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, El 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. The Genesis authors were working from an Aramaic or Arabic related vocabulary in which case Abrhm would be construed to mean Ab (father) rhm (of kin/blood relations). rhm means womb in both Arabic and Aramaic. From the word rhm is derived rhm (rahim) which means blood relative or kin in Arabic. In Genesis 17:5, the Judean authors may have attempted to expand the scope of Abrhm’s patriarchal role from the father of kin (Hebrew tribes) to the father of multitudes (ab hamown) of nations (goyim) which would include the Arabs, the Edomites, the Moabites (King David’s kin) and the Ammonites (Moabites and Ammonites were depicted as the offspring of Lot, Abrm’s nephew).
The Judeans succeeded in establishing Abrhm as a Judean tribal hero when, according to Genesis 17:5, they changed the name from Abrm to Abrhm. Biblical scholars have suggested that the northern version of the name, Abram, could mean ‘Ab Aram’ or ‘father of the Aramaeans’. Abrm was depicted as a ‘wandering Aramaean’ in Deut 26:5. So, the Judean authors changed the meaning from ‘father of the Aramaeans’ or Abrm to ‘father of blood kin’ or Abrhm which would include the Hebrew tribes as well as the Arabs, the Edomites, the Moabites and Ammonites.
Arabs, Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites may have originally been considered as goyim, but the Judeans included them as blood kin in their tales of Lot, Hagar and Ishmael, Keturah, and Jacob and Esau. The Judeans were related to the Midianites thru a marriage between Zipporah and Moses. Judean territory overlapped Edom, so the link between Edom and Judah was obvious. Saul Ben Qysh was an Edomite king and a king of Judah whose reign the biblical authors expanded to include Israel too. The Judeans may have been justifying their blood links to the Arabs, Edomites and Moabites when they suggested that Abrhm (the father of blood kin) also included goyim nations as the Arabs, the Edomites, the Moabites and the Ammonites.
However, the names Abrm and Abrhm were interpreted by the Genesis authors, the root of the name Abrm is the Akkadian logogram baramu which means ‘seal’. It is from this logogram that root barama is derived which means ‘to conclude (a covenant/pact). The Arabic word derived from this root is ibram and it means ratification of a covenant which Abram did when he circumcised himself, Ishmael and all of the male members of his clan. However, the biblical texts are replete with puns and one can see puns emerging here. Abrm, the northern or Aramaic version of the name, meant seal of the covenant as well as father of the Arameans. The southern or Old South Arabian version of the name, Abrhm, meant both seal of the covenant and ‘father of a multitude of kin’ which the Judean authors expanded to mean ‘father of a multitude (ab hamown) of nations (goyim).
Abraham was a Judean tribal hero. After the fall of Israel to the Assyrians, 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.
The name Abram, meaning ‘the one who concluded the covenant’ in Arabic, which the Judean authors changed to Abraham, has no meaning in Hebrew 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.