[b-hebrew] Ezer vs. Ezer

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Aug 21 10:27:36 EDT 2013


 
Ezer vs. Ezer 
In the English of KJV, “Ezer”  at Genesis 36: 21 cannot be distinguished 
from “Ezer” at I Chronicles 4: 4.  Their English spellings are identical,  
even though their Biblical Hebrew spellings are night and day different:  )CR 
vs. (ZR.  Although we on the b-hebrew list do not  care too much about the 
English renderings of Biblical names, we nevertheless  should care about the 
somewhat comparable phenomenon of how Biblical names would  have been 
rendered in cuneiform writing, for the reasons discussed in this  post.   
The oldest part of the Bible,  if it is a really old written text from the 
Bronze Age [before alphabetical  writing was well-developed], must have been 
written in Akkadian cuneiform [which  is well-attested in south-central 
Canaan in the  Amarna Age].  Was cuneiform writing  oddly like English in being 
unable to distinguish Ezer vs. Ezer above, even  though the Hebrew 
spellings of those two names are completely different?  We know that the “Ezer” at 
Chronicles 4:  4 would have been recorded in Akkadian cuneiform as a-zi-ri, 
per Amarna Letter  EA 160: 2.  [The root of this name  is the Hebrew verb 
(ZR, meaning “to help”, which appears at Genesis  49: 25.]  Note that the 
first letter there in the  cuneiform rendering is the Akkadian true vowel A, as 
Akkadian cuneiform had no  direct way of recording west Semitic ayin. 
We can’t be totally sure of how the “Ezer”  at Genesis 36: 21 would have 
been recorded in cuneiform, because that name is  not in the Amarna Letters.  
But we  can be quite sure how the first letter would have been recorded.  
The aleph/) as the first letter in that  name Ezer is the same letter as the 
aleph/) which is the first letter  of the name “Abimelek”.  [The  Abimelek 
in the Amarna Letters has the same name, and is the same person as, the  
Abimelek in chapters 20, 21 and 26 of Genesis.]  The name “Abimelek” is 
recorded in  cuneiform as a-bi-mil-ki.  Amarna  Letter EA 154: 2.  [The root of 
the  first half of that name is )B, meaning “father”, as in the names “Abram”
 and  “Abraham”.]  Akkadian had no aleph,  just as it had no ayin, so the 
Akkadian cuneiform of the Amarna Letters usually  recorded both such west 
Semitic letters as the Akkadian true vowel  A. 
Thus as to the first letter,  the “Ezer” at Genesis 36: 21 cannot be 
distinguished from the “Ezer” at I  Chronicles 4: 4 in cuneiform writing:  in 
both cases, that first letter was recorded as the Akkadian true vowel  A in 
the cuneiform of the Amarna Letters.  
The moral of this story is  that if you see an aleph/) as the first letter 
of a non-Hebrew foreign name in  the oldest part of the Bible, if it was 
originally recorded in cuneiform, you  cannot tell if that first letter was 
originally intended to be an aleph/) or an  ayin/(.  Why?  Because the Akkadian 
cuneiform of the  Amarna Letters made no distinction whatsoever between 
those two very different  west Semitic letters, and for a non-Hebrew name, the 
underlying meaning of such  name may well be obtuse. 
Why is that of critical  importance to the b-hebrew list?  Because then one 
comes to realize that when one sees that the first  letter in the name of 
Joseph’s Egyptian wife is aleph/), there is no guarantee  against the very 
real possibility that the first letter of her name may in fact  have 
originally been intended to be an ayin/(, if that name was first recorded  in 
cuneiform [and only centuries later was transformed into alphabetical  Hebrew].  
Many people have wondered  why scholars have never been able to make sense of 
the name of Joseph’s Egyptian  wife.  The reason for that is that  scholars 
have accepted at face value the assumption that the first letter of her  
name was originally intended to be an aleph/), since that is what appears in 
the  received alphabetical Hebrew text.  But in fact, what was there, 
originally, was simply the Akkadian true  vowel A, in cuneiform, which could just as 
easily be Hebrew ayin/( as Hebrew  aleph/). 
The  o-n-l-y  way to make sense of  the name of Joseph’s Egyptian wife, “
Asenath”, is to recognize that the first  letter was originally intended to 
be ayin/(, not aleph/).  That mix-up occurred because of the  confusion of 
gutturals that is inherent in cuneiform  writing. 
And now here’s the really  exciting part.  Each Biblical  Egyptian name in 
Genesis that contains a guttural makes perfect sense if the  foregoing 
confusion of gutturals in cuneiform writing is recognized, while not  making good 
sense otherwise.  What  does that mean?  That means that the  Patriarchal 
narratives were recorded as a written document way back in the  Bronze Age!  
Few things in life  could be more exciting than that.  The proof that the 
Patriarchal narratives as a written text are centuries  older than scholars 
think is precisely the foregoing:  each Biblical Egyptian name in Genesis  
that contains a guttural makes perfect sense if the confusion of gutturals that 
 is inherent in cuneiform writing is recognized, while not making good 
sense  otherwise. 
Jim Stinehart 
Evanston,  Illinois
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