Saturday, January 28, 2017

Beersheba: Well of the Oath Or Well of Seven?

Beer-Sheva is now the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel. According to the Hebrew Bible, Beersheba was founded when Abraham and Abimelech settled their differences over a well of water and made a covenant (see Genesis 21:22-34). Saul, Israel's first king, built a fort there for his campaign against the Amalekites (I Samuel 14:48 and 15:2–9). The prophet Elijah took refuge in Beersheba when Jezebel ordered him killed (I Kings 19:3). The prophet Amos mentions the city in regard to idolatry (Amos 5:5 and 8:14). Following the Babylonian conquest and subsequent enslavement of many Israelites, the town was abandoned.

Beersheba grew in importance in the 19th century, when the Ottoman Turks built a regional police station there. The Battle of Beersheba was part of a wider British offensive in World War I aimed at breaking the Turkish defensive line from Gaza to Beersheba. In 1947, Bir Seba, as it was known, was envisioned as part of the Arab state in the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. -[Wikipedia].

Well of the Oath:
Genesis Version 1Now there was a famine in the land—besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time—and Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines in Gerar. 

The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants, I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees, and my instructions.” 
So Isaac stayed in Gerar. 

When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah because she is beautiful.” 

When Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked down from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah. So Abimelek summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” 
Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.” 
Then Abimelek said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” 
So Abimelech gave orders to all the people: “Anyone who harms this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.” 

Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold because the Lord blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth. Then Abimelech said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.” So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar, where he settled. 

Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them. Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek because they disputed with him. 

Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has given us a room and we will flourish in the land.” 
From there he went up to Beersheba. 

That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” 
Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well. 

Meanwhile, Abimelech had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me since you were hostile to me and sent me away?” 
They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.” 

Beersheba in 1917
Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully. That day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, “We’ve found water!” 
He called it Shibah, and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba.- [Gen. 26:1-33]

Well of  Seven:
Abraham returned to Syria and stayed at Saba', a land in the vicinity of Jerusalem and Palestine. There he dug a well and built a place of prayer (mosque).
But some of the inhabitants wronged him so he withdrew from them and settled in [to Qit or Qat] a place between Ramle and Jerusalem." -[ibn Sad].

What wrong the inhabitants did?
Mujir al-Din Answers, when Abraham comes to the valley of Saba' (Wadi Saba'), he is still a young man with no property. As he grows older, his property and livestock increase until the people of the area complain that his large flocks and possessions are causing harm to them. Finally, according to nomadic Bedouin practice, they ask him to move away.

After Abraham leaves, some of the younger men of the town urge the others to take half of his wealth from him by force since he grew wealthy at the towns people's expense. 
When they overtake Abraham and make this claim, he replies: "O people, you are correct. I came to you when I was but a youth, and today I have become an old man. Return to me my youth and take whatever you desire from my wealth:' 
With this argument, they defeated and let him go. -[Mujir al-Din]

According to Arabian legend, as soon as Abraham departs, the water of the well dries up. The residents of al-Saba' pursue him and repent of their wrong, asking him to return and live with the Mazian, but Abraham refuses and notes that he will not return to a place from which he was expelled. The people then complain that the well has gone dry. 

Abraham thereupon takes seven goats and gives them to the people, explaining that when the seven goats are brought to the well, plenty of fresh water will appear for them and everyone will be able to use it. But they must not allow any menstruating woman to draw near or ladle water from the well.

The people do as Abraham instructs them, and abundant water appears when the goats are brought near. The system works well until a menstruating woman ladles from it or drinks from it. As a result, the water recedes or becomes still, as it remains to this day.

The etymology of the name 'al-Saba', where Abraham resided, is this that Saba' is the Arabic word for the numeral seven, which is the special number of goats that Abraham gave to the people of that place. The Arabic name of that place is, therefore, bi'r  Saba (Beersheba), the "Well of Seven".

Genesis Version 2And it came to pass at that time that Abimelech and Phichol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, “God is with you in all that you do. Now, therefore, swear to me by God that you will not deal falsely with me, with my offspring, or with my posterity; but that according to the kindness that I have done to you, you will do to me and to the land in which you have dwelt.”
And Abraham said, “I will swear.”

Then Abraham rebuked Abimelech because of a well of water which Abimelech’s servants had seized. And Abimelech said, “I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor had I heard of it until today.” 

So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant. And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. Then Abimelech asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs which you have set by themselves?”
And he said, “You will take these seven ewe lambs from my hand, that they may be my witness that I have dug this well.” 

