[b-hebrew] Canaanite - response to certain folks.

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Thu Jun 29 05:28:10 EDT 2006

Chris wrote:
> Surely when one considers that the Amorite dialect must have been very
> widely spoken (a from of Aramaic) amongst Babylonia and around 2400-1800 
> in
> Canaan when they moved in, and Abraham allying himself with them in a
> momentous battle, alludes to some common understanding with them. And 
> aramaic had more in common with the canaanite tongue than did later 
> aramaic?
> Maybe upon this there is some thought that the SPOKEN hebrew during the
> Egypt years was a kind of independently forming Aramaic.  After all, Moses
> fled to Midian and not the place of his ancestral beginnings in Canaan.
> Midian being of course of Family kindred and similar tongue to Moses?
> Otherwise surely a man who was lonely and in need of feeling secure would
> try to find a place where he was most at home, both in language and 
> belief?
> Which would not have been Midian - just a thought! chris.
Let's make the following clear: we really don't know what "Amorite" was! The 
term is used by scholars, both linguists and historians, to cover the wide 
range of Northwestern Semitic dialects used in what the Mesopotamians called 
"Amurru" - everything west of the Euphrates - during the second millennium 
BCE. However, we have no actual inscriptions in this language - most of what 
we know about it is based on the "bad grammar" and various glosses in 
Akkadian texts, written by scribes who were not Akkadian-speakers, in places 
such as Mari and Amarna. We can assume that there were lots of "Amorite" 
dialects - I don't know whether a person from Gaza and one from Damascus in, 
say, 1500 BCE could understand each other - we just don't have enough texts 
to work with.
"Canaanite" is the conventional name for those dialects of "Amorite" that 
were spoken in Canaan - more or less from Qedesh (on the Orontes) south. 
During the Late Bronze Age (1500-1200), this was more-or-less the area that 
was under Egyptian domination, although the dialect of Ugarit, which was 
just outside of the Egyptian territory, was close enough to be considered 
"northern Canaanite". Actually, most of our "Canaanite" inscriptions of any 
length (besides Ugarit) are first millennium Phoenician!
However, from what we DO have, we can see that biblical Hebrew (including 
the Hebrew of the few inscriptions we have, all 8th century and later, such 
as the Samaria ostraca, the Siloam inscription, Lachish, Arad and various 
others), IS a direct outgrowth of Canaanite. So, apparently, was Moabite. My 
(modern-) Hebrew speaking students can read Ahiram, the Gezer calendar, the 
Mesha stele and the Ekron inscription with no difficulty.
On the other hand, Aramaic is a "cousin" of this family. The Arameans are 
first mentioned in around 1100, but we have actual inscriptions only from 
the 9th century (Tel Dan and others). Aramaic COULD be descended from 
"northern Amorite", but we don't know enough Amorite to be able to know that 
for sure!

The fact that the Israelites, when they appear as a nation, do so speaking a 
dialect of Canaanite, has to be explained somehow. Different people on this 
list have suggested different explanations.

Yigal Levin 

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list