Comparing the Meaning of Names “Abimelech” and Egyptian “Raneb”
Damien F. Mackey
The name “Abimelech” was one held by kings from as early as the era of Abraham and his son, Isaac, down to the El Amarna time of pharaohs Amenhotep III and Akhnaton. “Ten letters from Abimilki (“my father is king,” like the Hebrew name Abimelech), king of Tyre, to Ahkenaten (EA 146–155)1 reported on political conditions in Canaan”.
Here we consider the name and its meaning in relation to an Archaïc pharaoh.
But why pharaonic Egypt? Because I had previously, in my article:
Toledôt Explains Abram's Pharaoh
argued from key structural features of the Book of Genesis (namely, toledôt and chiasmus) that the “Pharaoh” of Ishmael’s family history is to be identified with the “Abimelech” of Isaac’s family history, these ‘two’ actually converging in a chiastic arrangement. This means that the famous incident of Pharaoh’s taking of Sarai in Ishmael’s history is the very same incident as that of Abimelech’s taking of Sarah in Isaac’s history. These two narratives have much in common, though they also differ quite markedly due to perspective. Ishmael’s toledôt account is written from an Egyptian perspective, whilst Isaac’s is written from a Canaan perspective.
I had surmised:
Finally, whether the one whom Isaac calls “Abimelech” was still, in Isaac’s day, “Pharaoh” of Egypt, as he had been in former times, he was most definitely at least ruler over the Philistines at Gerar. Perhaps he ruled both lands, Egypt and Philistia. Be that as it may, the Holy Spirit has apparently provided the name of Abram’s “Pharaoh”. But one needs to respect His literary structures to discover that name. We now know his personal name: “Abimelech”.
In Hebrew it means “Father is King”.
Since Abimelech is not an Egyptian name, though … and since the other designation that we have for him is simply “Pharaoh”, that data, in itself, will not take us the next step of being able to identify this ruler in the Egyptian historical (or dynastic) records. But that our Abimelech may have - according to the progression of Ishmael’s and Isaac’s toledôt histories - ruled Egypt and then gone on to rule Philistia, could well enable us to locate this ruler archaeologically. Dr. John Osgood has already done much of the ‘spade work’ for us here, firstly by nailing the archaeology of En-geddi at the time of Abram (in the context of Genesis 14) to the Late Chalcolithic period, corresponding to Ghassul IV in Palestine’s southern Jordan Valley; Stratum V at Arad; and the Gerzean period in Egypt (“The Times of Abraham”, Ex Nihilo TJ, Vol. 2, 1986, pp. 77-87); and secondly by showing that, immediately following this period, there was a migration out of Egypt into Philistia, bringing an entirely new culture (= Early Bronze I, Stratum IV at Arad). P. 86: “In all likelihood Egypt used northern Sinai as a springboard for forcing her way into Canaan with the result that all of southern Canaan became an Egyptian domain”.
This new phase would seem to correspond very nicely with the time of Narmer, since, at this very archaeological phase, according to Osgood (ibid., p. 85): “Belonging to Stratum IV [at Arad] Amiram found a sherd with the name of Narmer ...”.
The archaeology here is perfect in support of my view that a Genesis “Pharaoh” also had “domain” over southern Canaan, as “Abimelech”.
Whilst I had been somewhat disappointed, however, that the name, “Abimelech”, did not appear to be phonetically similar at all to any of the early Egyptian dynastic rulers (Osgood had estimated “early part of the Egyptian Dynasty I”), I have since come to understand that the name may be perfectly harmonious with that of the early Second Dynasty pharaoh, Raneb.
At this point in time I am more interested in a name comparison rather than to entertain the suggestion that Abimelech-as-a-pharaoh, which I think he was, was this Raneb (or Nebra).
An Analysis of the Names
“Abimelech” and “Raneb”
Abimelech (אֲבִימֶלֶךְ) is a Hebrew name comprising two elements, “father” and “king”, and it is generally translated as “Father is king”.
But the first element of the name can also mean “Creator”, hence: “Creator is king”.
Now let us compare this, “Creator is king”, with the meaning of Raneb.
Raneb (or Nebra) means “Ra is lord”, or “Ra is king”.
But who was Ra?
“Ra … represents sunlight, warmth and growth. It was only natural that the ancient Egyptians would believe him to be the creator of the world …”.
Basically, then, the two names, “Abimelech” and “Raneb”, can be translated broadly as:
“[The] Creator is king [lord]”.
So it is encouraging to find at least that during the approximate era of Abraham and Isaac the structure and meaning of the name of the one I have proposed as being Abram’s “Pharaoh” are mirrored by the name of a known pharaoh of the Archaïc dynastic era of Egypt.
Recreation of seal impressions belonging to Raneb