[b-hebrew] Language, migration and Jewish identity

Bryant J. Williams III bjwvmw at com-pair.net
Mon Nov 5 13:45:32 EST 2007

Dear Yitzhak,

Interesting history.

It would seem also plausible that since the Hebrews were Goshen for 430 years
(since the Egyptians did not like shepherds, Genesis 46:34) that other than
trade talk, there would be little interaction between the Egyptians and the
Hebrews (even more so after the enslavement).

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Yitzhak Sapir" <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com>
To: "B Hebrew" <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Monday, November 05, 2007 9:47 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Language, migration and Jewish identity

> On Nov 2, 2007 11:15 PM, ג'ייסון הייר wrote:
> > B-Hebrew Chaverim,
> >
> > I have been in a forum debate somewhere on the 'Net recently about the
> > *when* of the adoption of Hebrew. I personally think that Abraham and Sarah
> > adopted/acquired Hebrew when they migrated from Mesopotamia, and that their
> > children grew up in Canaan with the language. Thus, they carried with them
> > to Goshen (assuming the story of the biblical narrative at least true in the
> > generalities), continuing their faith in the one God (as Abraham had
> > instructed his family) until the time of the Exodus. Thus, it was natural
> > that the Torah would be composed in Hebrew in its original kernel (given
> > that many here do not think that the Torah was nearly all composed by the
> > hand of Moshe Rabbeinu).
> >
> > The position of my "friend" on the other forum is that the Israelites
> > adopted Hebrew only *after* the Exodus. I'm curious to know if there is
> > anyone who makes a good point of this in the scholarly community, and also
> > if there has been an opposing argument put forward.
> Karl's response reminded me that I wanted to get to answer this for some time
> now.
> In the scholarly community, the great majority of scholars understand the
> evidence to suggest that the Exodus or Patriarchal narratives do not represent
> anything more than possible and if so, garbled, historical memories.
> The general
> consensus would be that later Judeans and Israelites represent descendants of
> Canaanites and their language is consequently an evolved form of one of the
> Canaanite dialects.  This is (for the most part) linguistically plausible.
> If the assumption of the Exodus and the Egyptian slavery is taken to be
> historical, however, one may suppose that Hebrew would have borrowed
> many words from Egyptian.  This hardly appears to be the case.  This
> would suggest that after any adoption of Hebrew (or Canaanite) by the
> ancestors of later Judeans took place, no Egyptian exile took place
> either.
> The classic Jewish point of view is that Hebrew was the "original language"
> and so Jews spoke Hebrew from the beginning.  One view sees their
> redemption from Egypt being in part due to their not abandoning their
> language.  A different view suggests that in Egypt, they had learned
> to speak Egyptian and thus when God first spoke to them (The Ten
> Commandments) he spoke in Egyptian -- ?anokh rather than ?ani.
> ?anok is indeed Coptic for 'I', but the ancient Egyptian is yanak.
> Jacob translates Gala(ad into Hebrew, whereas Laban translates the
> word into Aramaic, which suggests that Hebrew was already spoken
> by Jacob.  Adam calls his wife ?i$$a on analogy with ?i$.  This
> works primarily only in Hebrew (and Phoenician) because this
> comparison of ?i$ and ?i$$a relies on the coalescence of *s and *th,
> which took place in Hebrew and Phoenician but not in Aramaic.  The
> Rabbis interpreted this to mean that Adam spoke Hebrew.  Some
> (such as Ibn Ezra) also interpreted the term "language of Canaan" as
> suggesting that Canaanites spoke Hebrew.  However, linguistically, this
> "merger" probably took place during the 2nd millenium BCE and no
> earlier, and in any case, the very fact that there was a merger suggests
> that this was not an original language and in this case Aramaic is
> more conservative.  The classic Jewish point of view is also that the
> Torah was composed in its entirety in Hebrew (and perhaps in other
> language too) before Creation.  A traditional Jewish way to resolve the
> conflict would be to suggest that some Jews -- say, the Priests and
> Levites who were not enslaved according to traditions -- maintained
> Hebrew but the general population did not.
> To sum up, your answer cannot be sought in the scholarly community
> since the scholarly community has very different views than your
> basic assumptions.  The classic Jewish point of view also has some
> different views (that is, the Jews never "adopted" Hebrew).  Linguistically,
> the evidence is for a very minimal borrowing of Egyptian words, much
> much less than would be expected of a language that has been used
> in an Egyptian exile, whether it took place or not.  You can compare the
> amount of Persian, Greek, and Aramaic borrowing in Mishnaic Hebrew.
> Yitzhak Sapir
> _______________________________________________
> b-hebrew mailing list
> b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> http://lists.ibiblio.org/mailman/listinfo/b-hebrew


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