Allah is the Rimmon of Syria? 1

A Reply to Chris­t­ian Men­dac­i­ty : Allah is the Rim­mon of Syria ?

A mis­sion­ary under the Yahoo ! Groups nome de plume of Patri­ot Tim” has made an alle­ga­tion in a dis­cus­sion group by stat­ing that the Syr­i­an pagan idol Rim­mon as men­tioned in 2 Kings 5:18 is the same deity as for the Mus­lims, who some­times call upon God as ar-Raḥmān (The Most Merciful).

To repeat the mis­sion­ary’s claim :

The verse in ques­tion is II Kings 5:18, and the words were spo­ken by Naa­man the Syr­i­an gen­er­al who had just been healed of his lep­rosy by Elisha the prophet[.…] We see Naa­man say­ing that, because of his posi­tion of impor­tance to the king of Syr­ia, he would be required to enter and bow to Rim­mon in that deity’s tem­ple in Dam­as­cus. Thus, we see that Rim­mon is found in the Bible.

This arti­cle is more or less an improve­ment from the orig­i­nal response we had offered and is intend­ed to deeply address the issue of Rim­mon, insha’Allah.

Is Rim­mon real­ly Raḥmān”?

On the issue of Raḥmān”, the mis­sion­ary argues that :

Rah­man, as indi­cat­ed to us in the Qu’ran, Surah 17:110, is anoth­er name for Allah. Hence, we see that there is a def­i­nite con­nex­ion [sic], lin­guis­tic and oth­er­wise, between the Rim­mon who was wor­shipped all through­out Syr­ia, Pad­dan-Aram, Assyr­ia, and the rest of the north­ern Fer­tile Cres­cent, and Rah­man, or Allah.

We believe that we have tol­er­at­ed enough of this shod­dy schol­ar­ship, and now is the time to blast this mis­sion­ary to king­dom come. The real­i­ty is that one does not need the source(s) that he duti­ful­ly par­rots from Chris­t­ian polemi­cists like Dr. Robert Morey, as The New Strong’s Exhaus­tive Con­cor­dance of the Bible, The Brown-Dri­ver-Brig­gs Hebrew-Eng­lish Lex­i­con and William Gese­nius’ Hebrew and Eng­lish Lex­i­con are all good enough author­i­ties on the etymology.

As we have ear­li­er stat­ed, the name of this Syr­i­an pagan idol Rim­mon appears in 2 Kings 5:18. This verse is as follows :

May the Lord for­give your ser­vant in this mat­ter : when my mas­ter enters the house of Rim­mon to wor­ship there, sup­port­ed by my hand, and I have to bow myself down in the house of RIMMON ; when I have to bow myself down thus in the house of Rim­mon, may the Lord for­give your ser­vant in this matter.

Accord­ing to Gese­nius, the Hebrew word rim­mon” actu­al­ly means pome­gran­ate,” and the Ara­bic equiv­a­lent is rum­man” (رُمَّان), which is quite sim­i­lar to the Hebrew and shares the same R‑M-N (ر‑م-ن) cog­nate with relat­ed terms in oth­er Semit­ic lan­guages1. In fact this is used in the Qur’an as well :

rumman in Arabic
fīhimā fāk­i­hatun wa nakhluN wa rum­mān
Trans­la­tion : In both of them are fruits, palm trees, and pome­gran­ates.2

Pome­gran­ate” is thus the prop­er trans­la­tion of rim­mon” in the Bible (Num­bers 20:5 ; Deuteron­o­my 8:8 ; 1 Samuel 14:12 ; Songs 4:3, 6:7). Rim­mon’ is also the name of sev­er­al places men­tioned in the Bible, specif­i­cal­ly the Old Tes­ta­ment, named such because of the num­ber of pome­gran­ates that grow there.

