[b-hebrew] Potiphar's title

Peter Kirk peter.r.kirk at ntlworld.com
Fri Jul 11 05:43:57 EDT 2003

On 10/07/2003 19:12, Dave Washburn wrote:

>>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 š becomes Hebrew s when
>>borrowed, but you can hardly argue that Hebrew š (shin) becomes Hebrew s
>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 
I'm also not an expert in this field, but here's my answer to you, Dave, 
and to Michael and Karl:

I cannot rule out the possibility that SARIS is a Hebrew word from the 
original proto-Semitic stock with no known cognates in other Semitic 
languages. But, as noted in GKC 30m, in a Hebrew triliteral root "The 
first and third consonants are very seldom identical", which is another 
argument against this analysis.

But if it is a cognate of the given Akkadian word, that implies that it 
has the same etymology, the relative pronoun SHE-, in both Akkadian and 
Hebrew (although the 'ASHER is more common in biblical Hebrew), plus the 
common Semitic word for "head". This word for "head" has a final 
consonant s in Arabic and dialects, Ge`ez, Tigre, Tigrinya, Amharic and 
Harari, but sh in Akkadian, Ugariti, Hebrew, Phoenician, Aramaic, 
Syriac, Ma`lula, Urmi, Mandaic, Sabean and Jibbali (Data from 
"Comparative Semitic Linguistics by P. Bennett, p.135), which implies a 
proto-Semitic sh sound. There is no way that this sh could have become s 
within Hebrew, which implies that SARIS, if indeed derived from the word 
for "head", is a loan word.

Proto-Semitic s-acute would normally become sin in Hebrew, and sh in 
Akkadian (and Arabic). But Hebrew sin and samekh were indeed sometimes 
confused (cf. Shibboleth). So if the Akkadian etymology given in K-B etc 
is wrong, this could be a shared proto-Semitic word. But then a question 
for a grammarian: how would you account for the Akkadian plural form 
given in K-B in which the first syllable of the word inflects, not the 
second one?

Peter Kirk
peter.r.kirk at ntlworld.com

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