14, which it doesn't, it's in a
battle context, which Gen 25 isn't!)

That's all I am going to comment on. If there's anyone else on the list who
thinks there is a shred of credibility in your reconstruction, I might look
at it again, but otherwise I'm not going to take more time on this. Feel
free to have the last word (if the moderators allow you).

Cheers,
Stephen Shead
Santiago, Chile

On 20 September 2011 18:21, <JimStinehart at aol.com> wrote:

> **
>
> Stephen Shead:****
>
> ** **
>
> 1.  In response to my assertion that "Though we don’t hear about Abraham’s sons by minor wives until a later point in the text, nevertheless such sons WOULD HAVE BEEN sired by Abraham at a younger age", you wrote:****
>
> ** **
>
> “Really? How do we know? Genesis certainly doesn't tell us that. All of them born before Ishmael in Genesis 16??? Then why on earth does Sarah say what she does in Gen 16:2? And why did Abraham say in Gen 15:2 that Eliezer of Damascus would be his heir, if in fact he already had at least half a dozen natural sons?”****
>
> ** **
>
> (a)  Genesis 16: 2 reads as follows:  “ <http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Gen&c=16&v=2&t=KJV#comm/2>And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.”****
>
> ** **
>
> Sarai has never borne a child to this point.  Using a custom documented at the Hurrian province of Nuzi [and remembering that Abram and Sarai had spent some time near there, at Harran in eastern Syria], Sarai gives Abram one of Sarai’s maids to be the birth mother of a son on Sarai’s behalf.  The key is that Hagar is  S-a-r-a-i ’ s  handmaiden, not a concubine of Abram’s.  Abram had previously sired 6 named sons by Keturah, so Sarai and Abram both knew that Abram was fully capable of siring sons.****
>
> ** **
>
> (b)  Genesis 15: 2 is probably best understood as being a cry of exasperation by Abram, rather than being a heartfelt proposition by Abram.  Moreover, the translation of “childless” is not the literal meaning of the Hebrew word, which means “void of aid” or “stripped bare” or “desolate” or “solitary”, etc.  What Abram is alluding to is that he is desperate to sire a proper male heir by his beloved main wife Sarai, which just is not happening.  Abram is not in fact complaining about any lack of virility on Abram’s part.  To that point, Abram had sired 6 named sons by minor wife Keturah, and probably about 4 other sons by other concubines, but Abram did not want to name any of those sons by minor wives as his heir.  Abram never says that Abram is not virile.  Indeed, almost immediately after Sarai gives Hagar to Abram, Hagar promptly gets pregnant.  So Abram’s complaint is not a complaint about his own lack of virility [with Abram, like the other Patriarchs, being plenty virile], but rather the complaint is that Abram’s beloved original main wife #1, Sarai, unfortunately has reached middle age and is still barren.  In the ancient world, as you probably know, if a man was capable of having relations with a woman, but the woman did not get pregnant, then everyone assumed that it was the woman who had the problem, not the man.  Though we would not necessarily jump to that conclusion today, that was ubiquitous throughout the ancient world.****
>
> ** **
>
> (c)  The text presents Abraham as being righteous and admirable in no small part because Abraham properly insists on having a proper male heir by his beloved original main wife #1.  [Abraham in fact has only one main wife, Sarah.]  The depth of Abraham’s righteousness in this regard does not become fully apparent to the audience until chapter 25 of Genesis, when belatedly the author reveals that Abraham had sired many sons by minor wives.  In the ancient world, one’s heirs were normally and properly one’s children by one’s main wife, and normally and properly excluded children borne by minor wives or concubines.****
>
> ** **
>
> 2.  You wrote:  “In fact, if the author of the Patriarchal Narratives had wanted us to see the connection, why on earth would he not have specified that there were 4 sons of concubines?? And named them also, as was customary? There is no reason whatsoever for the omission.  Actually, I think the most likely explanation for the lack of names is that the "sons of his concubines" is a shorthand for Ishmael and the sons of Keturah (notwithstanding the details his relations with Hagar and Keturah, in terms of their respective statuses). That is, they have already been numbered and named, and there aren't 12. And Keturah is called Abraham's "concubine" in 1 Chr. 1:32, so there is ancient interpretation on my side.”****
>
> ** **
>
> (a)  At a minimum, Abraham has 8 named sons.  The text presents Abraham siring Isaac in Abraham’s old age as being semi-miraculous, a feature which is an integral part of the Covenant between Abraham and YHWH.  So we know that Abraham’s other 7 named sons were born before Isaac.  The implication is that the 6 named sons by Keturah were born before Ishmael, because at the time that Abram sires Ishmael, Abram and Sarai are already getting quite old.  So even on your theory of the case, Ishmael is the second to last born of 8 named sons of Abraham.  That is comparable to Joseph being the second to last born of 12 named sons of Jacob.  In fact, there is no reason to think that Abraham had only one minor wife or concubine, namely Keturah.****
