Habiru. Was: Meaning of term Hebrew

Charles David Isbell cisbell at cox.net
Sat Aug 10 02:58:48 EDT 2002


Dear Ian et al,

Uri is correct to say of Meek that "the medial long vowel does not concern
him in this case."  I have the following quotation from Meek's Hebrew
Origins, p. 7: "Now the exact equivalent of `abir(u), and hence of `eber and
`ibri, in cuneiform is habiru (nom. sing.), habirû (nom. pl.), habiri
(gen.-acc.pl.)."

If I remember Meek's argument correctly, he notes something like the
following.  The gentilic (ivri  is found without its gentilic ending in the
name (ever .  Meek then traces Eber itself back to an earlier form (abir(u),
and cites the typical progression of the Hebrew segholates as examples of
words that were originally mono-syllabic [sifr, milk/malk, )ozn].  What Meek
apparently assumes the reader will know is a basic fact about Hebrew
segholate nouns.  When an anaptyctic vowel was added for ease of
pronunciation, the progression was from sifr to sifer to sefer; malk to
malek to melek; etc.  This explains why segholates are accented as they are,
because Hebrew [unlike Aramaic] does not accent a helping or secondarily
added vowel.  The original vowels return in Hebrew when suffixes are added:
"my king" becomes malki; "my book" becomes sifri, etc.

Now the name `Eber is a pure segholate, and clearly took an original form
*`ivr.  Its helping vowel is in the î group [Seghol], as opposed to the ah
or o/u grouping of Semitic vowels, but since it is not original, it is
omitted in all cases except its lexical form.  The addition of a gentilic
ending functions exactly like the addition of a pronominal suffix does in
malki, sifri, etc., yielding `ivri.  The medial long vowel present in
Akkadian is not absent in Hebrew `ivri so much as it reveals itself not to
be original, and thereby dropped in bound forms.  Akkadian, like Aramaic,
can accent a secondary vowel, so it is impossible to know for certain
whether the medial long vowel in habiru was original or anaptyctic in
Akkadian, but it does not change the linguistic argument in either case.

Hope this helps,

Charles David Isbell




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