[b-hebrew] Amorites/Yigal's comments

Chris and Nel wattswestmaas at eircom.net
Thu Jun 29 14:25:49 EDT 2006

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.

Reply from Chris Watts:

Thanks Yigal, this all now makes more sense and actually answers my 
questions in a nutshell.  My problem has always been with that term - 
CANAANITE.  Canaanite I always see as too loose a term.  By the way, it says 
somewhere that Abraham was an Amorite and Sarah was a Hittite.  the Amorites 
were in Babylonia and sacked a few cities around the 2000/ 1900 BC area I am 
sure that I read that somewhere.  They were always referred to as a nusance 
by subsequent inscriptions so I remember. Please correct me if I am totally 
wrong.  So they were no small tribe. It was rather like the term - 
PHONECIANS.  they were, I believe, Canaanites!!!!  But were so called by the 
Greeks - the connection I think went something like this: Phoenix - Greek 
for Turquoise - Phonecia? It is the labels that we give things that can 
actually cover what actually is a variable and fluid situation.

Chris Watts

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