[b-hebrew] Amalek's attacks before the big battle of Ex 17:8?

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Jul 11 15:57:06 EDT 2013

Prof. Yigal Levin: 
You wrote:  “Karl, I would love to see where you're getting this from. As 
far as I  know, the answer to David's question is no: there is now known 
evidence, outside  of the Bible itself, that a people/tribe called Amalek ever 
existed. The fact  that later writers, already with the biblical text, 
identified Arabian tribes  that they were familiar with with the biblical Amalek 
is not proof of anything.  By the way, the same is true for the Midianites, 
the Gorgashites, the Jebusites  and several other groups.” 
1.  Amalekites, Girgashites and Jebusites are all attested Hurrian personal 
 names, which the early Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives 
cleverly used  as apt nicknames for the Hurrians of his day.  See my prior post for 
a thumbnail  linguistic analysis of those three names. 
2.  The “Midianites” are people from historical Mitanni in eastern Syria.  
Books in the Bible after the Patriarchal  narratives stretch that a bit to 
include in such term people from that area long  after the Hurrian state of 
Mitanni itself had gone extinct.   
The Ishmaelites who buy Joseph as a slave  are from Mitanni [with some  
Ishmaelites having settled even further east, in Assyria, per Genesis 25: 18], 
so they are  “Midianites”.  That word is spelled  in two slightly different 
ways in chapter 37 of Genesis:  MDYN-YM at Genesis 37: 28;  as opposed to a 
slightly simplified  spelling of MDN-YM at Genesis 37: 36.  Taking off the 
-YM west Semitic standard suffix meaning “people”, the  country name that 
remains is MDYN or MDN. 
It is likely that the mid-14th century BCE  scribe who recorded Hurrian 
names in cuneiform in the Patriarchal narratives was  aware of the various ways 
to write “Mitanni” in cuneiform:  (i) the ultra-formal 7-syllable version  
that is found exclusively in the royal Mitanni letter:  Mi-i-id-ta-a – 
an-ni;  (ii) the 5-syllable version used once in  the Amarna Letters (EA 56: 39) 
and also sometimes used in Hittite  cuneiform:  Mi-id-ta – an-ni;  (iii) 
the 4-syllable version used on one  other occasion in the Amarna Letters (EA 
58: 5) as well as at times in Hittite  cuneiform [where the cuneiform sign 
-ta-, which can be either -da- or -ta-, is shown here as -d/ta-]:  Mi-d/ta – 
an-ni;  and (iv) the greatly shortened  3-syllable version of this name that 
is the most common version in the Amarna  Letters (EA 85: 51;  86: 12;  90: 
20, etc.):  Mi-d/ta-ni.  In creating names for two of Keturah’s  sons who 
will be sent east, to the east country of Mitanni, being Keturah’s  ancestral 
homeland [which is the first occasion in the Bible when one sees MDYN,  and 
also MDN, at Genesis 25: 2], and knowing that a majority of proper names in  
the Patriarchal narratives have either four or three Hebrew letters, it is 
not  surprising that the Hebrew author chose the 4-syllable and 3-syllable 
attested  versions of this name. 
The scribe in late 7th century BCE Jerusalem  who transformed the original 
cuneiform version of these names into alphabetical  Hebrew decided to render 
the cuneiform sign -d/ta- as dalet/D (in both versions of  this name).  
Note also:  (i) the first of the doubled Hurrian  consonants N was omitted as a 
matter of course, and (ii) also as a matter of  course, the resulting 
Hurrian true vowel A as its own separate syllable was  rendered by Hebrew yod/Y.  
On that  basis, these two versions of “Mitanni” from the Amarna Letters 
match up directly  to MDYN and MDN as the names of two of Keturah’s sons in 
the Patriarchal  narratives, as follows: 
(1)  Mi-d/ta – an-ni = Mi-da-a-ni = MDYN 
(2)  Mi-d/ta-ni = Mi-da-ni = MDN 
These same two spellings were then carried over into  chapter 37 of Genesis 
in characterizing certain Ishmaelite traders as being from  Mitanni:  MDYN 
and MDN.  When Exodus was composed later, the  longer, more accurate 
version, MDYN, was exclusively used to refer to the Late  Bronze Age Hurrian state 
in eastern Syria:  Mitanni [or, in context, to the former state of Mitanni]. 
*       *       * 
Prof. Levin, the Patriarchal narratives are not talking  about fictional 
people who never existed historically.  What would be the point of that?  
Rather, the last 40 chapters of Genesis  refer to (i) XRY as the historical name 
of the Hurrians [Genesis 14: 6];  (ii) in most cases, however, Hurrian  
personal names are used as clever, apt nicknames for the Hurrians, including 
the  three names you mention above, Amalekites, Girgashites, Jebusites;  and 
(iii) the Late Bronze Age Hurrian  state of Mitanni is referred to by its 
historical name:  Mi-d/ta – an-ni = Mi-da-a-ni = MDYN. 
If you would be willing to consider that, out of dire  necessity, a Jewish 
scribe in late 7th century BCE made the wise  choice of using alphabetical 
Hebrew yod/Y to render the Hurrian true vowel A as  its own separate syllable 
[in transforming these 14th century  BCE Hurrian names in cuneiform into 
alphabetical Hebrew], then all of these  names suddenly make complete 
historical sense.  More Hurrian names begin with the  Hurrian true vowel A as its 
own separate syllable than in any other way, like  A-bu-u-$e-ya/YBWSY/“
Jebusites”.  So  a Hebrew letter had to be used to record that commonplace Hurrian 
phenomenon,  and Hebrew yod/Y worked nicely. 
Once you recognize that Hebrew yod/Y was used to render  the Hurrian true 
vowel A as its own separate syllable, surely you can then see  that:  Mitanni 
 =  Mi-d/ta – an-ni  =  Mi-da-a-ni  =  MDYN. 
Jim Stinehart 
Evanston,  Illinois
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