Genesis 36.31-32 (NRSV)

These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites. Bela son of Beor reigned in Edom, the name of his city being Dinhabah.

Numbers 22.5 (NRSV)

He sent messengers to Balaam son of Beor at Pethor, which is on the Euphrates, in the land of Amaw

The Hebrew text for 'Bela son of Beor' is בלע בן־בעור.

The Hebrew text for 'Balaam son of Beor' is בלעם בן־בעור.

The only difference in the names (prior to the much later additions of vowel points) is the letter Mem.

These nearly-identical names make me curious if this obscure king and the infamous prophet ultimately trace back to the same core figure. (The prophetic identification of Balaam is additionally attested by the Deir Alla Inscription, with no hint of royalty to his name, as far as I can tell.) Is there any evidence the Genesis text may have originally said בלעם, with the Mem dropped by textual corruption? Have extra-biblical texts, ancient commentators, or modern scholars made any connection between the two figures?

  • 1
    Although more recent commentators don't seem to like it, the old ICC Num. Commentary (Gray, 1903) mentions the possibility (starting at the bottom of p. 314).
    – Susan
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 3:16

1 Answer 1


Various commentators have commented on the similarities in the names. The sources for most of the following are found here.

Ibn Ezra notes that they cannot be the same person for a number of reasons, including, their cities, nationalities, titles etc. However, he seems to have been responding to Midrashic parallels (in fact, YL Krinsky says that his version of Pseudo-Jonathan translates Bela as Bil'am, however, I did not find that version, but did find the Targum to I Chronicles 1:43 translating as such), rather than others suggesting that the text had been changed.

Shadal notes that Bela must have been much earlier than Bil'am, as well as some of the other points noted above. This is obviously debatable if not coming from a traditional standpoint regarding the authorship of these verses.

Abarbanel agrees with the above.

DZ Hoffman makes the following observation (with my very loose translation):

מענין הוא לציין שכבר שם מלכו הראשון של אדום — בלע בן בעור — רומז לשם בלעם בן בעור, מי שניבא את אבדן מלכות אדום.

It is interesting to point out that the name of the first King of Edom - Bela ben Beor - hints to the name of Bil'am ben Beor, he who prophesied the demise of the kingdom of Edom.

The position that they were the same person is attributed to Theodor Nöldeke by Shemaryahu Talmon (here, page 143), although he notes dissenting opinions.

BZ Luria (here, page 5) also strongly rejects identifying them as the same person, but he notes that Beor is common to both of them, and suggests that Bil'am was originally from an Edomite family, and that is why he was monotheistic.


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