Assyrian Hebrew?

Henry Churchyard churchyh at
Mon Aug 9 14:57:01 EDT 1999

> Subject: Re: Assyrian Hebrew?
> From: <gs02wmr at panther.Gsu.EDU>
> Date: Sun, 8 Aug 1999 17:15:55 -0400 (EDT)

> On Sat, 7 Aug 1999, Henry Churchyard wrote:

>> Yes, the original, linguistically reconstructed, theoretical
>> proto-Semitic form of the word for "peace" has a long a-vowel in
>> the second syllable (as in Arabic salaam), but the shift of the
>> long a-vowel in this syllable to a long o-vowel has nothing
>> whatever to do with Assyrian influence.  This shift occurred in
>> various languages of the "Canaanite" linguistic sub-group
>> (Phoenician, Hebrew, etc.)  sometime in the second millennium B.C.,
>> long before the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom (Israel)
>> -- and this sound change does _not_ in fact occur in the Assyrian
>> language.

> I am still a bit confused as to why exactly the shift in word
> occured at all. Why wasn't the original rendition preserved? Why
> specifically did the Canannites alter this to what we have today?
> (ShalOm)

That's a pretty deep question -- linguists observe that languages are
constantly changing, but any real explanation of this pretty much
needs to be book-length, and it's still not at all clear as to "why"
certain changes occur in specific cases, while other (hypothetically
equally plausible) changes do not occur.

>> But I can tell you how the word "Assyrian" actually has some remote
>> shadow of relevance in all this -- it comes from the fact that the
>> early Rabbis sometimes termed the Aramaic (or "square") alphabet as
>> the "Assyrian" alphabet.  But in this context the term "Assyrian" is
>> merely equivalent to "Aramaic" -- there is no reference here to the
>> non-Aramaic (Akkadian) language which is called "Assyrian" in modern
>> scholarship. 

> Why did the rabbis term the Aramaic alphabet as Assyrian?  Was it
> similar in any way to Assyrian?  Why didn't they just call it
> Aramaic?

Well, by that time, the descendants of the ancient Assyrians were
basically Aramaic-speakers.  Certain groups of Aramaic-speaking
Christians from the northern Iraq area call themselves "Assyrians",
and their language "Assyrian", to the present day.  I don't know why
the Rabbis chose to use the word "Assyrian" instead of "Aramaic" or
"Chaldean", but I suppose it could have something to do with slight
local variations in the Aramaic alphabet.  And no, the Aramaic
alphabet has nothing to do with the cuneiform writing system used for
Akkadian languages.

> "Aramaic" is simply a Semitic dialect of Syriac as well as 'Qaysi'
> from the Quraysh(tribe of Muhammad) which later turned into what is
> called the Arabic language today.

Arabic is not a dialect of Aramaic!  (Though the Arabic alphabet was
borrowed from the Aramaic alphabet.)

Here's an oversimplified schematic view of Semitic language subgroups:

  East Semitic -- Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian

  Aramaic -- includes Syriac, and various early and late Aramaic variants

  Canaanite -- Hebrew, Phoenician, Moabite, etc.

  Early "North Canaanite" -- Ugaritic, Amorite, Eblaite, etc.

  North Arabian -- including Arabic

  Early (epigraphic) South Arabian -- Ancient languages of Yemen area

  Modern South Arabian -- not necessarily same in the subgroup as preceding

  Southwest Semitic -- Ge'ez, Ethiopian languages.

It hasn't really been conclusively determined how these various
subgroups form a "family tree" within Semitic (except that East
Semitic is distinct with respect to all the others as a larger group),
but Aramaic and Arabic are clearly in separate subgroups, and neither
language directly descends from the other.

> BTW - is there such a thing as "Ashuric Hebrew/Arabic"(this was also
> mentioned on the cult's web page) ?

Whatever -- that would seem to involve the agglomeration of _three_
distinct Semitic language subgroups -- not to mention that "Ashur" is
the name of a pagan heathen deity.   ;-)

Henry Churchyard   churchyh at

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