[b-hebrew] YHWH derivation - Elohim

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Thu May 5 12:09:05 EDT 2005

On 05/05/2005 16:29, Dr. Joel M. Hoffman wrote:

>>>It also accords well with the fact that the Israelites seem to have
>>>used their matres lectiones for other important tasks, including
>>>adding a Hey to the names of their Patriarch (AVRM --> AVRHM),
>>>Matriarch (SHY --> SRH) and deity (ELYM --> ELHYM).
>>This cannot be an adequate explanation for the form 'LHYM. The he as a 
>>root letter is found in other Semitic languages, including Arabic 
>>"Allah", "ilaha" etc, Aramaic "elah", all with a fully pronounced (not 
>>mater lectionis) he. So it can hardly be a Hebrew invention, or one 
>>dating from after the introduction of matres lectionis which was not 
>>long before the Exile.
>We can rule Arabic out right away, because the writing comes from the
>middle of the first millenium CE, almost 1,500 years too late to be
>relevant.  (Right?)
No, we cannot, unless we postulate:
(a) Arabic "Allah" is a loan word from Hebrew "Elohim", rather than 
coming from a common Semitic heritage;
(b) The Hebrew -iym plural suffix was lost before this loan - consider 
also the Hebrew singular form Eloah (with a real sounded final he);
(c) Arabic, which is very much a spoken language with a rather weak and 
late tradition of writing, has acquired a phonological feature taken 
from writing - and from writing of a different language; such 
pronunciations according to spelling are known in highly literate 
languages, but are highly improbable in Arabic.

>Aramaic is trickier, for two reasons.  
>We don't know have any clear idea how a final HEH was pronounced.  A
>pronounced final /h/ sound is rare in the world's languages, but
>common in the world's writing systems, leading one to conclude that
>written H's aren't usually pronounced.  Of course, part of the reason
>final unpronounced H's are so common goes back to the matres
>lectiones, so any application of current generalities to
>pre-matres-lectiones writing is dubious.  And we left not knowing
>enough about final H's back then.

But we have strong evidence for a sounded final H (which really is not 
that rare in the world's languages, just that it is not so common in 
Indo-European languages) from Arabic "Allah" (listen to any Arab saying 
this!) and from the Masoretic pointing of Hebrew Eloah and Aramaic Elah, 
both with mappiq in the he indicating clear pronunciation.

>But we also don't have enough (any?) pre-Hebrew Aramaic writing to
>come to any clear conclusion about Aramaic.  Typical of current
>thinking is Beyer's claim that "Ancient Aramaic in written form
>appeared in the 11th cent. b.c. ... [but] the oldest witnesses to it
>are inscription from [...] the 10th-8th [centuries]" (K. Beyer _The
>Aramaic Language_ [1896, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht]) But such a claim,
>which only narrows down the introduction of Aramaic writing to perhaps
>200 years, is not precise enough to date Aramaic writing before Hebrew
>matres lectiones.

Again we have the objection that Aramaic is highly unlikely to have 
acquired a pronunciation according to the spelling of another language.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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