>
> ** **
>
> (b)  The Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives is a master storyteller who gives us only enough information to enable us to be able to figure things out, and sometimes he strategically withholds certain information until later, so that we find out certain important information after the fact.  The text implies that Abraham had 12 blood sons, without explicitly stating that.****
>
> ** **
>
> 3.  You wrote:  “Jim, what you fail to mention is that, aside from this supposed instance, NPL is never used in the Patriarchal narratives to mean "die". Not once, not even with a faint dying connotation. In fact, as far as I can tell, in the whole Hebrew Bible, where NPL means "die", it is almost always (if not always) in the context of battle - i.e. "fell [in battle]" - clearly not applicable in this case. It is simply not a normal word to report a person's death.”****
>
> ** **
>
> Please see Genesis 14: 10 in this regard:  “And the vale of Siddim [was full of] slimepits; and the kings of **Sodom** and ****Gomorrah**** fled [NPL], and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain.”****
>
> ** **
>
> Several commentators have noted that if the text ended here, we would think that the princeling ruler of ****Sodom**** had “died”, since NPL in a battle context normally implies “died”, not merely “fell”.  But in fact, we find out at the end of chapter 14 of Genesis that the princeling ruler of ****Sodom**** had merely literally “fallen” into the slimepits, rather than having died there.  It’s a great example of how NPL can mean “die”, and it’s also a great example of how the Hebrew author often makes us wait before giving us additional important information that is needed to understand things he has said before.****
>
> ** **
>
> 4.  You wrote:  “Furthermore, there is a clear reference to the prophecy of Genesis 16:12: "He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen." The last phrase is almost identical to the last part of Gen. 25:18: W(L-PNY KL-)XYW Y$KN. The only difference is that, in Gen. 16:12, the verb $KN "settle, live, dwell" is used, rather than NPL.”****
>
> ** **
>
> (a)  Yes, the different verb makes all the difference.  The second half of Genesis 25: 18 is telling us Ishmael’s order of death.****
>
> ** **
>
> (b)  You use the translation “kinsmen”, but that’s not what the Hebrew text of Genesis 16: 12 says.  It says:  “brothers”.  Ishmael has no full-brothers, but as we have been discussing, Ishmael has many half-brothers.  As to the Hurrian state of Mitanni in eastern Syria, Abraham’s sons MDN and MDYN by Keturah are sent out “east” to Mitanni [Genesis 25: 6], yet Ishmael’s descendants are there, too, as MDN-YM/Mitannians at Genesis 37: 27-36, so we know that Ishmaelites are interacting with Abraham’s sons by Keturah in eastern Syria.  More importantly, of course, is that these particular Ishmaelites pass right through the center of Canaan, near where Ishmael’s elderly half-brother Isaac and Abraham’s grandson Jacob are living, and take Joseph to ****Egypt**** as a slave.  So the Ishmaelites also interact with Ishmael’s half-brother Isaac in Canaan, at least indirectly, and they interact very directly with Isaac’s descendants in **Canaan**.****
>
> ** **
>
> (c)  Once again, the old KJV is a rare accurate translation of the second half of Genesis 16: 12:  “and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”  Based on the last third of chapter 37 of Genesis, we know that that prophecy comes true in spades.  Ishmael dwells in the presence of his half-brothers, and so naturally Ishmael’s descendants interact both with the descendants of Keturah’s sons MDN and MDYN in eastern **Syria**, as some Ishmaelites are Mitannians/MDN-YM, and more importantly some Ishmaelites traverse Canaan proper and take Joseph [the grandson of Ishmael’s half-brother Isaac] to ****Egypt**** as a slave.  Chapter 37 shows that the prophecy at Genesis 16: 12 is confirmed to the nth  degree.****
>
> ** **
>
> 5.  You wrote:  “In sum: "the Hebrew text of Genesis" tells us none of the things you claim it does.”****
>
> ** **
>
> The Hebrew text presents each of Ishmael and Joseph as being the second to last of many sons born to a great Patriarch, who nevertheless predeceases all of his many older half-brothers.  Neither Ishmael nor Joseph is picked by his father to be the leader of the next generation of the Hebrews, though each had been his father’s favorite son.  The birth mother of neither Ishmael nor Joseph is the original main wife #1 of such son’s father the Patriarch.  [Joseph’s mother Rachel married Jacob 7 days after Jacob first married Leah, so that Leah is Jacob’s original main wife #1, not Rachel.]  If, as is a reasonable surmise, Abraham had 12 blood sons, then the birth order and death order of Ishmael and Joseph is  i-d-e-n-t-i-c-a-l :  each is the second to last born of 12 sons of a great Patriarch, who nevertheless predeceases all 10 of his older half-brothers, showing divine disfavor for this son whose birth mother was not his father’s original main wife #1.  That’s what the received Hebrew text is telling us.   ****
>
> ** **
>
> Jim Stinehart****
>
> ****Evanston**, **Illinois********
>
>


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