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In Genesis 17 (verses 5 and 15) God gives Abram and Sarai new names.

v. 5: No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. (ESV)

v. 15: And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. (ESV)

Abram אַבְרָם means "a high father" and Abraham אַבְרָהָם means "father of a great multitude" (per Smith's and Easton's Bible dictionaries).

Sarai שָׂרַי means "my princess" and Sarah שָׂרָה means "princess" (not just "my").

God changed both of their names by inserting the Hebrew letter "he", ה. My Jewish friends say that this letter is a symbol of divinity (appearing twice in their sacred Name of God), and he with a geresh ( ‏׳‎ה ) is an abbreviation for "the Name."

Is there a reference source that explores the idea of the insertion of God's name or divinity into the names of Abraham and Sarah?

  • Welcome! Thanks for moving this question to BH... Related question, but from a theologic angle: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/15116/… – ThaddeusB Aug 17 '15 at 0:36
  • Thank you for the help, Thaddeus, that was my first question. The answer to the related question wasn't what I was looking for. Hope I get some input on this site! – Sima Aug 17 '15 at 3:11
  • Thank you Susan for the edit. Should have added the related verses myself! Appreciate the help! – Sima Aug 17 '15 at 3:16
  • No problem. I figured the other question didn't answer your question since you moved the question. :) ... The Stack Exchange format does require some getting used to, but you are off to a very good start - few first questions are as "on format" as this one. For reference, BH.SE (this site) is the correct place if your question is about exploring the meaning of text itself. C.SE (the first site you posted on) is the correct place for theology/doctrine questions, questions about history/science, and questions about prominent religious figures. – ThaddeusB Aug 17 '15 at 3:28
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I suggest it is more useful to look at the context of the name changes rather than the coincidence of spelling changes. A great many of the names of people we find in the Book of Genesis have meanings quite relevant to the story of the persons concerned. As stated, Abram means 'High Father', or perhaps better, 'Exalted Father', while Abraham means 'Father of Many'.

The story of Abraham and Sarah that comes down to us in Genesis seems to occur at an evolution in the Hebrew legend. In a purely secular sense, it seems strange that Terah would name his own son 'Exalted Father' (Abram) but some scholars see a pre-biblical explanation that, being pre-biblical, is probably outside the scope of this question. As the story of Abram develops, his role as a father, or ancestor, of multitudes becomes relevant so, in line with common practice in the Book of Genesis of using meaningful names, his name changes to 'Father of Many' (Abraham).

It is suggested in this question that Sarai means 'My Princess', whereas 'Sarah' simply means 'Princess', a view supported by Wikipedia and a number of commentaries. Robert B. Waltz says in The Bible in History page 190, that Sarai is simply a more archaic form of Sarah, and that both mean 'Princess'. Leon R. Kass supports this translation in The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis. The implication of this is that the references to Sarai date from a period of archaic Hebrew, whereas references to Sarah date from a later period, and that a Redactor explained the development as a decision by God.

As to the symbolism of ה , I note that it appears in Abraham and Sarah without a geresh, so there is no strong reason to link it to the abbreviation for 'the Name'. It is also associated with five in gematria, but again there is nothing in context to make this symbolism meaningful for Abraham and Sarah. Rather than being a divine reference, the simple explanation is that ה is the letter that changes 'Exalted Father' to 'Father of Many' and also changes the archaic form of 'Princess' to the more modern form of 'Princess'. There is no mainstream debate that explores the idea of insertion of God's name or divinity into the names of Abraham and Sarah in this way.

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  • Thank you for your comment, Dick. Yesterday was just the first time that I had noticed that both names were changed by the insertion of of ה , and I wanted to know if I was missing another layer of the covenant name change. – Sima Aug 18 '15 at 23:25
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In the Book of Genesis, Elohim changes the name of Sarah and her husband Abraham from Sarai and Abram, and this gives the gematria of their names a different value. Sarai 213 became Sarah 208 (-5) and Abram 243 became Abraham 248 (+5). Not coincidentally each name is concordent to a span of time; with 208 weeks being exactly 4 years and 248 days being 9 anomalistic months. In each verse where the name change occurs, the value of the justification for the name change equals that of the name; Abraham (248) = המון גוים נתתיך ‘of many nations I have made you‘ (Genesis 17:5).

