A Leauki's Writings
Sarah and Hagar
Published on July 24, 2008 By Leauki In Religion

(This was originally posted as a reply to https://forums.joeuser.com/317336.)

I consider the Biblical account of Abraham as extremely important and, in fact, as the most important part of the Bible that is not specifically by law defined as such.

Abraham's life story is the first story in the Bible that I understand as a literal description of events, if shrouded in mystery a bit. There really was a man called "Abraham" who had a wife Sarah and both were Aramaeans. And that man really did have a servant concubine named Hagar who was Egyptian. And he had two sons Ishmael and Isaac and they are the ancestors of arabised Arabs (i.e. Ishmaelis who migrated from Canaan to Arabia) and Jews.

The names of these people are what we cannot confirm, but the description of the ancestry can be confirmed genetically and via legends of other Semitic peoples.

(Incidentally, there is a clan in Somaliland called "Isaaq" with links to the Banu Hashim who are a clan of the Meccan Quraish tribe and Muhammed's family. The Isaaq clan in Somaliland acknowledges its descent from Ishmael and is friendly towards Jews and Israel.)

And at this point I guess we need some etymology and location names:

We differentiate between Canaan, Aram, and Arabia.

"Aram" (Aleph Resh Mem) derives from "ram" ("high", Resh Mem) and means "high land".

"Canaan" (Kaf Nun Ayin Nun) derives from "cana3" ("low", Kaf Nun Ayin) and means "low land".

"Arab" (Ayin Resh Bet) derives from "Erev" ("evening", same spelling) and means "west" or "southwest" (where the sun goes down). (Today in Arabic "maghreb" means "the west". The /gh/ sound is the fricative of an Ayin as would typically follow a vowel.)

"Mitzraim" (Mem Tsadi Resh Yud Mem) derives from "two [whatever a mitzr is]" (it is a dual-only word with no regular plural), i.e. "the two Egyptian kingdoms", upper and lower Egypt. (Today's Arabic word for Egypt is "misr", spelt the same as "mitzr".) Egypt ruled Canaan at the time. "mitzr" is a noun derived from the adjective "tzar". "tzar" means "narrow". "Mitzraim" literally means "the two narrow lands" (i.e. upper and lower Egypt).

All words are (ancient) Aramaic.

Canaan was (is) the low lands, i.e. Israel and Lebanon. Aram was the high lands, i.e. Syria and northern Iraq (with mountains and away from the sea). Arabia is the land southwest of Aram (where the sun goes down as seen from Babylon). The name Canaan has nothing to do with the Biblical character Canaan except that he was named after the location. He is not the ancestor of everyone living in Canaan at any time.

The languages spoken in Canaan (Hebrew and Phoenician) and the languages spoken in Aram (Aramaic) were probably still the same language 4000 years ago, when Abraham lived; definitely very similar. The languages spoken in Arabia (Arabic dialects) were related but already different.

Abraham came from Aram and settled in Canaan. Of Abraham's descendants those that stayed in Canaan then came to speak Hebrew (one of the two Canaite languages) whereas those that moved to Arabia continued to speak the Aramaic of Abraham and later Aramaic as it changed and at some point Arabic, but probably never exclusively. Aramaic was at the time and until 1000 CE _the_ language spoken among traders in the big cities, including Mecca and Medina.

Ishmael's descendants spoke Aramaic and Arabic when they adopted the language of those whom they joined in Arabia. Isaac's descendants spoke Hebrew and later adopted Aramaic when Aramaic became the dominant language. At Jesus' time Jews spoke mainly Aramaic (and Greek).

The Phoenician language died out over 2000 years ago but was always very close to Hebrew (the only differences I ever saw were some /y/ sounds that became vowels (or zero) and many /t/ sounds at the end of female words that became /a/ sounds in Hebrew (and Arabic!) but still appear as /ath/ when another noun follows.

For example the term "new city" is "qeret hadasha" in Hebrew and "qart hadasht" in Phoenician. Spelling is the same except for a Tav at the end of "hadasht" instead of a He at the end of "hadasha(h)". (But if another noun would follow the "hadashah", the "h" would become a "t", like in Phoenician. "Qart hadasht" is whence we derive the word "Carthage" for the city in North-Africa.)

Long story, short end: G-d made Sarah's but not Hagar's son stay in Canaan (and finally Egypt). But He did have plans for both and wanted one to stay in Canaan and one to go to Arabia. (What about Aram? I don't know. Perhaps Aram was too polytheistic and unconvincible at the time.)

The Jews were, according to this story, G-d's chosen people; but only starting with the liberation from Egyptian rule, a process Ishmael's people never had to go through since they were rulers in Arabia, not the ruled.

Why the sons of an Egyptian woman were supposed to go Arabia and the sons of an Aramaic woman were supposed to go to Canaan/Egypt is anybody's guess.

