[b-hebrew] The Name "Esau"
JimStinehart at aol.com
JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Aug 28 10:13:05 EDT 2013
The Name “Esau”
University scholars tell us that the author of Genesis 25: 25 may not have
known the meaning of the name “Esau”:
“Esau. There is an odd displacement of etymology in the naming sentence
[Genesis 25: 25], perhaps because the writer was not sure what ‘Esau’
actually meant.” Robert Alter, “Genesis” (1996), p. 127.
Yet having said that, for the last 100 years or so university scholars
have been quite forthright in telling us, over and over again, that they
themselves have no idea what the name “Esau” means:
“The real meaning of ‘Esau’ is unknown, the usual explanation ‘densely
haired’ (= ‘wooded’) being very improbable.” Isidore Singer, Cyrus
Adler, “The Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 5” (1916), p. 206.
“Esau is named after his looks, whereas Jacob, in contrast, is named after
an action of his…. In fact, only for Jacob is the etymology compatible
with the name. As has been pointed out by Westermann and others, two
etymological explanations are given for Esau, but neither actually produces the
name ‘Esau’. It is ‘Edom’ and ‘Seir’ that seem to be in the author’s mind.
” Roger Syrén, “The Forsaken First-Born: A Study of a Recurrent Motif in
the Patriarchal Narratives” (1992), p. 85.
“ ‘Esau’ the name is unknown elsewhere in the ancient Orient, and its
etymology is uncertain.” Gordon Wenham, “Genesis 16-50” (1994), p. 176.
“No etymology is offered for the name Esau itself….” T. Desmond
Alexander, David W. Baker, “Dictionary of the Old Testament” (2003), p. 219.
“Despite the apparent connection between his name and his hairiness in
Genesis 25: 25, the etymology of Esau remains uncertain.” Bruce M. Metzger,
Michael D. Coogan, “The Oxford Guide to People & Places of the Bible”
(2004), p. 73.
What gives? Can’t we on the b-hebrew list figure out what the name “Esau”
means, even if the academic community insists that such name has no known
etymology and no known meaning? Scholars have never asked if Rebekah gave
her firstborn son a name that was redolent of her homeland in Bronze Age
Syria. But isn’t that a logical question to ask? And if it strongly
implies that the Patriarchal narratives as a written text are centuries older
than university scholars are willing to contemplate, then so much the better.
Why not a-s-k if the name “Esau” is coming straight out of Bronze Age
Syria? And why oh why should we assume that the author of Genesis 25: 25
allegedly didn’t know what the name “Esau” meant? Is that a plausible
assumption to make?
If we are willing to a-s-k what the name “Esau” historically meant in
Bronze Age Syria [given that the text portrays Rebekah as being born and
raised to adulthood in Bronze Age Syria and as giving her firstborn son the
name “Esau”], we will find that Genesis 25: 25 was composed by a brilliant
early Hebrew author who knew exactly what the name “Esau” means. And we
will find, to no real surprise, that the underlying meaning of the name “Esau”
perfectly fits the circumstances of his birth. In that regard there are
clues galore, in spades, as to what the name “Esau” should mean. We will
see that linguistically, that’s exactly what this name does in fact mean.
It all boils down to simply being willing to a-s-k what the name “Esau”
historically meant in Bronze Age Syria.
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