[b-hebrew] The Name Abraham

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Sun Mar 10 20:03:38 EDT 2013

Hi Jim,

When I saw this subject from the OP, I thought you would jump in...

On Sun, 10 Mar 2013 13:54:11 -0400 (EDT), jimstinehart at aol.com wrote:
> UriHurwitz set forth a nice explanation of the birth name “Abram”,
> but made noattempt to explain the divinely-changed name “Abraham”:
> )B R HM. Prof. Yigal Levin then wrote in response: “Uri, While this
> isprobably true for the name Abram, how do you explain the He in
> Abraham? Doesthe word "raham" have any meaning?”
> But that is not the rightquestion.  Rather, the right question toask
> is: How do you explain the resh/R inthe name “Abraham”?  )B means
> “father”,and per Genesis 17: 5, in this divinely-changed name )B is
> a rare reference toa human father, rather than here being a
> theophoric.  -HM is also self-explanatory per Genesis 17:5, as it
> refers to a “multitude”.  Infact, Genesis 17: 5 explains the
> divinely-changed name “Abraham” perfectly, i-f and only i-f the
> resh/R in the middle ofthat name is a theophoric.  If resh/R inthe
> middle of the name )B R HM is a generic reference to the divine,
> thenGenesis 17: 5 has this name exactly right and is essentially
> self-explanatory: “human father, per the divine Will, of
> amultitude”.
> In my controversial opinion,a Hebrew author who is capable of
> portraying heroic Joseph as adopting Egyptianclothes, speaking
> fluent Egyptian, marrying an Egyptian wife who is thedaughter of an
> Egyptian priest of Ra from On, whose Egyptian master also has aname
> that honors Ra [spelled resh/R], and who as Pharaoh’s vizier
> confiscates agreat deal of valuable land along the Nile River for
> Pharaoh at firesaleprices, is capable of using resh/R as a generic
> theophoric in Abraham’sdivinely-changed name.  Just like theportrait
> of Joseph in Egypt, it makes us all nervous as the Egyptian
> connectionis far too strong for our liking today, but that’s the way
> it was in thePatriarchal Age.
> Genesis 17: 5 is self-explanatoryas to the meaning of )B R HM, once
> one realizes that the interior resh/R thereis used as a generic
> theophoric.

I seem to recall that we had a disagreement on this point in another
thread some time ago...

I can't quite recall what I wrote in that former exchange, but I think
my current objections are:

1) Phonological

   a) Vocalization: Whereas the common English transcription of this
      Egyption god is "Ra", this transcription is conventional, to
      make the purely consonantal Egyption spelling <r`>
      pronounceable.  The Coptic spelling is ΡΗ (i.e., [re:] or [re]),
      and a much earlier (18th dynasty) cuneiform transcription
      suggests a vocalization /ri`a/ [riʕa].  This doesn't fit
      particularly well with the Hebrew [ra] in "Abraham".

   b) Consonants: Despite point (a) above, the more serious objection
      (in my view) is the complete loss of the consonant /`/ in
      Hebrew.  I really would expect to see this reflected in a `ayin
      in Hebrew.  The fact that the Hebrew form does *not* have a
      רע/r` sequence but only a ר/r causes me to doubt the connexion.

2) Non-phonological:

   -  I'm not aware of any evidence that "Ra"/"Re" was used used in a
      generic sense to indicate "God", but only as the name of a
      specific god (though later identified with another specific god

Will Parsons
μη φαινεσθαι, αλλ' ειναι.

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