[b-hebrew] The Name Abraham
jimstinehart at aol.com
jimstinehart at aol.com
Sun Mar 10 21:36:33 EDT 2013
1. Youwrote: “[M]y current objections are: 1) Phonological a) Vocalization: Whereas the common Englishtranscription of this Egyption god is "Ra", this transcription isconventional, 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 theHebrew [ra] in "Abraham".”
The only thing that counts in that connection is howRa was spelled in Canaanite, using Akkadian cuneiform, in the AmarnaLetters. Agreed? As to that, I go with the world’s leadingexpert, Richard S. Hess, when he writes at p. 116 of “Ámarna Personal Names”that the Akkadian cuneiform renderingof “Ra” in the Amarna Letters is the cuneiform sign ri, followed by -ia as “ahypocoristic suffix”. Thus Ra itself was heard as a one-syllable name in Canaanduring the Amarna Age, and was written in Akkadian cuneiform as ri, with no express ayin. That is tosay, in the mid-14th century BCE, in Akkadian cuneiform Ra wassimply R or ri, not a 2-syllable namer(e)-a. Thus though the Egyptiantranscription of this sun-god’s name is ra,being R + ayin, the Canaanites heard it as a one-syllable name: R(i).
Biblical proof ofthat is the name of Joseph’s Egyptian master, PW+YPR, where certainly the lasttwo letters, peh/P resh/R, are pA ra, with “Ra” being rendered by the singleHebrew letter resh/R. That’s the sameletter in the middle of the name “Abraham”, except for in that divinely-givenname, it’s a generic theophoric, meaning “God”.
2. You wrote: “b)Consonants: Despite point (a) above, the more serious objection (in my view) isthe complete loss of the consonant /`/ in Hebrew. I really would expect to see this reflectedin a `ayin in Hebrew. The fact that theHebrew form does *not* have a רע/r` sequence but only a ר/r causes me to doubtthe connexion.”
No. There’sno ayin at the end of the name “Potiphar”. Resh/R, standing alone, is “Ra”. Why fight both the Amarna Letters and the name of Joseph’s Egyptianmaster? Your theoretical arguments,though good in theory, are refuted by those two impeccable sources.
3. Youwrote: “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 lateridentified with another specific god "Ammon").”
Au contraire, Amen was a run-of-the-mill Egyptiangod, similar to most all of the polytheistic Egyptian gods. One went to Amen (or, if that didn’t work, toa different god) to ask for fertility, success in business, etc., etc. The only Egyptian god who was fundamentallydifferent than that was Ra, the creator god. In the Great Hymn to the Aten, Akhenaten repeatedly makes the followingthree key theological points: (i)Ra/Aten, pA itn, pA nTr wa, created everything, but (ii) Ra/Aten is a “distant”/wAtgod, and (iii) Akhenaten is the only one who “knows”/rx this “distant”/wAtgod. So with a little stretching, Racould be viewed like El: a genericreference to the divine.
Yes, that makes us all v-e-r-y nervous, because it’s far too close to Egypt for comfort. But note that Joseph never returns to Canaan,except to attend his father Jacob’s magnificent funeral, with Joseph havingadopted Egyptian dress and seeming to have “gone native” in most respects. Unlike Jacob’s family situation, there’s nomarital conflict reported with Joseph’s Egyptian wife, or even any conflictwith Joseph’s Egyptian priestly father-in-law, who is a priest of Ra from On.
The Hebrew author is willing to go to the edge ofblasphemy in trying [unsuccessfully, of course] to get Akhenaten to prevent theHebrews from being driven out of their beloved homeland in south-central Canaanin Year 14. But in my opinion, theHebrew author never goes over the line into actual blasphemy. The name of Joseph’s Egyptian priestlyfather-in-law is the perfect example of this. On one level, it accurately reports Akhenaten’s peculiar theology. But on another level. that name shows thatthe Hebrew author, and the Hebrews, did not approve at all of Akhenaten’soutrageous claim to supposedly be the only one who knows [rx] God [“the”/pA “distant”/wAtgod].
It’s an edgy composition, that flirts with blasphemyin several ways. That’s one reason why thePatriarchal narratives are so eternally fascinating. In analyzing these Biblical Egyptian names, Irely almost entirely on the Amarna Letters and Akhenaten’s Great Hymn to theAten. On that basis, I am confident thatthe Canaanite/Hebrew way of writing “Ra” in Akkadian cuneiform was ri, whichcomes out in alphabetical Hebrew as just resh/R, with no ending ayin. That’s what’s historically attested, and that’show the name “Potiphar” works; in mybook, that’s what counts.
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