As Gese­nius states :

The pome­gran­ate tree is still found in Syr­ia, Pales­tine, and Egypt […] From their abound­ing in pome­gran­ates, sev­er­al places received the prop­er name Rim­mon[.]3

Indeed, the name Rim­mon” appears in sev­er­al bib­li­cal pas­sages, includ­ing Joshua 15:32, 19:7, Judges 20:47, 1 Chron­i­cles 4:32, and Zechari­ah 14:10, refer­ring to var­i­ous geo­graph­i­cal loca­tions. These places named Rim­mon” like­ly held sig­nif­i­cance in ancient times, though the exact loca­tions and char­ac­ter­is­tics may vary. In mod­ern times, there are still places with sim­i­lar names in the region. In Hebrew, the place is referred to as Rim­mon” (רִמּוֹן), pro­nounced as reysh-mem-vav-nun, and in Ara­bic, it is known as Rammwan” or Rum­mon” (رمّون), pro­nounced as raa-meem-waw-nun. These place names have per­sist­ed through his­to­ry and are still present in the region today.

We can see that Rammwān/​Rummon is thus the clos­est Ara­bic equiv­a­lent to the Hebrew rim­mon,” and not Raḥ­man” as Patri­ot Tim” erro­neous­ly asserts.

Refer­ring to Strong’s on Rim­mon, the fol­low­ing entry is found :

4. A Syr­i­an god (7417)4

The B‑D-B Lex­i­con has more infor­ma­tion on Rim­mon, and on p. 942 we read that :

[Rim­mon] n. pr. dei ; as Ram­manu, god of wind, rain and storm ; thun­der ; storm.5

There are two pos­si­ble ety­mo­log­i­cal expla­na­tions for the Rim­mon of Syr­ia. The first is from Gese­nius, who says that it is “…per­haps the exalt­ed, from the root RMM.“6 The oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ty is that the spelling is a delib­er­ate Jew­ish insult, and this is not uncom­mon in the Bible.

We read that :

Rim­mon” is an epi­thet of Hadad (Adad in Mesopotamia); the Akka­di­an form is Ram(m)an. It has been sug­gest­ed that the Hebrew Rim­mon, which is iden­ti­cal to the Hebrew word for pome­gran­ate,” is a delib­er­ate mis­point­ing of an orig­i­nal Ram(m)an (or some­thing sim­i­lar) to dis­par­age the deity. This epi­thet Rimmon/​Ramman is best under­stood as thun­der­er” (cf. Akka­di­an ramanu to roar,” hence to thun­der”). Accord­ing­ly, the name Hadadrim­mon means Hadad is the thun­der­er.” Hadad, or Rimmon/​Ramman, was the chief diety of the Arameans of Syr­ia[.]7

In light of Jew­ish tra­di­tions with dis­parag­ing name-games in Hebrew, we favour the pos­si­bil­i­ty that call­ing the Syr­i­an pagan idol as Rim­mon was mere­ly an attempt at insult­ing this pagan deity, and have no con­nec­tions with rim­mon” mean­ing pome­gran­ate”.

This already pro­vides suf­fi­cient grounds to refute the men­da­cious claims of the Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ary. How­ev­er, let us delve one step fur­ther and con­sult Hans Wehr’s Ara­bic-Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary to ascer­tain the mean­ing of the Ara­bic term ar-Raḥmān :

ar-Raḥmān : the Mer­ci­ful (i.e. God)8

The root of ar-Raḥmān is the word raḥ­ma” (رحمة), and from the very same page, we find that the root means :

pity, com­pas­sion ; human under­stand­ing, sym­pa­thy, kind­ness ; mer­cy9

The dis­cernible absence of any ety­mo­log­i­cal cor­re­la­tion between the Hebrew noun רִמּוֹן” (Rim­mōn) and the afore­men­tioned term is unequiv­o­cal. It is para­mount to exer­cise cau­tion when attribut­ing lin­guis­tic con­nec­tions based sole­ly on pho­net­ic resem­blances, as such asso­ci­a­tions neces­si­tate rig­or­ous scruti­ny through well-estab­lished ety­mo­log­i­cal methodologies.

