Eponyms

 
Andrew
 
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Andrew
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15 December 2009 19:31
 

It was typical for ancient tribes, which were really no more than extended families, to consider themselves in terms of a supposed common ancestor who’s name then became the eponym of that tribe.  This was a way for pre-literate societies to categorize and explain the kinships, similarities and differences among the peoples in the world they knew.
The Greeks regarded themselves all to have been descended from a man named Hellen who had three sons named Aeolus, Dorus and Xuthus, who had two sons named Ion and Achaeus.  They called themselves, collectively, “Hellenes”, and the federation of four tribes into which they found themselves divided were the “Aelians”, “Dorians”, “Achaeans”, and “Ionians”.
Likewise the Israelites are a people who imagined themselves comprised of the descendants of Israel (Jacob), and divided into twelve tribes, whose eponyms are the twelve sons of Israel.  Israel is the eponym for all the Israelites, but his son Judah (for instance) is the eponym only for the tribe of Judah.

The sons of Noah (Shem, Ham and Japeth) became the eponyms of the three great divisions of humanity known at the time that the Bible was reduced to writing…and their offspring became the eponyms for the various peoples of the known world.

Shem was the eldest and most favored of Noah’s sons and his descendants lived on the Arabian peninsula and north, which includes the Tigris-Euphrates area…and are called Semites (“Sem” is the Greek and Latin form of “Shem”). 
Shem had sons: Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram.-(Genesis 10:22)
Elam and Asshur are the eponymous ancestors of the Elamites and the Assyrians—the two most powerful nations of the Semitic world at that point.  Lud is the eponym for Lydia, on the coast of Asia Minor, and Aram is the eponym of the Aramaeans. 

The descendants of Ham lived in the northeastern corner of Africa.  His sons were Cush, Mizraim, Phut and Canaan-(Genesis 10:6).
Cush refers to the area of Ethiopia south of Egypt—Moses married a Cushite woman.
Phut is the area east of Egypt now called Libya.
Mizraim is the Hebrew word for Egypt, so he is the eponymous ancestor of the Egyptians.
And Canaan, although certainly Semitic, was at one time part of the Egyptian Empire…thus he, “Canaan”, is listed as a son of Ham.

The sons of Japeth live north and east of the Tigris-Euphrates and are Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras. (Genesis 10:2).  The Greeks are considered descendants of Japeth.
Gomer is identified with the Gimirrai, who invaded Asia Minor and became strong competition for Assyria.
Magog represents the “Land of Gog”—Gog being the king of Lydia (Lud).
Madai is the eponym of the Medes who finally conquered Assyria.
And Javan is a form of “Ion”—the eponymous ancestor of the Ionian Greeks.

Now if you look carefully among the offspring of Shem (Genesis 11:24), you’ll find that his son, Arphaxad, begat Sallah—and Sallah begat Eber.
Eber is the eponym of the Hebrews, whose story is told in the Jewish Bible.

 
 
Daniel O. McClellan
 
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21 December 2009 15:29
 
Andrew - 15 December 2009 06:31 PM

Now if you look carefully among the offspring of Shem (Genesis 11:24), you’ll find that his son, Arphaxad, begat Sallah—and Sallah begat Eber.
Eber is the eponym of the Hebrews, whose story is told in the Jewish Bible.

A not uncommon theory in the past, but outdated and largely rejected these days as post-hoc pop etymology (עבר= “to pass,” and so the name refers to passing from one side of the Jordan to the other). Ehud Ben Zvi calls this reading “a late (or ideologically contrived) etymological meaning” (Perspectives on Hebrew Scriptures II, Vol. 5 [Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2007], 123-24). Sáenz-Badillos and Elwolde state it “smacks of popular etymology (A History of the Hebrew Language [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993], 1). See also Koehler and Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 1.782-83: “עברי meaning a loosely connected ethnic group which is not simply to be identified with the Israelites but to which they belong.”