However, Sarah was the first Israelite (in a sense) and the line goes through the mother ever since. (The same is not true for Egyptians and Ishmael and his descendants are not Egyptians.)


on Jul 24, 2008
on Jul 24, 2008

Very interesting lesson.  Thank you.  I am of mixed thoughts about the historicity of Abraham.  I read Paul Johnson's account of the history of the Jews and he seems to be as certain as you are, yet I still see it as a take it on faith issue.  Clearly, the story of Abraham is very important and like much myth it helps us to make sense of our reality.  What is the evidence of Abraham's actual existence?

  See ya!

on Jul 24, 2008

What is the evidence of Abraham's actual existence?

There is some evidence.

The Bible is evidence. We have evidence of many historical figures because somebody wrote down their story. Remember that Troy was found when Heinrich Schliemann decided to believe that what we thought was a fairy tale was actually a true account of an actual war in ancient times.

Almost everything we know about history is because of written documents about the people involved. The Bible is, in this sense, no different from any other written account and can be evidence.

Also, don't forget that the legend of Abraham predates the writing of the Bible and has been told not only in the Bible but also among the legends of other Semitic tribes, including the Ishmaelis in Arabia.

Then there is the genetic evidence that shows that some Arab tribes, specifically the Banu Hashem are closely related to Jews (whereas other Arab tribes are less closely related). (But no, I don't have a source for that.)

And there is linguistic evidence that shows that Hebrew and Aramaic are closely related whereas Arabic and Egyptian are foreign (Egyptian more so than Arabic), which matches the story told. The development of Hebrew and Aramaic since then also suggests that it happened about 4000 years ago (when Abaraham would still be able to understand people in Canaan).

But there are really two questions to be asked.

One is whether some guy existed whose sons were (among) the ancestors of Jews and (some) Arabs. The answer to that is absolutely "yes". It would be surprising if there wouldn't be such a person.

The other is whether that person should be named "Abraham" ("father of many") and whether his wives were Sarah ("princess") and Hagar ("stranger", female) and their children Isaaq ("laughs") and Ishmael ("G-d will hear"). To that the answer is "why not". We know the guy existed, and the only written evidence gives him a name that makes sense as a title and names his family members in ways that also make sense.

I would accept the story as told.

on Jul 24, 2008

I would accept the story as told.

me too! 


on Jul 24, 2008

me too!

Yes. But in my case it is because I have no reason to doubt it even if I keep my eyes open.

The Abraham story, sans physical angels, can be confirmed in "lab tests".

Incidentally, I have ignored the age question in my version of the story. Point is, the Hebrew word "shana" (plural "shanim") today (and for the last 2500 years) means "year" but is based on a root that means "repeat". We thus don't know which particular repetitive unit the Bible referred to when it says "shana" or "shanim". It could be months or years or units in between (like "summers" and "winters").

Thus we cannot determine Abraham's real age from the story, although it is not quite as out there as some other ages given.

The point is that the Abraham story is the first part of the Bible that is only Semitic and not also Sumerian legend. (The truth value of the Bible is not affected by its first part being Sumerian legend as well as Semitic legend.) That means that ages given until that point must be understood as being given in an unknown unit ("shana") because Sumerians didn't use the same units as Semitic tribes. Ages given at the point of Abraham are Aramaic, only later were they Hebrew. I do not know what the Aramaic word for "year" is and what "shana" (or "tana", there is a /sh/ vs /th/ consonant shift between Hebrew and Aramaic) means from an ancient Aramaic point of view.

(The Abraham story is written in Hebrew, but is based on a known account told in Aramaic. The Jews knew about Abraham before Moses brought them the Tora.)

on Aug 14, 2008
What is the evidence of Abraham's actual existence?

There is some evidence.

The Bible is evidence.

I agree. Besides Scripture, Tradition associates Abraham to many places.

Biblical geneologies relate Abraham to many Near eastern peoples...I note that you do not mention his second wife Cetura Gen. 25:1-4.

on Aug 14, 2008
The point is that the Abraham story is the first part of the Bible that is only Semitic and not also Sumerian legend.

Agree...he was the first Hebrew recorded in Old Testament and he was not a Jew. Regarding Scripture as salvation history, Abraham is most important because of Yahweh's covenant with him which included the promise that in him all nations should be blessed of which the sign was circumcision. Abraham's faith in God promise survived a most severe test when God commanded him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. "Abram believed the Lord, who credited the act to him as justice." 15:6. St.Paul cites this to show it's not carnal descent or circumsion, but faith like that of Abraham that makes us true descendents of Abraham.

Perhaps you can confirm, in Gen. 14:13, Abraham is called "the Hebrew", (haibri) which later generations may have taken to mean the descendant of Eber, but which likely meant "the immigrant".

on Aug 14, 2008

"le3avor" means "to pass" or "to cross". "Hebrew" ("3vri") likely means some who passed or crossed. Perhaps it refers to Abraham having crossed from Aram to Kana3an or over the Jordan river.


on Aug 14, 2008

I note that you do not mention his second wife Cetura Gen. 25:1-4.

That's because I do not know who she is.

Legends says she was either a local woman and that her children would become local tribes, or that she was actually Hagar and Abraham got back together with her after Sarah's death.