[b-hebrew] Hebrew - dialect of canaanite

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Wed Jun 28 05:25:01 EDT 2006


You have heard from the minimalists, now for 
another side of the story.

Looking at Genesis, we find even a literary style 
implying that when Moses put the all the narratives 
together into one book, that he was working from 
written sources that went back to Adam. The 
question is, how much massaging of the language did 
Moses do when he edited and combined those previous 

It is recognized that Biblical Hebrew was one of 
several similar languages spoken in the ANE, some 
of which were so close that apparently speakers of 
one language could understand what speakers of a 
different language said, albeit not perfectly. A 
good example being Hebrew and Moabite. Others were 
not so close, e.g. Hebrew and Aramaic where 
speakers of one did not understand the other 

As for the dating, any date that you see is an 
educated guess, some more accurate than others. I 
am quite comfortable with a date for the Exodus at 
about 1450 BC with the invasion under Joshua about 
1400 BC. With Moses having written most of Torah, 
we have a pretty good idea of at least written 
Hebrew from that period to about a century after 
the Babylonian Captivity.

There are a lot of loose threads that are neither 
tied up nor recorded in Tanakh: e.g. how close were 
ancient Canaanite and Hebrew? Did Jacob and his 
sons have to learn two languages in order to speak 
with Canaanites? Living in Egypt for a few 
generations would allow Hebrew to develop apart 
from Canaanite, yet it seems that Israelites had no 
problem communicating with the various Canaanite 
peoples, including the Philistines, implying that 
their languages were quite close.

Could Abraham and Moses carried on a conversation 
without a translator? If the above is true that 
Moses worked from written sources and changed them 
little to none, then maybe so. Not perfectly, but 
they could understand each other.

Karl W. Randolph.

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Chris and Nel" <wattswestmaas at eircom.net>
> Hallo,
> If the Lingua Franca of the Israelites at the time of entering Canaan circa
> 1400 BC(1250 BC for some), is classed, by linguists and biblical scholars,
> as a dialect of Canaanite, how can I understand this in terms of:
> 1. The Israelites having around 400 years to 'cement' a unique spoken
> language in Egypt that would have been a direct ancestral lingua franca from
> Jacob (who is classed as an Aramean in the scripture) and yet:......
>   2.  His language was somewhat different from Laban's as testified when they
> set up boundary stones and gave them names in their own tongues (even though
> they were related)? This would:......
> 3. Lead us to believe that Jacob's language/dialect was markedly different
> from Labans who was syrian aramaic.  Making sense since Abraham would have
> spoken Babylonian Aramaic I presume?
> Am I right in concluding that, in so far as the "Spoken Language" of the
> exodus Israeliets is concerned, they would have spoken a Babylonian Aramaic
> Tongue that slowly fused with Canaanite language to become a distinct
> language in itself, this seems improbable, I would imagine, when really an
> invading force driving out its inhabitants would surely continue to retain
> its own unique lingual identity that was formed in Egypt, and to a great
> degree in isolation, from the surrounding canaanitish culture and language?
> I hope some of you can see my problem in trying to grapple with this 'Who
> spoke What' situation.  I am wanting to place the theoretical side of all
> the talk about how hebrew has changed and been influenced into a down to
> earth reality ---- could Abraham and Moses have had a good old chinwag
> together without an interpreter?
> Thankyou.
> Chris Watts (a self studier, not a student)
> Ireland.

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