Zoar

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James Stinehart

Zoar

Postby James Stinehart » Wed Feb 27, 2019 4:33 pm

Zoar

m-ṣar vs. Ṣoar / “Zoar” vs. ṣar

At Genesis 19: 20, 22-23 (quoted below), we find the following three Hebrew words / names, in the following order:

(i) m-ṣar / M- Ṣ‘R / מצער

(ii) Ṣoar / “Zoar” / ṢW‘R / צוער

(iii) ṣar / Ṣ‘R / צער

The meanings of the first two, m-ṣar and Zoar, seem clear. The Hebrew common word m-ṣar (with no interior vav, and with its root obviously being ṣar) means “something small” or “a small place” or, per KJV (which, as often, enticingly shows more flair in its English word choice): “a little one”.

Zoar (with an interior vav) is the proper name of a small village, with such proper name, if translated into English (instead of transliterating the Hebrew letters), being “Small Village”. Ultra-literally, the meaning is simply “Small”, but in the context of being the proper name of a small village, the implied meaning here of this proper name is “Small Village”. Genesis 19: 22 furthermore clarifies that indeed Zoar is a very small place, a truly small village.

So far, so good.

But what then does ṣar (with no interior vav) at Genesis 19: 23 mean? I am surprised that all translators, including Gesenius and KJV (as well as all modern translations I have looked at), treat this as being simply an alternative spelling of the city-name Zoar (which has an interior vav).

I am not buying that. After all, it wouldn’t be normal, would it, for two consecutive verses of Biblical text to feature a city-name with two different spellings? That seems highly suspect to me.

My question for the b-Hebrew list is whether translators have misunderstood ṣar at Genesis 19: 23. To my mind, ṣar is used there as a Hebrew common word, not as a proper name, with the meaning, in context, being “the small village”. (The ultra-literal meaning is “small”, but in the context of what is being referenced, the implied meaning is “[a] small [village]” or “the small village”, or even: “that small village”.)

On that basis, I would modify the KJV translation of these three verses slightly (with my sole suggested change in English wording being at the very end of Genesis 19: 23, plus adding a footnote) to read as follows:

“20 Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one [m-ṣar]: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one [m-ṣar]?) and my soul shall live. …22 Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do anything till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called [Ṣoar] Zoar. 23 The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into [ṣar] the small village [[footnote]].

Footnote: The Hebrew common word translated here as “the small village” is ṣar, which is a play on the proper name of this small village in the preceding verse: Ṣoar / ‘Zoar’.”

Am I misunderstanding the meaning of ṣar / Ṣ‘R / צער at Genesis 19: 23? Contra the translators, I don’t think ṣar is an alternative spelling of the proper name “Zoar”. Rather, I think ṣar is a Hebrew common word being used as a Hebrew common word.

* * *

Why, you may ask, is this seemingly esoteric Hebrew language matter (ṣar vs. “Zoar”) of vital importance? In answer to that query, consider that virtually every city in Canaan and Syria has a ṣar near it, where ṣar in Hebrew is a generic reference to “a small village”. By contrast, only Lot’s Sodom, and virtually no other place in all of Canaan or Syria, has a small village called “Zoar” near it. So if Lot’s Sodom and princeling Bera’s Sodom are two different places, then there is no way that princeling Bera’s Sodom has a small village called “Zoar” near it, though of course Bera’s Sodom (along with virtually every other city in Canaan and Syria as well) would (innocuously) have a ṣar / “small village” near it. That missing interior vav in ṣar is important!

