[b-hebrew] The Name "Esau"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Aug 29 09:34:34 EDT 2013

The text of Genesis introduces us to Jacob’s older twin  brother, and to 
his name “Esau”, as follows: 
“And the first came out red  [)DMWNY], all over like an hairy [%(R] 
garment;  and they [his parents Rebekah and Isaac,  with Rebekah presumably taking 
the lead] called his name Esau [‘$W].”  Genesis 25:  25 
As an initial step in trying to  figure out what the name “Esau” means, let
’s start by asking what underlying  meaning of the name “Esau” would make 
sense in the context of Genesis 25:  25.  As we will now see, the ideal  
meaning would be “ebony”, implying “dark red ebony”.  The “red”, meaning “
red  porridge”, for which Esau sells his birthright a mere five verses later, 
at  Genesis 25: 30, was probably dark red in color.  Esau is closely 
associated with  Edom [for example at Genesis  32: 3/4 in the context of Jacob 
returning to Canaan from eastern  Syria], and the red earth of  Edom was 
presumably dark red in color  as well.  [The Patriarchs’ “Edom”  logically is not 
the much later state of Edom located southeast of the Dead Sea,  but rather 
is historical Late Bronze Age “Udumu”/UD-u-mu, which included  “Seir”
/$e-e-i-ri and was located east of the Sea of Galilee.  That is near to where 
Jacob had to pass  in returning to Canaan from eastern Syria, which is when 
Jacob must confront  Esau from “Seir” : %(YR : $e-e-i-ri, in “Edom” : )DWM : 
)D-W-M : UD-u-mu, with  Esau having been aptly described at Genesis 25: 25 
as being %(R and )DMWNY.  Note how  brilliantly and effortlessly the early 
Hebrew author puns west Semitic common  words with non-west Semitic 
geographical place names!  If that is the geographical  locale, then we can be certain 
that the Patriarchs’ “Edom” was  characterized by dark red earth:  “On 
the top, or brow, of the hill at Khan ‘Akabah the basalt rock  appears, and 
the great plain -- broad, level, rich, and beautiful -- which  stretches away 
to Fik [Aphek, east of the Sea of Galilee] and beyond, is  composed of dark 
red earth, the  decomposition of lava rock and ashes.”  Selah Merrill, “
East of the Jordan: A Record of Travel and Observation in the  Countries of 
Moab, Gilead and  Bashan”, Richard Bentley & Son (1881), p.  322.]   
Thus by saying at Genesis 25: 25 that Esau came out “red”  and “hairy” at 
birth, that is likely indicating that Esau as a newborn infant  was covered 
with dark red hair, so that the newborn baby looked as dark as dark  red 
ebony.  Ebony wood is known for  being dark -- either dark red or black:  “
Ebony [wood] varies from deep black to  dark red, with a variety of rich dark 
shades.” http://canequest.com/ebony_wood.asp 
If the underlying meaning of the name “Esau” is “ebony”,  and implies in 
context “dark red ebony”, then Genesis 25: 25 would be  interpreted as 
“And the first  came out [dark] red [being dark red ebony in color], all 
over like an hairy  garment [with such dark red hair making the baby look 
dark, like the color of  dark red ebony];  and they called  his name Esau.” 
The question then  becomes as follows.  Did the name  “Esau” mean “ebony” 
in Bronze Age Syria?  If so, then everything would make  perfect sense.  It 
should be no  surprise that Rebekah would use a word from her homeland in 
eastern  Syria in naming her firstborn  son.  And as we have seen in this  
post, a meaning of “ebony”, implying in context “dark red ebony”, would fit 
what  Genesis 25: 25 says perfectly. 
So the questions  that need addressing are as follows.  Is a name similar 
to “Esau” historically attested in Bronze Age Syria  [perhaps at Ugarit, 
rather than in eastern  Syria]?  Does such name mean “ebony”?  Would a woman 
like Rebekah from Bronze  Age Syria likely view the name “Esau” as  meaning “
ebony”?  These are  straightforward questions of historical linguistics to 
be addressed in the next  post. 
Jim  Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois
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