[b-hebrew] abrhm - Keep to the Subject!

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Mar 13 14:45:57 EDT 2013

Prof. Yigal Levin: 
You wrote:  “Please stick to the linguistic issues.” 
O.K.  The  purely linguistic issues in analyzing the name “Abraham” are as 
1.  In which  one of the following three ways is the name )BRHM meant to be 
(i)  Is the  name meant to be understood as being )B RHM, where RHM is a 
key word and  concept? 
(ii)  Or,  rather, is the name meant to be understood as being )B RM, 
having the identical  meaning as Abraham’s birth name Abram, with the inserted H 
either (a) merely  being a lengthening of the name for gravitas, while not 
changing the meaning of  )BRM at all, and/or (b) being an Aramaic version of 
this name, once again  without changing the meaning of )BRM at all? 
(iii)  Or, by  contrast, is the name meant to be understood as )B R HM, 
where the explanation  of this name’s meaning given at Genesis 17: 5 works 
perfectly, and even is quite  obvious, if and only if -R- is a divine reference? 
2.  You  yourself brought up the issue of RHM, possibly being the west 
Semitic word  raham.  To the best of my knowledge,  no such west Semitic word is 
attested prior to the common era.  Is there any objective evidence you know 
 of that suggests or shows that raham was a west Semitic word in the  
mid-1st millennium BCE or earlier?  If not, how is raham a viable option for  
interpreting the name “Abraham”? 
3.  #ii  explicitly, and #i implicitly, assume that the Hebrew author of 
Genesis 17: 5  didn’t know what the name “Abraham” meant, even though all 
university scholars  insist that the name “Abraham” has no non-west Semitic 
component whatsoever, and  we all would agree that the author of Genesis 17: 5 
certainly was a native  Biblical Hebrew speaker.  Although  Thomas L. 
Thompson is a Biblical Minimalist, he nevertheless is well within the  scholarly 
mainstream in making the following remarks about the name  “Abraham”: 
“De Vaux, in commenting on this popular etymology [i.e.,  what’s stated at 
Genesis 17: 5], points out that, since the tradition clearly no  longer 
understands the original meaning of the name, the name itself must be  
considered as very ancient.  …L.  Hicks (Abraham 15) is in all probability correct 
in seeing )BRHM as an Aramaic  expansion or variant of )BRM.”  “The  
Historicity of the Patriarchs” (2002), p. 24. 
In my opinion, the  o-n-l-y  word of truth there  is the statement that “
the name itself must be considered as very ancient.”  
Prof. Levin, can we really be asked to believe that the  author(s) of the 
Patriarchal narratives were so confused that they were unable  to come up 
with a divinely-given name for Abram that differs in meaning from his  birth 
name?  Though that is the  majority mainstream scholarly view, surely you can 
see that such view makes no  sense whatsoever, can’t you?  Certainly the 
name )BRHM is a grander name, and a different name, than  )BRM!  That’s just 
common  sense. 
4.  My  “radical” proposal, which is well outside of the mainstream, is 
that the author  of Genesis 17: 5 gives us a completely accurate assessment of 
the meaning of the  name “Abraham”.  Moreover, in my  view there was only 
one author of the vast bulk of the Patriarchal narratives,  who lived during 
the Amarna Age, and who created  a-l-l  of the names that we see in the  
text:  Abraham, Sarah, Potiphar,  Joseph’s Egyptian name, etc. 
I presume you agree that the Hebrew resh/R, standing  alone, at the end of 
the name “Potiphar” at Genesis 39: 1 is a divine reference,  based on the 
Egyptian god ra.  What  I am asserting is that the Hebrew resh/R, standing 
alone, in the middle of the  name )B R HM is likewise a divine reference, 
which though based on the name of  that Egyptian creator god is nevertheless 
here intended to function as a generic  theophoric reference.  I believe you  
will agree that  I-F  the resh/R in the middle of the name  “Abraham” is a 
generic divine reference, then the name explains itself, and  means exactly 
what Genesis 17: 5 says it means.  )B and a version of HM even appear in  
Genesis 17: 5, which is hard to miss.  The whole question, as I see it, is 
whether the interior resh/R in the  name “Abraham” is functioning there as a 
generic divine reference. 
Doesn’t my proposed understanding of the name “Abraham”  make a lot more 
sense than any of the other proposals?  But if you want to champion raham as  
being a word in Biblical times, with the author of Genesis 17: 5 allegedly 
not  understanding what the name “Abraham” really means [or at least not 
accurately  stating what )BRHM really means], then please let us know on what 
basis you see  the word raham as existing prior to the common era.  Here’s 
what I find when I go looking for  raham: 
“There is, however, no such root raham attested in the Hebrew Bible, though 
Arabic has ruham, meaning ‘multitude’.”  K.A. Mathews, “Genesis 1-11:26” 
(1996),  p. 500. 
But if you’ve got an attestation of raham in Biblical  times, then set it 
forth, and we’ll examine it.  Otherwise, why try to explain the name  “
Abraham” on the basis of a word that never existed prior to the common  era?  Is 
that a sensible approach to  understanding the divinely-given name of Hebrew 
Patriarch #1? 
Jim Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois
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