Jim Stinehart

Rich McQuillen
Posts: 9
Joined: Sat Apr 13, 2019 10:01 am

Re: Zoar

Postby Rich McQuillen » Wed Apr 17, 2019 8:17 pm

Hi Jim,
I like you definition of small village for Zoar. I was reviewing Phoenician city names recently and came across another possibility. The old name for the city of Tyre was Tzur - supposedly meaning "a rock" according to an author. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Best Regards,
Rich

James Stinehart

Re: Zoar

Postby James Stinehart » Thu Apr 18, 2019 10:15 am

Rich McQuillen:

You wrote: “I like your definition of small village for Zoar. I was reviewing Phoenician city names recently and came across another possibility. The old name for the city of Tyre was Tzur - supposedly meaning "a rock" according to an author. Do you have any thoughts on this?”

Yes. “Tyre” is one of the most important cities in the Patriarchal narratives. All university scholars have missed it, however, due to a cuneiform-induced scribal error as to the initial sibilant.

(a) But first, as to “Zoar” vs. “Tyre”, all of the following, which mean “small” or “Small Village”, feature an interior ayin: (i) m-ṣar / M- Ṣ‘R / מצער; (ii) Ṣoar / “Zoar” / ṢW‘R / צוער; (iii) ṣar / Ṣ‘R / צער.

By sharp contrast, “Tyre” is ṢR / צר or ṢWR / צור, with no interior ayin. So “Tyre”, meaning “Rock”, has nothing to do with “Zoar”, meaning “Small Village”.

(b) “Shur” at Genesis 20: 1 = “Tyre”

I contend that the Patriarchal narratives were composed in the Late Bronze Age / Amarna Age / mid-14th century BCE, and that furthermore, they were recorded in cuneiform writing shortly after their composition, by a scribe hired for the occasion by the tent-dwelling early Hebrews. If so, then there would have to be some cuneiform-induced scribal errors in the received text. For example, as to sibilants, we know from the Amarna Letters that ssade and sin were often recorded by the same cuneiform sign, and of course sin and shin use the same Hebrew letter. Is the “Shur” that we see in the received text at Genesis 20: 1 a cuneiform-induced scribal error for “Tyre”?

We start with the context. There are five chapters of text in the Patriarchal narratives that describe the Beersheba where Abraham and Isaac dig wells: Genesis 20-21, 26-28. The text’s description of Abraham’s and Isaac’s Beersheba matches Beersheba of Upper Galilee perfectly, while being totally inconsistent with the unanimous scholarly view that the Beersheba in question is allegedly Beersheba of the Negev Desert. Why does no university scholar ask if Genesis 20-21, 26-28 describe Beersheba of Upper Galilee perfectly, while not matching Beersheba of the Negev Desert at all? The reason for the total silence of university scholars on this important issue is that if Beersheba of Upper Galilee, located near the northern edge of what, centuries later, became Israel, is the Patriarchs’ second favorite place to sojourn, then the scholarly view collapses that the Patriarchal narratives were supposedly written (as fiction) by Jews in mid-1st millennium BCE Jerusalem who hated Assyria and Israel (while only being loyal to Judah / southern Canaan).

One key question regarding this all-important issue is whether “Shur” at Genesis 20: 1 should be understood as referring to the famous city-state in northwest Upper Galilee that is known in English as “Tyre”. Since both “Shur” and “Tyre” are in any event west Semitic names / words, which appear in the Bible and have direct equivalents in Biblical Hebrew common words, I am hoping that a discussion of “Shur” and “Tyre” in the context of Genesis 20: 1 will be deemed to be an appropriate topic for discussion on the b-Hebrew list.

At Genesis 20: 1 (but not at Genesis 16: 7 or 25: 18, which I will not discuss in this post), the original cuneiform version of the name rendered by KJV as “Shur” should have been rendered in Hebrew as ṢR / צר, or possibly, if plene spelling were unexpectedly used, as ṢWR / צור, with the first letter being a ssade. This is ṣu-ri or [per the Amarna Letters] ṣu[r]-ri (where the first of doubled consonants in a foreign name is always omitted in Biblical Hebrew writing), being the name of the city-state in far northwest Upper Galilee that is known in English (per the later Greek mispronunciation) as “Tyre”. But instead, relying on a cuneiform ambiguity as to the sibilant in question, the received text has שור, being SWR or ŠWR [“Shur”].

