My post The Children of Israel, January 2012, suggested a more plausible origin of the tribe than the Books of Moses did. The famous escape from “the land of Egypt” was more likely a pell-mell desertion of the coast and hinterland of northern Phoenicia than a single dash from the Egypt of modern maps.
Phoenicia was overrun turn and turn about by the armies of Egypt, Hattia (the Hittites) and Assyria for several generations. Moses was either one man or several, who welded the divers groups of refugees into the Taliban of their time – a synthetic tribe united by a fanatical loyalty to its synthetic god.
He, the Moses – the word meant Prince, in Egyptian – invented a new god for the new tribe out of the diversity of their existing gods. (The Christians did the same, in their turn – Christ from Horus, etc.) All tribal gods have to be ruthless, if their tribes are to survive. The periodic slaughters of religious backsliders among The Children were meticulously recorded, as a warning to others who might be tempted. Blind loyalty to the new god was given pride of place in the basic creed. Thou shalt have no other gods before me: believe that, or die.
The first four of The Children’s Ten Commandments set that fearful loyalty in stone. The last six reinforced the tribe’s internal loyalty. None of the Ten were ever intended to apply to outsiders. Tribal priests always endorse murder and mayhem against foreign tribes. Their job-security requires it.
The fictional Israel was chronicled as the human father of the dozen or so groups that comprised the Children and whose Biblical names reflect their respective gods. The names’ origins are lost to us now; after all, they are all transliterations into English from the dialects of the Phoenician parent-language. Anybody at all familiar with language-dialects knows how far any spoken word can vary from its original rendering. Vowels and consonants can become all but unrecognisable, over time.
Yet transliterated names are all we have to work with. Plausibility is our only tool. Take the Hebrews, for instance. It’s pointless explaining their name as something to do with Eber, a Biblical character of whom nothing is known. It’s simple-minded to claim that their name originated with the habiru, a generic term throughout many centuries for peoples similar to modern gypsies.
Much more plausibly: the Hebrews were the inhabitants of a city situated within the land controlled from time to time by the Egyptian empire in northern Phoenicia (now north-western Syria), at the western end of an ancient trade route. That city was Ebla – alternatively Ebuwa, by the same dialectal variation by which the English city of Bristow became Bristol, and back. Consonants w and l are interchangeable in the dialects of most languages. The people of Ebuwa were the Ebuwa-im, and Ebrium was a legendary king.
Between Israel and Abraham (Isuwa-ili and Ebrium/Ebuwa-im) in the chronicles, comes Isaac – whose name contained the first syllable of the same god that named Isuwa. If that were the case, one of the two patriarchal names (Israel and Isaac) would have to go. I think the explanation lies in the name Jacob/Yakov, the more favoured of Isaac’s twin sons. Why was Jacob’s name changed to Israel?
One can’t say exactly how any names were pronounced 3000 years ago in totally different language-families. The only clues we have are their European-Aryan transliterations in Roman script. Without the vowels, there is negligible difference between YKV and YHW(H) – Yakov and Yahw(eh)/ Jehov(ah). Yahweh may have been a late choice for the new tribe’s new god. Naturally, it was the patriarch’s name that would be changed in the greater interests of the tribe. Jacob disappeared from the story.
It remains to wonder what path Abraham’s pre-Hebrew ancestors followed, to get to Ebuwa/Ebla from the mountains of Ararat, after the Flood. I will leave that speculation for another day.