‘Then Elohim said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, not call her the name Sarai, for Sarah the name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” ” –Genesis 17:15-16.

שָׂרַ֣י Sarai 213, שָׂרָ֖ה Sarah 208, (Not included in this verse: הָגָ֖ר – ‘Hagar’ 208; יִצְחָ֑ק – ‘Isaac’ 208; ישראל Israel 244). 213 Sarai + 31 Shall come = 244. 30 And she shall be + 89 of Nations + 100 Kings + 160 of people – 135 from her = 244.

Shall be her name 48 + of people 160 = 208. 247 And I will bless + 30 She shall be + 89 of Nations = 366 (days in a leap year).

We see Abraham’s value of 248 first pop up in Genesis 1:4 with הָא֖וֹר + הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ = ‘the Light’ + ‘the darkness’ = 248, but also the value of Israel 244 is made through calculations in Genesis 1:2-3 from א֑וֹר Light 207 + וחשך and darkness 37 = 244.

The gematria used in these calculations is proprietorial to the Seven Palaces of the Merkabah. The values given in the Talmud are a blind due to the prohibition of Judah the Patriarch on discussing the Merkabah, given that gematria is a key component of the Merkabah. The values are the same as standard except (for logographic reasons) the shin = 3 (not 300) and the tav = 4 (not 400), and no final values are used for Ashuri final letters (because Paleohebrew didn't use final characters).

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    Gematria, leap years, assumptions about the length of a month and the kabalistic mercava are anachronistic eisegesis. They explain noting about the text, which originated before any of these concepts were invented, just like Christological explanations of the same text. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Aug 21 '17 at 6:15
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    Paleohebrew gematria was invented before the text was written. You are misinformed, but that's not surprising because there's a great deal of misinformation about the topic. If they explain nothing about the text to you that is because there are verses in the Torah that were intended to be read and verses that were intended to be counted. My book on the subject is available on Amazon (Chariot) and you can also consult my website: bethshebaashe.com for more information on Paleohebrew gematria. – Bethsheba Ashe Aug 21 '17 at 6:46
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    The use of the letters of the alphabet to represent numbers occurs for the first time in a Greek inscription from about 450 BCE. The nations of the Near East learned it from the Greeks in the Hellenistic period. – fdb Aug 21 '17 at 12:10
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    That's straight from Kieran Barrys book on Greek Qabalah. However Barry was a Greek buff, not an expert in Hebrew. If you check out Stephen J. Leiberman's paper 'A Mesopotamian Background for the So-Called Aggadic 'Measures' of Biblical Hermeneutics?' you'll discover just how woefully wrong Barry was. The other problem you have with that assertion is that Barry was assessing the wrong gematria values. The ones published in the Talmud are a blind, due to the Merkabah being hidden. – Bethsheba Ashe Aug 22 '17 at 14:16
  • QED (with the correct values): Genesis 1:1-3 ‏1 בראשית 220 ברא 203 אלהים 86 את השמים 98 ואת הארץ 296׃ ‎220 In the Beginning + 86 Elohim + 98 Heavens + 296 Earth = 700 Day = 100. 700 = 7 x 100 for the Seven Days of Creation. ‎86 Elohim + 98 Heavens + 296 Earth = 480‎ (See David Miano on 480 being an Era). ‏2 והארץ 302 היתה 24 תהו 15 ובהו 19 וחשך 37 על 100 ־ פני 140 תהום 55 ורוח 220 אלהים 86 מרחפת ‏‏332 על 100־ פני 140 המים 95׃ ‎3‎ויאמר אלהים יהי אור ויהי־אור׃ ‎140 the face of + 55 the deep – 37 and darkness + 207 light = 365 (days a year). ‎ – Bethsheba Ashe Aug 22 '17 at 14:22

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