Abram/Abrhm – 2 Different Biblical Characters
H. Abdul Al-Dahir
Abram’s alleged Biblical hometown was Ur of the Chaldees (Kasdiy in Hebrew), or 9th Century BCE Southern Babylonia, and Harran, a town in northern Syria while his alter-ego, Abrhm (Abraham), was linked to the Negev in southern Palestine. The two different spellings of this Biblical character’s name leaves one wondering whether there were actually at least two characters named Abram which were fused in the Genesis narrative.
The name Abarama (Abram) was found in the tablets at Ebla. The Eblaites spoke an East Semitic language that was akin to Akkadian. The name abarama is a derivative of the East Semitic root baramu in Akkadian which means ‘to seal’, ’emboss an image on metal’. The noun derived from this word is ‘Ibrum’ which means ‘a sealed document’. Thus, the name Abram means ‘a sealed document’. This document was the pact between Abram and El, the Canaanite/Hebrew deity. The pact or covenant was sealed with the circumcision so that Abram became the human embodiment of the covenant when he circumcised himself. The Hebrew root ‘to seal’ is chatham, a word which is not related to the name Abram or Abarama. The name Abram has no root in Hebrew, so Hebrew is not the origin of this name.
The Arabic word ‘brm’ or ‘barama’ means, among other things ‘to conclude a pact’ or to seal a covenant. The derivative of this word in Arabic is or Abram ( modern pronunciation Ibram) which means ‘conclusion of a pact’ or ‘seal of a covenant’. The name Abram would be spelled in Old South Arabic as Abrhm where the ‘h’ is pronounced as a glottal akin to the Arabic and Hebrew aleph. So, here we have 2 different spellings of the same name which shows up in Genesis as both Abram and Abraham. The 2 different spellings of this name are explained in Gen. 17 with the following explanation and gloss:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty[a]; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”
3 Abram 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. 5 No longer will you be called Abram[b]; your name will be Abraham,[c] for I have made you a father of many nations
Ab Hammon Gowy means ‘father of many nations’, not Abraham. Clearly, the authors of Genesis were dealing with 2 different characters who shared a similar name which meant ‘seal of a covenant’, but had two different spellings, i.e. Abram and Abrhm. Such a name would not be uncommon in Ancient Near Eastern Semitic cultures as one of the jobs of these religious leaders was to seal deals between their deities and themselves on behalf of their followers.
There are clearly 2 different religious traditions here in which 2 leaders, who were ‘living seals’ of the covenants between their followers and their deity. One was an Aramaean hero from Harran named Abram (Abarama), who was associated with certain Arameans who fled the Kaldu in southern Babylonia circa the 9th Century BCE and settled in or around Shechem, a town in ancient Samaria.
The other, Abrhm (pronounced with an aspirated ‘h’ in Hebrew), may have originated in one of the many Arabian tribal confederations and was brought from the Arabian Peninsula north into the Negev (Edom then Judea) and eventually became associated with Hebron. (The Biblical city of Kheber (Hebron) is mentioned frequently in connection with Abraham and his son, Isaac. Hebron was the city of coppersmiths whose previous names were Kiryath Arba (Gen 23:2), Kiryath Sannah (Jos 15:49) and Kiryath Sepher (Jos 15:15) . According to Wikipedia: “The Abrahamic traditions associated with Hebron are nomadic. This may also reflect a Kenite element, since the nomadic Kenites are said to have long occupied the city, and Heber is the name for a Kenite clan.”)
Thus, Abram (Abarama) may have been associated with the Canaanite god, El while Abrhm (pronounced Abram in OSA but Abraham in Hebrew) directed his homage toward Yhwh, the serpent god of the Edomite copper mining industry.
This thesis explains the dichotomous roles of the character Abram/Abraham in the Genesis story. Abram (Abarama) was from Harran and married his sister Sara, who became the mother of Isaac and the matriarch of the northern Hebrew tribes. Abrhm, on the other hand, was married to Hagar (actually the name of the ancient eastern province of the Arabian Peninsula, which included the port of Bahrain) who became the mother of Ishmael and the matriarch of this tribal confederation from the Arabian Peninsula. The Arab Abrhm settled in Hebron, a town associated with copper miners, while Aramaic Abram settled in Shechem. These are clearly 2 different characters fused as one by the authors of Genesis. Abrhm was a product from Arab (Qynite/Midianite/Qedarite etc) mythology who was adopted into the Judean tribal confederation and worshipped YHWH while Abram was an Aramaean character who evolved with the changing status of the Amorites who became Ahlamu, then Arameans who mixed with Canaanites whose god was El.
The authors of this text was clearly attempting to reconcile 2 different versions of one character who was the physical embodiment of the covenants with their respective gods El and Yah.