Therefore he called that place Beersheba because the two of them swore an oath there. [The etymology bases the second component of the Hebrew name beer Sheva' (Beersheba) from the root meaning to make an oath or swear (sh-b-'). The meaning of the name would, therefore, be "the well of the oath," ].

Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba. So Abimelech rose with Phichol, the commander of his army, and they returned to the[ir] land of the Philistines. 

Then Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and there called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines many days. -[Gen. 21:22-34]

Biblical Footnotes: Shibah can mean oath or seven. [So], Beersheba can mean [both] Well of the Oath "and" Well of Seven.

Wikipedian etymology: There are several etymologies for the origin of the name "Beersheba." The oath of Abraham and Abimelech (well of the oath) is the one stated in Gen. 21:31. Others include the seven wells dug by Isaac (seven wells) though only three or four have been identified; the oath of Isaac and Abimelech (well of the oath in Gen. 26:33); the seven lambs that sealed Abraham and Abimelech's oath (well of the seven).

Be'er is the Hebrew word for well; sheva could mean "seven" or "oath" (from the Hebrew word shvu'a). In this case, the meaning is probably "oath," as the ancient Hebrews believed seven to be a lucky number, and the Hebrew "shvu'a" (to take an oath) literally means "to seven oneself."

The Arabic toponym can also be translated as "Seven wells" or as more commonly believed "Lion's well".

Dictionary of the Bible: Abimelech's men had taken the well from Abraham after he had previously dug it so Abraham brought sheep and cattle to Abimelech to get the well back. He set aside seven lambs to swear that it was he that had dug the well and no one else. Abimelech conceded that the well belonged to Abraham and, in the Bible, Beersheba means "Well of Seven" or "Well of the Oath".

The End.
Not Yet Verified.

# One of my friend asked, "What is the significance of this story?" 

@ I said, the explanation as Reuven Firestone given is that- "The Beersheba story adds no essential data to Islam, although it does provide information supporting the honesty and righteousness of Abraham. By virtue of Abraham's righteousness, the legend supports the justice of his being the patriarch for the monotheistic religions. It also establishes his perfected sense of fairness and duty, which will become important in the face of the subsequent conflict between Sarah and Hagar. This and the fact that it has no relation to any qur'anic text are the most plausible reasons why it was not utilized by more sources.

In contrast to most Islamic legends that appear to have evolved from Biblicist exegetical narratives, the Islamic Beersheba story may have evolved directly out of a telling of the Genesis 21 version. As the biblical story was taken in oral form farther and farther away from its original locus in the minds of generations of emigrants or traveling traders, it would have passed through a series of transformations that could result in the hybrid version we find in our sources. It has no connection, for example, with the biblical Abimelech, Philistines, or any petty ruler or king for that matter. It portrays only anonymous local inhabitants as Abraham's antagonists. There is presumably no reason for the biblical names to completely fall out unless they were forgotten.

Of greater significance, the Islamic legend knows nothing of the official biblical etymology for Beersheba. We have noted that it does, however, provide the alternative etymology based on the seven goats Abraham gives to the people to restore the water of their well. The reason for its variant etymology on Beersheba is that the "official" biblical explanation made no sense for an Arabic-speaking people. The Hebrew meaning of the root sh-b-' for making an oath does not occur in Arabic.

The basic meaning of the Hebrew sh-b-', however, is a common Semitic word for seven found in both languages. When the legend came into an Arabic-speaking environment without a close connection with the Hebrew Bible, the official biblical etymology would make no sense. In an Arabic-speaking world, the root sh-b-' (or in Arabic, s-b-') would have no connection to swearing an oath, but only to the number seven. The official biblical etymology, therefore, dropped out, and the alternative etymology became the only explanation for the name Beersheba."

"But", I said, "What Reuven Firestone said is not true actually, the Beersheba confusion or conflict not yet ends, there are more Beersheba yet to discuss. The earlier verses of Gen. 21, creates the biggest dispute, Let's see the story -

"And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 

And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also because he is your offspring.” 

So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of "Beersheba".-[Gen. 21:8-14]

Which Beersheba is this in the wilderness?
To find its answer, we have to go through the rest of the verses- "When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. And she departed and sat down opposite him at a distance, as it were a bowshot, for she said, Surely I cannot see the death of my child: and she sat opposite him, and the child cried aloud and wept.
And God heard the voice of the child from the place where he was, and an angel of God called Agar out of heaven, and said to her, "What is it, Agar? fear not, for God has heard the voice of the child from the place where he is."
"Rise up, and take the child, and hold him in your hand, for I will make him a great nation." -[Gen. 21:15-18]

Then God opened her eyes, and "she saw a well of water". And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.-[Gen. 21:19-21]

What is the name of this well that Hagar finds out?
What ever its name but it is sure in the wilderness. Now we have to find is this that Beersheba of Gen. Verse 14, or it is another? Bible does not provide any answer to this question, so we have to look for another source.

