Bible question: Abram to Abraham name change

I have a question about Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4"As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you…15God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”
Did the name “Abraham” actual mean this at the time, or was God declaring that this is now what the word means. Same question about “Sarai” to “Sarah” name change.

According to this and this, his name was changed from “Ho4nored Father” to “Father of Many.” Her name change was more subtle even in Hebrew, and may be just tying to reconcile two different versions of it in the legends. (And his might be the same issue, when it comes to that.)

Sooo…“many” means “more than 4”?


Yes, in Hebrew, the numbers go “one”, “two”, “three”, “four”, “many.”

The letter ה or H in Hebrew often represents God, as it is the second and fourth letter of the divine Name. In fact, Jews will usually write “H” instead of “YHVH” in secular writing. By adding Hs to Abram’s and Sarah’s name, God claims them as His own.

At least, that’s what I was taught. A similar process happened with the city of Jerusalem - it was “Yerushalem” when David conquered it, and he renamed it “Yerushalayim” in God’s honor.

I was taught that the “ah” syllable inserted into Abram’s and Sarai’s names meant God breathed life into them…the child Isaac.

“Ah” is the Breath of God.

I think that would only work if they spoke our language.

These folk etymologies are interesting, but Thompson cites De Vaux as saying that Abraham is an ancient name and that even the authors of Genesis no longer knew the original meaning.

ETA i.e., the “father of many nations” stuff is not to be taken as the actual meaning of the name

Pretty much except that we don’t really know what the authors of Genesis knew or didn’t know about it. We can only guess. We don’t really have a true dictionary for ancient Hebrew, nor do we have particularly good etymologies for many of its words. Even the traditional idea of ‘Golden Age’, ‘Silver Age’ and ‘Mishnaic Age’ of development of the Hebrew language is under serious question. So, the long and short is we really don’t know what is going on with those words.

On another tanger, for both Abraham/Abram and Sarai/Sarah the letter He is added to the word. The letter He is associated with God for example in the word Hei which is short for Hashem which means ‘The Name’ and is often used to refer to God. I don’t know what that means if anything, but it’s simply an observation.

I’m going to hazard a guess that Abram didn’t speak Hebrew. He came from the city of Ur, which would have made him Sumerian. The later tellings of the story in Hebrew likely approximated the Sumerian as best they could.

That’s true if you’re a biblical literalist. I’m one of those pesky liberal Christians who assumes that Genesis was likely written in the 6th century BC from various oral traditions passed down within the Jewish priestly caste and as such, Abraham was unlikely to have existed as an actual individual and so it’s more relevant as to what the words meant in the 6th century to Hebrew speakers.

Any significance to the similarity between Brahma (Hindu creator-god and husband of Saraswati) and Abram/Abraham (husband of Sarai/Sarah), or is that generally regarded as mere coincidence?

Huh - like the lapine “language” in Watership Down. Granted, that had the accompanying explanation that rabbits can count up to 4 (picture someone counting on their fingers - rabbits count using their paws) and that anything above 1-paw 2-paw 3-paw 4-paw was essentially, “Aw heck, I dunno, like a lot?”

I wonder if the author based the idea on Hebrew or if it’s just a coincidence.

Using gematria, the addition of h to Abram increased its numerical total by 5 (because h=5, being the 5th letter of the Hebrew alphabet). Meanwhile, y=10, so the change of the last letter in Sarai’s name from y to h subtracted 5 from her total. End result, the total of their two names remained unchanged. Some significance or other was attributed to this, but I don’t remember what it might have been.

Abram (243) --> Abraham (248)
Sarai (505) --> Sarah (500)
Total=748 both ways.

I think the Semitic-speaking Sargon the Great conquered the Sumerian Empire about 2300 BC, with the Sumerian language then becoming a sort of liturgical language. There was a brief revivial of Sumerian about 2100 BC when Ur-Nammu founded Ur-III (the Third Sumerian Dynasty). Abraham’s dates are unclear(!) but I think his birth is generally shown as during or after Ur-III.

Is there any evidence of Sumerian-language influence on Biblical names?

That was a joke, based on a common (semi-)myth.

Which semi-myth was also, of course, the origin of Lapine counting.

And why would the “Ah” sound representing breath depend on language? No matter what language you’re speaking, that sound is a breath.

Grammatically, Hebrew has “one-two-many,” usually called singular/dual/plural.

But by that notion, you’d have to say that English and most other languages stop counting at one, since we just have singular and plural. Heck, Japanese doesn’t even have that distinction.

:smack:Well, I counted wrong.
Sarai=510 so Sarah=505. For a total of 753 both ways.


+h = 248 where h=5


-y +h = 505