These method­olo­gies encom­pass a diverse range of cri­te­ria, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to geo­graph­i­cal prox­im­i­ty, shared cog­nates or roots, and rel­a­tive synonymy.

So what impli­ca­tions does this hold ? It under­scores the neces­si­ty for lan­guages to adhere to spe­cif­ic cri­te­ria to be con­sid­ered ety­mo­log­i­cal­ly relat­ed. First­ly, they must have orig­i­nat­ed in close geo­graph­ic prox­im­i­ty, a cri­te­ri­on sat­is­fied by Hebrew and Ara­bic due to their shared lin­guis­tic branch and geo­graph­i­cal ori­gins. Sec­ond­ly, they must exhib­it a shared cog­nate, a word with sim­i­lar root or ori­gin. Last­ly, they should share iden­ti­cal mean­ings or demon­strate rel­a­tive synonymy.

While it is acknowl­edged that the Hebrew noun רִמּוֹן” (Rim­mōn) aligns with the first cri­te­ri­on of geo­graph­ic prox­im­i­ty, it does not sat­is­fy the sub­se­quent cri­te­ria of shared cognates/​roots and rel­a­tive syn­onymy. Con­se­quent­ly, it fails to meet the pre­req­ui­sites for estab­lish­ing a lin­guis­tic con­nec­tion between Rim­mōn” and the Ara­bic term ar-Raḥmān.”

In the words of Lud­wig Wittgen­stein, one of the great­est philoso­phers of lan­guage and a found­ing father of the field :

The mean­ing of a word is its use in the lan­guage.10

The equiv­a­lent word for ar-Raḥmān in the Hebrew would be Ha-Rach­man” (הרחמן), as found in Rivlin’s Hebrew trans­la­tion of the Qur’an, 1:1 :

Allah is the Rimmon of Syria? 2
In the name of God, Ha-Rach­man, the Mer­ci­ful11

Appar­ent­ly this title is not alien to the South Ara­bi­an Chris­tians, for Philip K. Hit­ti informs us the following :

The ear­li­er South Ara­bi­an civ­i­liza­tion could not have alto­geth­er passed away with­out leav­ing some trace in its north­ern suc­ces­sor. The inscrip­tion (5423) of Abra­hah deal­ing wih the break of the Ma’rib Dam begins with the fol­low­ing words : In the pow­er and grace and mer­cy of the Mer­ci­ful [Raḥmān-ān] and His Mes­si­ah and of the Holy Spir­it”. The word Raḥmān-ān is espe­cial­ly sig­nif­i­cant because its north­ern equiv­a­lent, al-Raḥmān, became lat­er a promi­nent attribute of Allah and one of His names in the Koran and in Islam­ic the­ol­o­gy.12

Philip K. Hit­ti fur­ther informs us in a foot­note that :

Raḥmānān appears as title of the Chris­t­ian God in a fifth-cen­tu­ry South Ara­bic inscrip­tion.9

So we see that the South Ara­bic Chris­tians them­selves using the appela­tion Raḥmānān for their God, and hence we begin to see how per­ju­ri­ous the claims of the mis­sion­ary real­ly is.

The Ara­ma­ic word for Raḥaman/​Raḥman is raḥamānā (רַחֲמָנָא) and indeed this is found in the Tal­mud. Con­sid­er the Ara­ma­ic text of Kid­dushin 81b, where it is rec­om­mend­ed that those look­ing to be pro­tect­ed from evil say :

רַחֲמָנָא נִגְעַר בֵּיהּ בְּשָׂטָן
Raḥamānā nighar beih ba-Satan
Trans­la­tion : May the Most Mer­ci­ful rebuke Satan.

