Linguistic Origins of Hebrew: 1800 BCE?!

Ian Hutchesson mc2499 at
Thu Sep 7 17:44:12 EDT 2000

At 14.01 03/09/00 -0500, Henry Churchyard wrote:
>> From: Ian Hutchesson <mc2499 at>
>> Date: Fri, 01 Sep 2000 20:13:47 +0200
>>> Hebrew (1800 BC - present)
>> this seems a bit of a joke, Brian.  If Garbini can claim that the
>> so-called Gezer calendar was written in a southern dialect of
>> Phoenician while other scholars say that it was written in some sort
>> of Hebrew, the distinction between Phoenician and Hebrew in the
>> ninth century (memory) was so small that one cannot imagine the
>> existence of a Hebrew in 1800 BCE.  We have difficulties dating
>> Hebrew before the ninth century BCE.
>Of course a "pre-Hebrew" (the lineal ancestor of later attested
>Biblical Hebrew) existed in 1800 BC.  Whether this pre-Hebrew of 1800
>B.C. was what linguists would call a separate language, or was an
>only slightly-distinct dialect, or whether in 1800 B.C. there was no
>speech community existing at all which spoke a variety of speech that
>was the lineal ancestor of later-attested Hebrew and that was not
>also the lineal ancestor of the languages closely related to Hebrew
>(the most closely-related languages seem to have been Ammonite, etc.,
>not including Phoenician, by the way) -- 

(Henry you seem to be throwing everything you can think of into the one
pot. What is the date of the evidence for the most closely related
languages you mention or hint at? I would assume that it is extremely late
in most cases. If this is so, what is their relevance to a language we are
attempting to deal with at around 900 BCE?)

>this is a very interesting
>question (and _not_ a laughable question), but it's a question to
>which it's basically impossible to give a decisive and complete
>answer based on the available evidence.  

Again, if the contention between Garbini and some other scholars over the
Gezer "calendar" is not trivial -- your comment below shows that you know
nothing about his position here, so naturally you can't comment
meaningfully --, then the differences between the Hebrew and the Phoenician
at the time of the calendar are quite negligible. Can one postulate a
pre-Hebrew dialect a few hundred years earlier that was in fact separate
from a pre-Phoenician dialect given the movement away from each other
(later observed) based on an Aramaic influence upon that which was to
become Hebrew?

>Garbini (the man whose
>notably ineffectual attempts to explain away the Hebrew/Aramaic
>consonant _s'in_ do not necessarily give me an overwhelming
>confidence in the correctness of results he has arrived at in other

You admit here Henry that you are not acquainted with any other work by
Garbini. It might be useful if you could cite passages from Garbini's
arguments regarding the non-existence of sin that upset you, with relevant
criticism so one can understand why you are not prepared to read his work?

It is interesting that on 15/07/99 you wrote:

>P.S. If this Garbini is the same Garbini who back in the 60's
>published a bunch of highly flawed and erronous stuff about Hebrew
>_siin_ (a subject that I have studied intensively), then this doesn't
>predispose me to place great confidence in anything he might say about
>biblical minimalism.  It seems like there was an Italian "minimalist"
>movement to eliminate _ghayn_ and probably also _siin_ from
>Proto-Semitic, but I don't think much has been heard from them on that
>topic recently...

Given your stated lack of knowledge of Garbini which has changed very
little over the last year, I find the comment about his work being
"ineffectual" quite sudden and without reason. 

>must have been working with consonant-orthography-only texts
>when examining the distinctness of ninth century B.C. Hebrew and
>Phoenician, and such unpointed texts can cover quite a multitude of
>linguistic differences (especially in the old Phoenician orthography,
>in which long vowels were very rarely written with a _mater lectionis_
>unless they had actually developed from a vowel + consonant
>combination, including w and y among the consonants).  

You might consider reading his book on Phoenician to find out what his
arguments actually are on the subject. He has also written on Punic, Old
Punic, Ya'udic, the Aramaic of numerous stele such as the Tell Fekheriye
stele, etc. He has written on mater lectionis and the vocalization in Old
Aramaic and other languages, so I don't think you are mentioning anything
he hasn't considered with your comments above.

>I stand by what I wrote earlier:

This seems only natural, Henry. However, you haven't done much more than
repackage your conjectures into a "pre-Hebrew" that just might have been
around as far back as 1800 BCE without any evidence for such a date. You
have avowed a lack of interest preventing you from considering Garbini's
analysis, his arguments about the conservative nature of mainstream
Phoenician as against the innovative Hebrew influenced by Aramaic.

You need to deal with Garbini's logic before proposing your conjectural
date of 1800 BCE even disguised with the title "pre-Hebrew".


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