[b-hebrew] Potiphar's title

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Fri Jul 11 00:34:59 EDT 2003

Dear Dave and All:

As a person who has had only one year of Biblical Hebrew and no more, no Akkadian, no modern Hebrew (it looks more foreign to me than Yiddish), not even Mishnaic Hebrew, I am painfully aware of my limitations.

However, as a lexicographer as far as my limited knowledge of Hebrew is concerned, I notice that there are over 40 verses in the Bible which mention the word SRYS. Only one passage, Isaiah 56:3–5, does it imply that the SRYS has no children. All the others indicate that the person in question merely is in the king’s (or queen’s) court. Some, such as Genesis 37:36, 39:1 (both concerning Potiphar) imply that he was not an eunoch, most others leave the question unanswered.

As far as interchanging samech with sin/shin, we need look no further than Judges 12:6 where a dialectal pronunciation within Hebrew showed the same shift.

As far as insisting that similar words in different languages have exactly the same meaning, I look at $KX—in Hebrew it meant “forget” while in Akkadian “find”. If a word so common had so different meanings, we should be careful about all such words. Likewise just because the Akkadian word in question here meant eunoch does not necessarily mean that the Hebrew word meant the same.

As far as the source of SRYS, whether originally from Hebrew or an Akkadian loan word, I think there is too little evidence either way. Abraham may have already known the word, from a common Semitic stock.

That’s my 2¢ worth.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: Dave Washburn <dwashbur at nyx.net>

> On Thursday 10 July 2003 17:38, Peter Kirk wrote:
> > On 10/07/2003 15:54, Dave Washburn wrote:
> > > ... So my
> > >
> > >question is, "how was such a consensus (assuming it really is such)
> > > arrived at?"  Until I know that, I have no way to determine whether
> > > someone's "research" is accurately based, built on speculation, or
> > > circular reasoning (e.g. Akkadian is "early" and Genesis is "late"
> > > therefore such and such a word in Genesis MUST be a loanword from
> > > Akkadian, which proves that Genesis is "late").  ...
> >
> > There must be more to it than this, Dave. 
> That's what I hope to determine.
> See the scholars cited by K-B
> > in my response to Stephen. Also, if as you suggested this word is part
> > of the common Semitic stock, instead of being Akkadian ša rēši “the one
> > at the head” > Hebrew saris, it would be Hebrew še rō'š, or 'ašer rō'š
> > “the one at the head”. 
> Perhaps, but not necessarily.  Hebrew also has words such as reshit and rishon 
> with similar meanings.
> I'm not sure why Akkadian Å¡ becomes Hebrew s when
> > borrowed, but you can hardly argue that Hebrew Å¡ (shin) becomes Hebrew s
> > (samek).
> Of course not.  I'm not talking about Hebrew shin, but a term from the 
> (admittedly hypothetical) Proto-Semitic word stock.  So the question is not, 
> "doea Akkadian shin become Hebrew samek" but "might a Proto-Semitic word with 
> (say) a sin be rendered with a 's' sound in Hebrew but a 'sh' sound in 
> Akkadian?"  Based on the chart I'm looking at in C. H. Gordon, _Ugaritic 
> Textbook_ p.30, the answer is "very likely."  The 7th column of the chart 
> shows a Proto-Semitic s' (an 's' with an acute accent on it) rendering as 's' 
> in Hebrew but 'sh' in Akkadian.  So if there is any validity to the pattern 
> he sets forth, the question of SRYS still seems to be an open one.
> I say all this while bearing in mind that I'm a grammarian, not a 
> lexicographer, which means I'm painfully aware of my limitations in this 
> area...
> -- 
> Dave Washburn
> http://www.nyx.net/~dwashbur
> "God does a lot of things in the Psalms
> that He can't get away with in systematic theology."
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