In the same part of the Tal­mud, there is a fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry about Rab­bi Chiyya :

רַבִּי חִיָּא בַּר אָשִׁי הֲוָה רָגִיל כָּל יוֹמָא דַאֲוָה נָפַל לְאַפֵּיהּ, הֲוָה אָמַר : הָרַחֲמָנָא יַצִּילֵנוּ מִיֵּצֶר הָרַע.
Rab­bi Ḥiyya bar Ashi hawah raghil kal ēdan dahawah nafal l’apeih hawah amar : ha-Raḥamān yatzileinu miyetser harā’.
Trans­la­tion : Rab­bi Chiyya bar Ashi had a prac­tice where every­time he pros­trat­ed he would say may the Most Mer­ci­ful save us from evil inclinations”.

So, even the great Tal­mud sages were doing as the Mus­lims do to this day, pros­trat­ing and giv­ing homage to the Most Mer­ci­ful, ar-Raḥmān. This pas­sage from the Tal­mud is still rel­e­vant, as there is yet one more point to be made here. Lat­er in the sto­ry Rab­bi Chiyya is tempt­ed by his wife, who asks him to bring him a pome­gran­ate. She is quot­ed as saying :

אַיְיתִי נִיהֲלַי לְהָךְ רוּמָּנָא דְּרֵישׁ צוּצִיתָא.
ayy­itī nihălay ləhāḵ rūm­mānā dərēsh ṣūṣīṯā.
Trans­la­tion : Bring me that pome­gran­ate on the upper­most branch.

In delv­ing into lin­guis­tic nuances across Hebrew, Ara­bic, and Ara­ma­ic, an intrigu­ing obser­va­tion emerges regard­ing the word pome­gran­ate” and its poten­tial con­nec­tion to divine attrib­ut­es. The Ara­ma­ic term for pome­gran­ate, rūmānā,” close­ly resem­bles the Ara­bic word rum­mān,” both denot­ing the same fruit. How­ev­er, it is cru­cial to note that this lex­i­cal sim­i­lar­i­ty does not estab­lish a direct seman­tic link between the word for Most Mer­ci­ful” and pome­gran­ate.”

Draw­ing insights from sources such as Kid­dushin 81b, which explore lin­guis­tic cor­re­la­tions with­in ancient texts, we dis­cern a clear demar­ca­tion between the divine epi­thet and the botan­i­cal ref­er­ence. Despite their lin­guis­tic prox­im­i­ty, the word for Most Mer­ci­ful” in Hebrew, Ara­bic, and Ara­ma­ic remains dis­tinct from the term for pome­gran­ate.”

This is fur­ther col­lab­o­rat­ed when we refer to the root word of ha-raḥmān, which is raḥūm, in Strong’s num­ber 7349 and find the following :

    rachuwm Allah is the Rimmon of Syria? 3 rakh-oom‘; from 7355 ; com­pas­sion­ate:- full of com­pas­sion, mer­ci­ful.13

Thus we see that raḥūm and raḥmah share the same R‑Ḥ-M (ر ح م) cog­nate, and thus we have estab­lished a sol­id ety­mo­log­i­cal con­nec­tion between both words. Of course, there is anoth­er Hebrew word that is even clos­er to raḥīm (R‑Ḥ-Y‑M or ر‑ح-ي‑م”) than raḥūm is, and that is the exact Hebrew equivalent !

Con­sid­er the following :

raḥmān and raḥīm

In exam­in­ing the shared cog­nates and ety­mo­log­i­cal roots between raḥūm” and raḥmah,” along­side the strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ty of raḥmān” and raḥīm” in Hebrew, a com­pelling lin­guis­tic cor­re­la­tion emerges, rein­forc­ing the inter­con­nect­ed­ness and depth of mean­ing with­in these terms.

Con­clu­sions

Our dis­cus­sion clar­i­fies key dis­tinc­tions between the Syr­i­an pagan deity Rim­mon and the Islam­ic appel­la­tion ar-Raḥmān. Rim­mon, rec­og­nized in his­tor­i­cal texts as a god of thun­der, shares no ety­mo­log­i­cal or con­cep­tu­al sim­i­lar­i­ty with ar-Raḥmān, a term deeply root­ed in Islam­ic the­ol­o­gy to describe God’s com­pas­sion and mer­cy. This dis­crep­an­cy is evi­dent to any­one famil­iar with the basics of Islam­ic teach­ings, high­light­ing the unique ori­gins and mean­ings of these names.