The most common conclusion these days is that Eber is actually a name secondary to “Hebrew” which is designed to provide a post-hoc eponym for a social class of people already known by the term “Hebrew.” On that, see J. L. Mckenzie, Dictionary of the Bible (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1965), 346: “a fictitious eponymous ancestor invented to explain the existence of a group under a name which had become a gentilic instead of a social designation.” See also Frendo, “Back to Basics: A Holistic Approach to the Problem of the Emergence of Ancient Israel,” in In Search of Pre-Exilic Israel (London: T&T Clark, 2004), 44; and Koehler and Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 782.

The truth is, no one knows exactly where “Hebrew” comes from. It could refer to the Habiru, a nomadic band referenced in a number of Akkadian texts, but there are problems with this etymology. It definitely does not come from Eber, though.

 
Andrew
 
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21 December 2009 16:21
 
Daniel O. McClellan - 21 December 2009 02:29 PM

The most common conclusion these days is that Eber is actually a name secondary to “Hebrew” which is designed to provide a post-hoc eponym for a social class of people already known by the term “Hebrew.”

(Andrew):  I’m pretty sure that’s the case with most eponyms of this sort.

Daniel O. McClellan - 21 December 2009 02:29 PM

On that, see J. L. Mckenzie, Dictionary of the Bible (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1965), 346: “a fictitious eponymous ancestor invented to explain the existence of a group under a name which had become a gentilic instead of a social designation.”

(Andrew):  That’s what I think.

Daniel O. McClellan - 21 December 2009 02:29 PM

It [the name “Hebrew”] definitely does not come from Eber, though.

(Andrew):  I don’t see how you can be so definite, but you go ahead. 
Eber is certainly the eponymous ancester of the Hebrews, however, in that the Jews consider themselves to be descended from someone named Eber, who was Shem’s great-grandson.
Which is all I said.

So I guess I’m unsure of your point.  If you’re just being pedantic, that’s OK.  I suffer from the same disease.

 
 
Daniel O. McClellan
 
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21 December 2009 16:39
 
Andrew - 21 December 2009 03:21 PM

(Andrew):  I’m pretty sure that’s the case with most eponyms of this sort.

The term Semite/Semitic was not used in the Bible, but developed in the early 19th century in reference originally to the language family. The name Israel far predates any reference to “Israelites.” Some others may be retroactively applied, but not most of them. The most important point, however, is that it was a social designation, not an ethnic one. The Hebrews were actually second class Israelites.

Andrew - 21 December 2009 03:21 PM

(Andrew):  That’s what I think.

(Andrew):  I don’t see how you can be so definite, but you go ahead.

The word “Hebrew” predates the tradition about crossing over the Jordan, so an etymology that has the source of the name in that tradition about crossing over it not going to be original.

Andrew - 21 December 2009 03:21 PM

Eber is certainly the eponymous ancester of the Hebrews, however, in that the Jews consider themselves to be descended from someone named Eber, who was Shem’s great-grandson.
Which is all I said.

So I guess I’m unsure of your point.  If you’re just being pedantic, that’s OK.  I suffer from the same disease.

My point was to clarify. There is quite a big debate regarding the origin of the name “Hebrew,” and the position you’ve advocated is a bit out of date. In addition, there’s no indication that Eber was widely accepted as an eponym for Hebrew by the Jews. It’s a modern theory that may have nothing to do with how ancient Israelites saw themselves. That someone may have made up the name Eber to suggest that eponym doesn’t mean everyone picked up on it.

 
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22 December 2009 08:24
 
Daniel O. McClellan - 21 December 2009 03:39 PM

There is quite a big debate regarding the origin of the name “Hebrew,” and the position you’ve advocated is a bit out of date.

(Andrew):  My position is that “Eber” is the eponym of the Hebrews.

Daniel O. McClellan - 21 December 2009 03:39 PM

In addition, there’s no indication that Eber was widely accepted as an eponym for Hebrew by the Jews.

(Andrew):  Well, I could post some references that says it was and still is, but you’ll just say “nuh-uh!”

 
 
Daniel O. McClellan
 
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22 December 2009 11:07
 
Andrew - 22 December 2009 07:24 AM

(Andrew):  My position is that “Eber” is the eponym of the Hebrews.