“Shur”, with the initial sibilant being sin/s/ש or shin/š/ש, is never attested non-Biblically as a geographical place name. But if the initial sibilant in fact was originally a ssade/ṣ/צ, then the reference is obviously to one of the most famous city-states in the ancient world: “Tyre”.

No satisfactory linguistic analysis of the name “Shur” has ever been forthcoming. The traditional view is aptly characterized by BDB as being “dubious”.

At Genesis 20: 1 (but not at Genesis 16: 7 and 25: 18), if plene spelling were unexpectedly used, then the three letters in question should have been rendered in Hebrew as ṢWR / צור, with the city-name ṣu-ri or ṣu[r]-ri beginning with a ssade/ṣ/צ. But due to the ambiguity of the cuneiform sign ZU(6), which was used to render either sin-U or ssade-U in cuneiform, this was mis-read first as being SWR / שור (with a sin), and then later as being ŠWR / שור / “Shur” (with a shin). That cuneiform-induced scribal error (which, however, was in fact a deliberate “mistake”, made by an editor in 7th century BCE Jerusalem for the purpose of re-positioning the geographical place names at Genesis 20: 1 on an ultra-southerly basis) is how the intended city-name Ṣu[r]-ri / ṢWR / צור [or, in the expected defective spelling, ṢR / צר] / “Tyre” became ŠWR / שור / “Shur” in the received alphabetical Hebrew text.

Note that “Kadesh” at Genesis 20: 1 is the well-known Late Bronze Age city of Kadesh in eastern Upper Galilee, rather than being an unattested name of an unknown site in the Sinai Desert. GRR / גרר / KJV: “Gerar” at Genesis 20: 1 is Gariree as the Late Bronze Age spelling of “Galilee”, being attested at item #80 on the mid-15th century BCE Thutmose III list of places in Canaan, rather than being an unattested name of an unattested place somewhere in the general vicinity of Gaza. Consider also that it makes no sense to think that after twice being told by YHWH that Sarah will, at long last, finally get pregnant with Isaac as Abraham’s proper heir about four weeks from now, that Abraham would somehow pick that point in time to begin wandering about the desolate Sinai Desert. Not. Isaac could not get rich growing wheat near Beersheba of the Negev Desert, but that was doable near Beersheba of Upper Galilee. And so on and so on.

There is no “Shur” as a geographical place name, with the initial sibilant being sin or shin, in non-Biblical history. But if, due to a cuneiform-induced scribal error, the intended initial sibilant was ssade, then the reference at Genesis 20: 1 is to the world-famous Late Bronze Age city-state of ṣu-ri / “Tyre”.

Now we can ask who the princeling ruler of ṣu-ri / “Tyre” / KJV “Shur” in Year 13 [see Genesis 14: 4 for “Year 13”] was. Abimelek. Both in the Amarna Letters and in the Patriarchal narratives. And what was Abimelek’s chief characteristic? He was always concerned about contested access to valuable water wells. Both in the Amarna Letters and in the Patriarchal narratives. Historical Abimelek / Abimilki in the Amarna Letters and Biblical Abimelek in the Patriarchal narratives are one and the same person. If we can just get the geography right (for example, the geographical location of “Shur” at Genesis 20: 1), then the pinpoint historical accuracy of the Patriarchal narratives in the context of the world of Year 13 comes shining through.

Contra university scholars, there is in fact no anti-Israel bias in the Patriarchal narratives, which long pre-date both the united monarchy and the divided monarchy, and even longer pre-date the devastating Assyrian invasion of Canaan (which latter event did not occur until about 500 years after the Patriarchal narratives were composed). There is nothing Jewish or Greek about the Patriarchal narratives, which rather are Late Bronze Age H-e-b-r-e-w , all the way in every way.

Jim Stinehart


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