But it should be noted that the word Beersheba has been used at 34 times in the Bible and is only once where it preceded by a characteristic word "wilderness" (in Gen. 21:14) and Abraham had settled Hagar and her son Ishmael there.

Secondly, it was given the name ‘Beer-sheba’ (the well of seven) after the seven rounds of running between al-Safā and al-Marwah (Moriah of the Bible) by Hagar as a result of which she was made to discover this ‘well of seven’ by God through His angel; and this well had been commonly called by the Arabs as ‘Zamzam’ [Hagar when saw she was unable to stop the flow of water, cried out, Zam, Zam [stop, stop] and the flow stops], hence the uncultivated and uninhabited area, surrounding this ‘Well of Seven’, was given the name Beersheba in the ‘Wilderness of Paran’.

Encyclopaedia of Islam explains: "Hagar, cast off by Abraham and seeing Ishma‘el perishing of thirst, ran in despair seven times from one hill to the other;"

David Kerr notes: "This [the circumambulation around the Ka’ba] is followed by running seven times between two small hills [al-Safa and al-Marwah], recalling the plight of Hagar and her son Ishmael who, in Islamic, Jewish and Christian tradition, were saved from certain death by a spring of water which God caused to break through the desert sands. This well is named in Islamic tradition as Zamzam,"

Thus the Hagar Ismael story goes as- When the food and water used up, Hagar tried to save her child with her breast milk, but at times she found her breast stop flowing milk, then she perplexed and distressed. Nearby stood the hillocks of al-Safā and al-Marwah (Moriah of the Bible). She ran from one hillock to the other in search of Human so that she may get help to save her son but in vain. After seven rounds of running her sight goes not too far as the sun set nearly an hrs ago. So she rushed to her son in fear and found a thin stream of water flowing beneath the leg of her son. So the place was given the name of ‘Bi'r-Sheba’–‘the well of seven’. Nearby stood the Sanctuary of Ka‘ba (or Bayt-Allah, ie. House of Allah, which in Hebrew is Beth-el), which later rebuilt by Abraham and Ishmael.

He said, "I am still not clear."
I said, "You people do not want to use your brain. However, what I have to say that the Biblical footnotes are right. Shibah [feminine, linked to women] can mean both oath or seven. And Beersheba can mean- Well of the Oath "AND" Well of Seven.

Well of the Oath as God made a covenant with Hagar.
And she departed and sat down opposite him at a distance, as it were a bowshot, for she said, Surely I cannot see the death of my child: and she sat opposite him, and the child cried aloud and wept.
And God heard the voice of the child from the place where he was, and an angel of God called Agar out of heaven, and said to her, "What is it, Agar? fear not, for God has heard the voice of the child from the place where he is."
"Rise up, and take the child, and hold him in your hand, for I will make him a great nation." -[Gen. 21:16-18]

And, Well of Seven as Hagar rounded seven times between Safa and Marwah [before the covenant made] as we seen before. Thus the well in the ‘Wilderness of Paran’ is Beersheba can means [both] Well of the Oath "and" Well of Seven. And the name Zamzam preceded Beersheba.

And the other well Beersheba that is connected with Abraham simply means well of Seven as that Arabian Legend told us, not well of Oath. It is because, Abraham is such a person, who found real God- living in the house of Polytheist and surely such a dignified man among the mankind, shall not need to make a covenant with a Polytheist king like Abimelech. Without thinking a 2nd time, we can mark this Biblical Story as false."

Bible. Gen. 26:1-33; 21:22-34, 21:15-21.
Encyclopaedia of Islam,
Mujīr al-Dīn al-'Ulaymī,(c. 1495) al-Uns al-Jalil bi-Tarikh al-Quds wal-Khalil ("The glorious history of Jerusalem and Hebron"), the most comprehensive and detailed source for the history of Jerusalem.
Abū Abd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Sa‘d ibn Manī al-Baṣrī, (CE 784), Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir (The Book of the Major Classes), Vols. 1&2. ISBN 81-7151-127-9.
Reuven Firestone, Journeys in Holy Lands: the evolution of the Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis.
Freedman, David Noel; Myers, Allen C. (2000). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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