From your OP your position appears to be that these names were all circulating while Israel was still “pre-literate,” and when the Bible was “reduced to writing” the names became eponyms for then contemporary ethnic groups:

The sons of Noah (Shem, Ham and Japeth) became the eponyms of the three great divisions of humanity known at the time that the Bible was reduced to writing:and their offspring became the eponyms for the various peoples of the known world.

In reality, there’s no indication these names predate the composition of the table of nations (Genesis 10). Then you mistakenly attribute the word “Semite” to biblical invention:

Shem was the eldest and most favored of Noah’s sons and his descendants lived on the Arabian peninsula and north, which includes the Tigris-Euphrates area:and are called Semites (“Sem” is the Greek and Latin form of “Shem”).

And like I explained earlier, Semitic is actually an early 19th century word developed to describe a specific ancient Near East language family. Also, Canaanites are considered Semitic, and they come from Ham (according to the table of nations).

Saying that Eber is the eponym for the Hebrews also ignores the fact that several generations of different families split off from Eber’s descendants who are not considered Hebrews, like the Ishmaelites and the descendants of Esau, in addition to everyone descending from Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, Terah, and Lot. Also notice that Haran dies at a young age and so Terah and Abraham up and move to Haran, a city of Canaan in existence well before Haran was born (on the other side of the ancient Near East). These names weren’t all written as eponyms. Some of them were, but my point is that some of them weren’t, and were only associated eponymically with nations well after the composition of Genesis 10.

Andrew - 22 December 2009 07:24 AM

(Andrew):  Well, I could post some references that says it was and still is, but you’ll just say “nuh-uh!”

The ancient Jews, not modern Jews.

 
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22 December 2009 15:17
 
Daniel O. McClellan - 22 December 2009 10:07 AM

From your OP your position appears to be that these names were all circulating while Israel was still “pre-literate,” and when the Bible was “reduced to writing” the names became eponyms for then contemporary ethnic groups…

(Andrew):  That’s mostly correct…except for the part about my position being that the names were “all” circulating while Israel was still “pre-literate”.  It’s certainly true that pre-literate peoples developed eponyms, and there’s no reason to suppose that some, but probably not all, of the eponyms recorded in Genesis were developed during those times and became part of their tradition, but “when the Bible was reduced to writing” doesn’t mean that before it was reduced to writing that the Israelites were illiterate.  “When the Bible was reduced to writing” refers to when the priests composed the Torah from the various traditions (Documentary Hypothesis)...sometime during or shortly after the exile…and some of the eponyms could have been manufactured on the spot, so to speak.

Daniel O. McClellan - 22 December 2009 10:07 AM

Then you mistakenly attribute the word “Semite” to biblical invention

(Andrew-previously):  Shem was the eldest and most favored of Noah’s sons and his descendants lived on the Arabian peninsula and north, which includes the Tigris-Euphrates area:and are called Semites (“Sem” is the Greek and Latin form of “Shem”).
(Andrew—currently):  Where do you see that I’ve “mistakenly” attributed the word Sem(ite) to anything more than the Latin form of Shem?

Daniel O. McClellan - 22 December 2009 10:07 AM

And like I explained earlier, Semitic is actually an early 19th century word developed to describe a specific ancient Near East language family.

(Andrew):  And as I explained in my OP, “semite” refers to the offspring of Shem.  Making him their eponymous ancestor.  Semites (generally) speak a semitic language, just like the descendants of Ham speak an Hamitic language and guess what the descendants of Japeth speak?  But…

It is a mistake, though, to suppose that the writers of Genesis were influenced by language.  Modern notions of philology are strictly modern.  Rather, the Biblical writers were guided by political connections and by geographical propinquity. Such connections often did bespeak racial relatedness so that terms such as Semitic and Hamitic did turn out to make much sense, linquistically, but this was not true in every case.—-from another old book that you’d certainly discount

Daniel O. McClellan - 22 December 2009 10:07 AM

Also, Canaanites are considered Semitic, and they come from Ham (according to the table of nations).

(Andrew):  My OP addresses the reason for this.

[ Edited: 23 December 2009 08:18 by Andrew]