The term Rim­mon” traces back to the Akka­di­an Ram­manu,” embody­ing the force of thun­der, where­as ar-Raḥmān derives from raḥ­ma,” sig­ni­fy­ing mer­cy and com­pas­sion. Any per­ceived con­nec­tion to the word for pome­gran­ate” in Hebrew is a result of lin­guis­tic coin­ci­dence rather than a shared ori­gin. The explo­ration of these terms reveals a clear dis­tinc­tion in their roots and appli­ca­tions, debunk­ing any notion of over­lap between the pagan deity and the Islam­ic attribute of God.

More­over, the usage of ar-Raḥmān among South Ara­bi­an Chris­tians and its pres­ence in the Jew­ish Tal­mud as Raḥamānā fur­ther illus­trates its broad reli­gious sig­nif­i­cance, dis­tinct from the spe­cif­ic cult of Rim­mon. The absence of any cor­re­la­tion in author­i­ta­tive lex­i­cons between Rim­mon and ar-Raḥmān or its root raḥ­ma” under­scores the inde­pen­dence of these terms. Both Islam­ic and Jew­ish lan­guages main­tain sep­a­rate, uncon­nect­ed cog­nates for mer­cy, fur­ther sep­a­rat­ing the divine con­cep­tion of ar-Raḥmān from any asso­ci­a­tion with the Syr­i­an deity of storms.

Giv­en the evi­dent defi­cien­cy in Patri­ot Tim’s” schol­ar­ly endeav­ors, it is rec­om­mend­ed that he con­fines his con­tri­bu­tions to fields aligned with his exper­tise, refrain­ing from the mis­guid­ed por­tray­al of him­self as an author­i­ty on ety­mol­o­gy and archae­ol­o­gy. The appro­pri­a­tion of ver­ba­tim con­tent from mono­lin­gual polemi­cists such as Robert Morey fur­ther under­scores the need for dis­cern­ment and crit­i­cal scruti­ny in schol­ar­ly discourse.

And only God knows best.Endmark

Cite this arti­cle as : Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi, A Reply to Chris­t­ian Men­dac­i­ty : Allah is the Rim­mon of Syr­ia ?,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, Octo­ber 7, 2005, last accessed May 29, 2024, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​p​o​l​e​m​i​c​a​l​-​r​e​b​u​t​t​a​l​s​/​a​l​l​a​h​-​i​s​-​r​i​m​m​on/
  1. William Gese­nius, Hebrew and Eng­lish Lex­i­con, (Crock­er & Brew­ster, 1865), p. 982 ; c.f. J. M. Cow­an (ed.), Hans Wehr’s Ara­bic-Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary, p. 360[]
  2. Qur’an, 55:68[]
  3. William Gese­nius, op. cit., p. 982[]
  4. James Strong, The New Strong’s Exhaus­tive Con­cor­dance of the Bible, under the word RIMMON[]
  5. Under Rim­mon”, The Brown-Dri­ver-Brig­gs Hebrew-Eng­lish Lex­i­con, p. 942[]
  6. William Gese­nius, op. cit.[]
  7. Fred­er­ic W. Bush, HadadRim­mon”, The Anchor Bible Dic­tio­nary, (Dou­ble­day 1992), Vol. 3, p. 13[]
  8. J. M. Cow­an (ed.), Hans Wehr’s Ara­bic-Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary, p. 332[]
  9. ibid.[][]
  10. Wittgen­stein, Philophis­che Unter­suchun­gen, pt. I, sect. 43[]
  11. Yosef Yo’el Rivlin, Alkur’an /​tirgem me-‘Arvit, Devir, Tel Aviv (19361945)[]
  12. Philip K. Hit­ti, His­to­ry of the Arabs, The Macmil­lan Press, Ltd (1970), p. 105[]
  13. James Strong, op. cit, under the word raḥūm, p. 131[]

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