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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Nov 20 17:34:00 EST 2007

Yitzhak Sapir:
1.  You wrote:  " The root ygr in BH means "fright."…[N]either of these words 
[including ygr] appears in Hebrew…."
I do not understand that.  We have ygr/yod-gimel-resh/YGR five times in the 
Hebrew Bible:  Deuteronomy 9: 19;  28: 60;  Job 3: 25;  9: 28;  and Psalms 119: 
39.  It's a perfectly good Biblical Hebrew word that means "fear" or "fright" 
or "to be afraid".
So at Genesis 31: 47, 'yegar sahaduta' may mean "fear of sahaduta".
2.  Based on The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon source that you cite, ygr is 
yagra in Aramaic, and possibly in other languages.  That may back up my 
intuition that there may be an implied A after the R in that odd phrase at Genesis 
31: 47.
Moreover, ygr(a) could conceivably be short-hand for ygrra:  yegar + ra.  As 
mentioned in my previous post, (i) S could be SH, given the Sin/Shin instead 
of the expected Aramaic Samekh, and (ii) the H could mean –AH, instead of 
starting a new syllable.
3.  Based on the analysis in #2, maybe the foreign phrase at Genesis 31: 47 
means "fear of ra-shah-du-ta".
Or more likely, the pun-crazy author of the Patriarchal narratives is having 
it both ways.  It means "fear of sahaduta", meaning "fear of testimony" and 
"rock heap of testimony", with shd/&HD meaning "testify" or "witness" or 
"record" in Hebrew.  And, simultaneously, it means "fear of ra-shah-du-ta".  The fact 
that the second word is not in anything like normal Hebrew form, but rather 
seems obviously foreign, despite the recognizable Hebrew root, suggests the 
second meaning.
Maybe you're right that "fright" is connected with "rocks", though that seems 
a bit of a stretch to me.  But I'll give that to you, as long as you 
recognize that YGR still means "fear of", and does not exclusively mean "rocks".
4.  I'll even be a gentleman and grant you that both words appear in Aramaic. 
 But that settles nothing.  Aramaic did not come from Mars.  No, Aramaic is a 
late west Semitic language that is obviously heavily indebted to Assyrian, 
Hurrian, Amorite, Ugaritic, Hebrew, and all Canaanite languages.  So to say that 
a word appears in Aramaic does not mean that the root of such word is or is 
not coming from Hurrian.
The question is not whether 'yegar sahaduta' is Aramaic.  No, the question is 
whether 'yegar sahaduta', or perhaps the second word of 'ye-gar 
ra-shah-du-ta', is coming from Hurrian.
5.  You wrote:  "Laban is an Aramean."  
No, not if the Patriarchal narratives were composed before 1100 BCE.  The 
Aramean tribe of people did not make their first historical appearance until 
about 1100 BCE, and there is no written Aramaic before 900 BCE.  Laban is not an 
Aramean in any ethnic sense.  We know from the Mari archives and other sources 
that the word "Aram" predates the 1100 BCE time period by a thousand years or 
so.  Prior to 1100 BCE, "Aram" meant the geographical area of the upper 
Euphrates River area, and said nothing about a person's ethnicity or language.  To 
be an "Aramean" prior to 1100 BCE meant simply that you were a person who was 
living on the upper Euphrates River, while saying nothing about your ethnicity 
or language, one way or the other.  Thus John Van Seters points out that in 
the mid-14th century BCE, long before the first appearance of the Aramean people 
in 1100 BCE, the phrase "Paddan-aram", or "the fields of Aram" (with "Paddan" 
meaning "fields" in Hebrew), was used to designate the geographical locale of 
the upper Euphrates River.  The phrase "Paddan-Aram" is used 10 times in the 
Patriarchal narratives to refer to that locale, but is used nowhere else in 
the Bible.  Genesis 25: 20;  28: 2, 5, 6, 7;  31: 18;  33: 18;  35: 9, 26;  46: 
15.  Here is what John Van Seters says about the mid-14th century BCE time 
period when the equivalent of the word "Paddan-Aram" was used:
"[I]n the Ugaritic texts [appears] a reference in a fourteenth century 
cuneiform text to eqleti aramina, 'the fields of the Arameans'."  John Van Seters, 
"Abraham in History and Tradition" (1975), at p. 30.
The author of the Patriarchal narratives was not so befuddled as to think 
that the Patriarchal Age coincided with the presence of the 1st millennium BCE 
Aramean people.  Heavens no.
6.  You wrote:  "Jacob is Judaean."
Surely you jest.  Judah is Jacob's son, who is age 10 regular years when 
Jacob splits with his father-in-law Laban from the upper Euphrates River.  The 
Hebrews are not thought of as Judah-ians/Judaeans in the Patriarchal narratives.  
Indeed, at this point in the story Joseph is still Jacob's favorite son, and 
Jacob is not paying any particular attention at all to Judah yet.
7.  In a later post, we'll look at the possible Hurrian basis of 'yegar 
sahaduta' or 'ye-gar ra-shah-du-ta'.  In particular, I am delighted that you 
recognize the difficulty of distinguishing between D and T in Hurrian, especially by 
a foreigner such as the Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives.  There's 
only one Hurrian name that the author of the Patriarchal narratives might 
have been concerned about, if I am right that the secular historical context of 
the Patriarchal narratives is the mid-14th century BCE.  So we only have one 
Hurrian name to look at.  Either there will be a nifty match, that is 
spectacular and stunning, or there won't be a match.
But considering the fact that the time period of the composition of the 
Patriarchal narratives is, at least in part, riding on this question, it is not 
"silly" to ask whether this strange phrase at Genesis 31: 47 is coming in part 
from Hurrian.  I am not denying that the later Arameans later picked up those 
two odd words.  But who cares about that?  What I am saying is that at least the 
second such word is ultimately coming from Hurrian, and as such reflects the 
truly ancient origin of the Patriarchal narratives.  That's the exciting 
question that we need to investigate.  It's not a silly question.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

**************************************Check out AOL's list of 2007's hottest 

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list