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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Nov 21 10:55:43 EST 2007

Yitzhak Sapir:
1.  You have done a fine analysis of how the words 'yegar sahaduta' at 
Genesis 31: 47 are Aramaic words.  I agree with your fine Aramaic analysis, I 
appreciate the careful job you have done on it, and I do not dispute your Aramaic 
analysis.  But the question still remains whether those words' ultimate origin 
is mid-14th century BCE Hurrian.  The fact that those words are Aramaic, per 
your analysis, is neutral as to the question of whether those words are Hurrian 
in origin.
Perhaps the conceptual problem that you and I are having with this issue 
relates to the difference between Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic.  Biblical Hebrew is 
a virgin pure west Semitic language, with few foreign loanwords from non-west 
Semitic languages, and very few foreign loanwords from non-Semitic languages 
like Hurrian and Hittite.  Although Aramaic is a west Semitic language, and is 
quite closely related to Hebrew, Aramaic is not a virgin pure west Semitic 
language.  The Arameans effectively displaced the Hurrians on the upper 
Euphrates River.  Thus it would not be surprising at all if Aramaic, unlike Biblical 
Hebrew, has quite a few foreign loanwords from the non-Semitic language of 
Thus the fact that the words 'yegar sahaduta' at Genesis 31: 47 are Aramaic 
words, as you have nicely shown, in fact tells us little or nothing about the 
further question as to whether the ultimate origin of such words is Hurrian.  
The problem is not my faulty understanding of Aramaic.  I am not disputing your 
fine Aramaic analysis.  Rather, the "problem", or rather the question, is 
whether or not the words 'yegar sahaduta' at Genesis 31: 47 are ultimately coming 
from mid-14th century BCE Hurrian.  The answer to that problem/question can 
only come from looking at Hurrian.
2.  Although I accept your Aramaic analysis, I am still having major trouble 
with your Hebrew analysis.  You wrote:  "[T]he root ygr means fright in Hebrew 
as a verb."  In English, "fright" is a noun, not a verb.  BDB does not use 
the English word "fright" to explain ygr.  Rather, BDB says:  "vb. be afraid, 
fear".  In all six cases when ygr is used in the Bible, a translation of "to be 
afraid of" or "to fear" works fine, as far as I can see.  At Genesis 31: 47, 
in context, the meaning is "to be properly afraid of, and hence honor".  (It's 
the same as the meaning of the English word "fear" in the English phrase 
"God-fearing men", meaning men who are righteous in properly fearing, and hence 
honoring, God.)
I guess you are explicitly denying that ygr has, as one of its meanings at 
Genesis 31: 47, "to fear", or "to be properly afraid of".  You are insisting 
that ygr exclusively means "mound" or "rocks" or "mound of rocks".  But how could 
any Hebrew see ygr and not think of the perfectly fine Hebrew word ygr 
meaning "be afraid, fear"?  That is unrealistic to me.
I understand that ygr has a different meaning than the Hebrew meaning in 
other languages, including Aramaic.  But when Jacob and Laban are making a solemn 
non-aggression pact, certainly the meaning of "to be properly afraid of, and 
hence to honor" fits in perfectly with the situation.  Each man wants the other 
to honor their agreement.
3.  I myself see the phrase 'yegar sahaduta' at Genesis 31: 47 as working on 
two different levels.  On one level, it works as an all-Hebrew phrase, to 
which a bizarre, foreign, non-Hebrew suffix has been appended, in order to make it 
sound like a foreign phrase to the Hebrew audience.  Yet the Hebrew audience 
can still easily figure out the meaning, based on the obvious Hebrew roots of 
both words.  But at a second level, I see this phrase as being based on 
Hurrian.  (Though not intended by the author of the Patriarchal narratives, in my 
view, I will admit that this phrase also works in Aramaic, as you have 
demonstrated.  In my view, that is because Aramaic later adopted the second word from 
4.  The root of the second word, as you yourself pointed out in an earlier 
post, is the well-known Hebrew root SHD, meaning "witness' or "testimony" or 
"record".  The odd "-uta" at the end of this word makes it sound very foreign, 
yet the Hebrew meaning is still fairly clear.  So on the all-Hebrew front, this 
peculiar phrase at Genesis 31: 47 would be understood by a Hebrew audience as 
meaning "to properly fear and hence honor, as a witness", or "to properly fear 
and hence honor, [to which this is] testimony".  Given the specific context, 
such a meaning works perfectly.
This all-Hebrew meaning is similar to the Aramaic meaning you are insisting 
upon, though in the all-Hebrew variant, there is no direct reference to "a pile 
of rocks" or to "a mound".  Yet in context, the meaning is nevertheless 
5.  In my next post, I hope to finally get to my Hurrian analysis of this odd 
phrase at Genesis 31: 47, at long last.  I initially thought the controversy 
would begin with my Hurrian analysis.  But instead, we've had all this 
controversy before I even get to my controversial Hurrian analysis of Genesis 31: 47. 
 But I am learning about Aramaic (and Biblical Hebrew as well) from you, and 
I thank you for that.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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