[b-hebrew] Hebrew with Aramaic, Phoenician etc in scholarly publications

Trevor Peterson 06PETERSON at cua.edu
Wed Jul 16 13:34:24 EDT 2003

>===== Original Message From Peter Kirk <peter.r.kirk at ntlworld.com> =====
>I disagree.

I know you do. We've been through this before.

>It can be very useful to our understanding of Hebrew to see
>its relation with cognate languages, where loan words come from etc.

Yes, it can. I'm not disagreeing with that. How are you going to see, though, 
if you can't read the relevant texts?

>recent discussion on this list of the background of SARIS would have
>been impossible, for me and for most of us on the list, if the related
>Akkadian forms had been given in KB/HALOT etc in cuneiform - even if
>this list could handle cuneiform.

Honestly, I lost interest somewhere along the way, so I just went back and 
read the whole thread. My first reaction is that the discussion had a lot to 
do with citing authorities and not much real knowledge of the languages 
involved. I think, from your last remarks on the issue, that you at least 
might realize that a proto-Semitic shin pretty much remains a shin. What I 
don't think anyone brought up is that shin seems to have been pronounced 
differently in Assyrian and Babylonian (two Akkadian dialects). At any rate, 
it is standard scholarly practice to assume that where an Akkadian shin comes 
across into Hebrew or Aramaic as a samekh it was loaned from Assyrian (and 
where it remains a shin, it was loaned from Babylonian). This is a completely 
different issue from the fate of PS sin, which is marked by the Masoretes and 
preserved (although no longer pronounced) with a distinctive sign in Ethiopic 
but otherwise lost almost universally. The Shibboleth incident probably points 
to a situation where some dialects preserved the original sound, while it had 
merged with samekh in others.

Anyway, what I wanted to say was that HALOT or TWOT says what it says, and you 
can assemble an arsenal of scholarly sources that all agree on a point, but 
evaluating their arguments without any real knowledge of the languages 
involved is impossible. Most of the same arguments could have been made if you 
had simply said, "HALOT says this is an Akkadian loan," regardless of what the 
Akkadian word looks like. And maybe you'd have a little more information to 
work with if you also knew that HALOT thinks the Akkadian word in question is 
really two words, but even that doesn't require reading the actual word. And I 
notice that the Akkadian was transliterated in some of the cited sources with 
s and in some with shin, but maybe that was just sloppiness in someone's 
reproduction. In any event, it's worth asking how you get from Akkadian shin 
to Hebrew samekh, and that quesiton was asked, but I don't think anyone came 
up with the answer. Maybe it's also relevant (I doubt it in this case, but how 
would you know?) that cuneiform tends not to distinguish very well between 
sibilants. You would probably never get that from looking at a transliterated 
citation, though.

In short, I'm not questioning whether the comparative evidence in HALOT has 
any value to those who don't know the other Semitic languages--just how much 
value it has for being written in Latin characters. Lexica cite a lot of 
comparative arguments that might not really hold much water. But aside from 
comparing them with each other to see if they disagree, there's not much you 
can do to attack the question without knowing the languages they're citing. 
And anyone can compare two lexica and see whether they're citing the same 
evidence, even if it's in a script you don't know. A transcription might make 
you feel better, but it doesn't really provide that much useful information. 
It shows you enough to get the idea of what the lexicographer thinks makes the 
case reasonable. It will never show you enough to judge for yourself whether 
the lexicographer is right or not.

I'm not trying to be elitist, just realistic about how much can be 
accomplished without doing the real work of learning a language. I think you 
brought up a good example of what people who don't know Akkadian can do with 
Akkadian citations in a Hebrew lexicon. I also think it's a good example of 
what they can't do, and frankly, I don't see where having the evidence in 
transliteration makes a difference.

Trevor Peterson

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list