[b-hebrew] Genesis 31: 47: What Foreign Language is That?

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Tue Nov 20 09:30:43 EST 2007

On Nov 19, 2007 6:40 PM,  Jim Stinehart wrote:
> Yitzhak Sapir:
> I asked:  "What language is "yegar sahaduta" at Genesis 31: 47?  Is it
> Hurrian?  Is it   Aramaic?  Are these Hurrian words  written in Aramaic?  Or is this
>  classic Aramaic, with  no Hurrian influence?"
> In response, you wrote:  "It is Aramaic.  I doubt that there  is 'Hurrian
> influence.'"

The words are Aramaic and translate exactly the Hebrew gal (ed "pile
of testimony"

The word ygr comes from a general root wgr in Central Semitic meaning "pile of
stones."  The root ygr in BH means "fright."  In BH it serves as an
alternate form
of gwr.  An interesting connetion between the two roots comes in Is 31:9 where
mgwr (also from gwr "fright") is connected with sl( "rock".  So although the
semantic connection appears distant ("fright" vs. "pile of stones"), I
think the
use in Isaiah may point to a true cognate for Aramaic ygr.

The root shd appears in Old Aramaic in Sefire as &hdn.  It is borrowed into
Biblical Hebrew in Job 16:19 where it is used in parallel with (d "witness".

Thus, neither of these words appears in Hebrew, although their presence in
Old Aramaic (9th - 7th cent BCE) is reasonable.  &hd cannot be reconstructed
beyond the Aramaic stage, but ygr has cognates that allow its reconstruction
into Northwest Semitic.  The use of final -? to denote determination is standard
in Old and Official Aramaic.  This -? is probably related to Hebrew
h-.  In later
Aramaic, the final -? lost its determinative status.  Also, in later Aramaic, s
replaced & in many words.  The language of these words is therefore somewhere
between Old and early Judean Aramaic.  It is really unlikely to be able to
discern much more from two words.

We have no knowledge of Aramaic before Old Aramaic.  Some scholars have
suggested that Aramaic developed from one dialect of "Amorite" -- a designation
given to the language(s) and dialect(s) of many personal names with Northwest
Semitic characteristics known from various Akkadian documents of Northeast
Syria and Mesopotamia in the 2nd millenium BCE.  I tend to agree.  But neither
root appears to be used in Amorite names.
is in fact

Suggesting these words are not Aramaic is silly.  It would be like reading a
text in which an Italian and a German make an agreement -- the Italian
saying I have signed this X, the German saying I have signed this Y, where
Y is the exact German equivalent of Italian X.  Then, looking at the text and
trying to read Y as Turkish, not German.  Laban is an Aramean.  Jacob
is Judaean.  Jacob calls it "gal (ed" - mound of testimony.  Laban calls it
"yegar sahaduta" - mound of testimony.  The name Jacob picks is clear
Hebrew.  The name Laban picks is a clear Aramaic  translation of the

The phonology of the consonants in the 2nd millenium BCE is different from
our standard pronunciation.  Thus samekh was pronounced an affricate "ts",
shin was probably "s", and sin was probably a lateral consonant [l~].

One cannot go to Hurrian cuneiform without using updated studies on the
phonology of Hurrian, nor can one simply suggest "Hurrian" without having
a relevant and reasonable interpretation of the words in Hurrian.  Just because
a cuneiform "d" may represent d and t does not mean that the speakers
pronounced the two languages the same.  Rather, it means that the script
was inadequate to represent such phonetic differences.  There are various
methods for reconstructing what the phonetic representation of a word
the written representation was, and modern updated Hurrian dictionaries must be
consulted for this.  But, again, it is silly to try to look for
Hurrian.  The text
reads as clear Aramaic, and it appears to be clearly what the author intended.

Yitzhak Sapir

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