Arabic Origin of the Names El & Abram (Abraham)
H. Abdul Al-Dahir
Strong’s Hebrew & Greek Dictionary says that the Semitic word for god or El is derived from the word for strength or ‘ayil’. This is very possible. In Akkadian, allallu means powerful when referring to a god or ilu in Akkadian. However, there seems to a chicken and egg conundrum here as it can’t be determined which word is derived from which. Arabic offers an even more tantalizing connection. as the words for god are all based on the word il or al as the words Ilahu and Allah (swt). Now here is the really interesting part, the word for covenant, pact is ‘il’ which is spelled with the letters ‘ilaf’ and ‘lam’. The word ‘il’ also means blood relationship and consanguinity. This latter meaning of covenant and consanguinity is consistent with the biblical El who was the originator of the covenant as well as the father of the Hebrews. El begat the Hebrews according to Deut 32:18 which says: “”You neglected the Rock who begot you, And forgot the God who gave you birth.” In addition, Elm aka Yhwh, is consistently referred to as the father of the Hebrews as indicated in Isaiah 63:16: “For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.” So, the word Il, meaning covenant and blood relationship describes the biblical El who is also a powerful god.
The connection here is that the Semites viewed their god as their sire, their covenant source and their powerful protector. The etymological origin of this name explains Abraham’s original name, Abram.
Abraham was a Judean tribal hero. After the fall of Israel, Judean tribal heroes became the ancestors of the Israelites too. The defeated Israelites fled south to the rival kingdom of Judah. At that time, the Israelites, who were an ethnic mixture of Canaanites, Egyptians and Arameans, were integrated into Judean society at which time the tribal heroes of the Judeans also became the cultural icons of the Israelites, who were now culturally Judeans. This cultural exchange explains Abraham’s designation in Deut 26:5 as an Aramean. However, Abraham was a Judean as he was most often connected to the Arabs (Midianites, Ishmaelites etc), the Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites as well as locations in the south of Judah as Hebron and the Plain of Mamre where he sealed the covenant with the god El. In addition. Abram, Abraham’s original name according to Genesis 11:26, is an Arabic word, ‘abram’, which means ‘the one who ratified the covenant’ from the root ‘brm’ which means to ratify or conclude a settlement. The name is Arabian in origin. Abram concluded the covenant with El when he circumcised himself, Ishmael and all the men in his household according to Genesis 17. Ishmael was the first offspring to be circumcised into the covenant which indicates an Arabian origin for the name Abram meaning ratification of the covenant. Isaac was not circumcised until 15 years later, when the custom had already been well established among the clan of Abraham.
The name Abram, meaning ‘the one who concluded the covenant’ in Arabic, which the Hebrew authors changed to Abraham, has no meaning in Hebrew either although the authors attempted to extract from this rendition the name Ab Hamon which means the father of multitudes. However, the name Ab Hamon does not match the name Abraham which is an Old South Arabic spelling of the name Abram. The ‘h’ in the OSA spelling is pronounced as a glottal and is not aspirated. So, the proper pronunciation of this spelling would be Abraam which is the way the Septuagint authors transliterated the name Abraham into Greek.