In Numbers 22:5, the Torah is unclear as to where Pethor is. If it wants to tell us where Pethor is, then tell us, but one can only figure out where Pethor is if one knows of which people was Bilam. Everthing after the second comma is useless without that information (yet nothing is vestigial in the Torah). It appears that the location of Pethor is deliberately obfuscated.

In 22:18 Bilam refers to God as "his God"

Of what nationality is Bilam? Is he some kind of disgruntled Abrahamite?

22:5 He sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of his people

22:18 Balaam answered and said to Balak's servants, "Even if Balak gives me a house full of silver and gold, I cannot do anything small or great that would transgress the word of the Lord, my God


2 Answers 2


According to Rabbi Munk, Beor, the father of Bil'am, was the son of Lavan. There are meforshim who say that the wall that his leg was squeezed against was the rock that Lavan and Yaakov put up as "Gal Aid" to guarantee that members of either family would not cross to harm the other. According to this, he was of the same nationality as Lavan.

Rabbi Sacks (former Chief Rabbi of Britain) derives the name Bil'am from "Bli Am" (without a nation) and says that as a "Curser for Hire" he had no nationality and no loyalty to anyone.

In looking at the description of Pethor, Rashi says that "land of his people" actually refers to the original people of Balak and not Bil'am. He explains that Balak was originally a prince of Midian who had been asked to take over in Moav, because of the defeat of Moav by Sichon. In fact, Rashi says (from Medrash Tanchumah 4), that Bil'am had prophesied that Balak would become a king. Now that he was a king and needed help, he sent to his original land (where Bil'am was currently residing) for Bil'am to come to him. Since the Torah was referring to a location that was known to the people of that time, it did not need to be more precise. Note that "by the river of the land of his people" means that the river and the people were known and this was to say that it was this Pethor and not another of the same or similar name. For example, New York City is only city in the United States that does not have another city existing with the same name. That is why one needs to say "Odessa, Texas" or "Baltimore on the Chesapeake Bay". Here too, one has to say Pethor on the river of the land of his (Balak's) people. Since everyone knew where Balak came from, then the river was also known.

  • so why the ambiguity about the location of Pethor? Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 13:14
  • but it did get more precise. It added the extra description "by the river of". If pethor was known why do you need to say "which is by an unknown river"? Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 2:11
  • NYC is the only one??? What about Wentzville?
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 2:41
  • @DoubleAA At least according to "Ripley's Believe It or Not" from a number of years ago. Perhaps since then, new towns have been made. For example, there is a moshav in Eretz Yisrael called "Mai Ami" because the government would not let them call it "Mi-ami" (or Miami which was where the original settlers came from) Of course this could be an urban legend but the person who told me claimed that this was what the original settlers there said. Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 21:44
  • @DoubleAA Every time I try to get an address in the GPS, it shows multiple states for any town that I try to find. Apparently, unique names are quite rara. I do not know if Wentzville Missouri is the only one or not. Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 21:48

There are various opinions in the Midrashim regarding the heritage of Bilaam.

The idea that is quoted by 'sabbahillel' in the name of Rabbi Sacks is a Gemara Sanhedrin 105a. The Gemara also says identifies Be'or as Lavan. Bilam would therefore be Lavan's son. (source)

The Zohar identifies Be'or as a son of Lavan, making Bilam the grandson of Lavan. (source)

The Yalkut Shimoni (766) says that Bilam was also known as Kemuel and was the son of Milka - (source) - which would make him the nephew of Avraham, the father of Aram and the uncle of Lavan.

The Midrash Tanchuma (Vayeitzei 13) - (source) and the Targum ascribed to Yonatan ben Uziel (Bamidbar 22, 5) - (source) - say that Bilam was in fact Lavan himself.

In the Gemara Samhedrin 106a, Rav Simai states that Bilam was an advisor to Pharaoh in Egypt. However, on 106b the Gemara quotes Rav Chanina as stating that Bilam died in his 30s and Rashi points out that the two Amoraim disagree.

The Sefer Hayashar (Parshas Shemos) implies that Bilam ben Be'or was from Africa and he was a fifteen year old servant of King Angias when he rose to prominence. (This was 72 years after the Israelites had gone down to Egypt.) (source)

With regards to the question, "Is he some kind of disgruntled Abrahamite?" we see that according most opinions, Bilam was of Abraham's family and therefore would have been very familiar with his concept of God. The Yalkut Shimoni (ibid) points out that all the prophets of the nations of the world were descendants of Abraham's brother Nachor & wife Milka (e.g. Iyov). There was a lot of potential spiritual greatness in the family, but it was channelled in very different ways.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .