[b-hebrew] The Name "Esau"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Aug 29 17:07:00 EDT 2013

Speaking of the  “Akkadian and Ugaritic cuneiform tablets” referenced [in 
different ways] by both  Stewart Felker and Isaac Fried, why don’t we ask if 
an Akkadian-based [east  Semitic] proper name similar to ($W [“Esau”] is 
attested at Ugarit? 
Although scholars  assert that the name ($W [“Esau”] is not attested in 
the ancient world outside  of the Bible, there is in fact one attested 
personal name at Ugarit that is  fairly close to ($W.  Ugarit [which was  primarily 
a west Semitic-speaking Amorite country] has the following attested  
Akkadian-based [east Semitic] proper  name: 
“[Ugaritic  personal name] u$y.  ‘Ebony[-coloured].  …A syllabic spelling 
may be u-$i-i…and it may correspond to u$ú, dark-coloured wood or stone…, a 
 word actually attested in Ugaritic Akkadian.”  W.G.E. Watson, “Ugaritic 
Onomastics  (2)”, AuOr 8 (1996) 113427, at p.  244. 
The name u$y at Ugarit reminds one of the Biblical name ($W  [“Esau”], and 
it has the perfect meaning:  “ebony”, which could imply “dark red ebony”. 
 As noted in my prior post, a meaning of  “dark red ebony” is virtually 
the only meaning of the name ($W [“Esau”] that  will fit what Genesis 25: 25 
says about  Esau. 
However,  neither of the two vowels in the Ugaritic personal name u$y are 
exact matches to “Esau”.  That should prompt us to examine the  common word 
that underlies this name.  The Akkadian common word for “ebony” is u$û, 
which is closer to ($W [“Esau”] in  that the last two letters match;  but it 
does not have the same initial vowel as “Esau”.  Closer still is the 
Akkadian variant of  that word, e$ium;  if one takes off the Akkadian ending  -m, 
that latter Akkadian word would be e-$i-u, whose Biblical  Hebrew rendering 
would [as discussed below] be expected to be ($W [“Esau”].  Only  in Hurrian 
itself, however, for example at the Hurrian province of Nuzi in Late Bronze 
Age eastern  Syria, is the common word for “ebony” i-$i-ú, which is an 
exact match, on a  letter-for-letter basis, to the Biblical Hebrew spelling of “
Esau”:  ($W. 
Rebekah is from  Bronze Age eastern Syria, and  at Late Bronze Age Nuzi in 
eastern Syria about 30% of the attested names  are Akkadian-based names.  
Gelb  & Purves, “Nuzi Personal Names” (1943), p. 5.  So it is significant to 
find an  Akkadian-based name attested at Ugarit that is fairly similar to 
the Biblical  name ($W [“Esau”], and that appears to be an exact match to 
some versions of the  common word “ebony” that underlies that name at Ugarit.  
The Hurrian common word for “ebony” is i-$i-ú.  N. Nozadze, “Vocabulary of 
the Hurrian  Language” (2007), p. 187.  As shown  in the bracketed 
paragraph below, the expected Biblical Hebrew spelling of the  Hurrian common word 
i-$i-ú is ($W,  which is the precise spelling of the Biblical name “Esau”.   
[A brief technical analysis of how the  Hurrian common word i-$i-ú would be 
 expected to be rendered in Biblical Hebrew is as follows.  Where a 
Biblical Hurrian word or name  begins with either the Hurrian true vowel I or the 
Hurrian true vowel E as its  own separate syllable (a common phenomenon in 
Hurrian, though that never occurs  in Hebrew common words themselves), that is 
invariably rendered in Biblical  Hebrew by the Hebrew letter ayin/(.  
[Hurrian itself had no ayin/(.]  (Thus (PRWN [“Ephron”] at Genesis 23: 8, which 
is the name of the Hurrian  lord who charges Abraham a king’s ransom for 
Sarah’s gravesite, is the Hurrian  name I-pi-ri-i-ne, meaning “the lord”  and 
implying “[Teshup] Is The Lord”.  The Hurrian root of this name is i-pi-ri 
(alternatively spelled e-pi-ri), meaning “lord”, which is  rendered in 
Biblical Hebrew as (PR.  Hebrew ayin/( in initial position is  consistently used 
in the Patriarchal narratives to represent either the Hurrian  true vowel I 
or the Hurrian true vowel E as its own separate syllable.  [As to the 
Hebrew vav/W in the name  (PRWN, in interior position the Hurrian anaptyxe vowel, 
which is the same vowel  as the preceding vowel, is represented by the 
Hebrew letter vav/W, which in that  case is not the Hurrian true vowel U.]  
Another example in the Patriarchal narratives of Hebrew ayin/( being used  to 
represent either the Hurrian true vowel I or the Hurrian true vowel E as its  
own separate syllable in initial position is the name (NR [“Aner”] of the  
Hurrian princeling at Genesis 14: 13, which is the Hurrian name E-na-ar, 
meaning “[Teshup] Acts Like a  God”.)  The second syllable in the  Hurrian 
common word i-$i-ú, namely -$i-, is rendered by Hebrew shin/$  alone.  Per the 
pattern of defective  spelling in Hebrew, a standard consonant-vowel 
syllable like this is rendered  solely by the consonant, with no express rendering 
of the vowel.  Finally, the last element in this  Hurrian common word is the 
Hurrian true vowel U as its own separate  syllable;  that naturally is  
rendered by the Hebrew letter vav/W.  It is important to note that in rendering 
Hurrian names in Biblical  Hebrew, the rule is:  one Hebrew  letter per one 
Hurrian syllable.  Thus we see that ($W is the expected Biblical Hebrew 
rendering, on a  letter-for-letter basis, of the 3-syllable Hurrian common word 
i-$i-ú, which means  "ebony".] 
We have solved this 3,500-year-old Biblical  mystery!  To a woman from 
Bronze Age  eastern Syria like Rebekah, the name ($W [“Esau”] would have meant “
ebony”, and as such could imply “dark  red ebony”.  That meaning fits  
perfectly the Genesis 25: 25 description of Esau at his birth, and is virtually 
 the only meaning that could be imagined to fit.  Esau's dark "red" hair,  
which was as dark red as dark red ebony, and the fact that Esau was  so 
"hairy", made Rebekah's oldest son as a newborn infant  look as dark red as dark 
red "ebony", hence the name ($W : i-$i-ú : "Esau", meaning "[dark red] 
ebony" in  Hurrian and Akkadian, as known in west Semitic-speaking Ugarit, in 
Late Bronze  Age Syria.  Contra the scholarly view, the author of Genesis 25: 
25  certainly did know the meaning of the name ($W [“Esau”].  As with the 
Biblical Egyptian names near  the end of Genesis, the early Hebrew author of 
the Patriarchal narratives was  well-versed in several non-west Semitic 
languages, and he was able to compose or  choose non-west Semitic personal names 
whose underlying meanings in those  non-west Semitic languages perfectly 
reflect the character’s role in the  narrative.  Because the Patriarchal  
narratives were reduced to writing [in cuneiform] by the original early Hebrew  
author, the received text accurately sets forth, on a letter-for-letter 
basis,  this Biblical name that matches up perfectly, all these millennia later, 
to  attested non-west Semitic names and words from Late Bronze Age Syria, 
which was  the homeland of Esau’s mother  Rebekah. 
The received  text, as is, is perfect.  It’s  incredibly old as a written 
text, and it has a stunning degree of historical  accuracy in a Late Bronze 
Age  context. 
Jim  Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois
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