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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Nov 21 15:35:37 EST 2007

1.  The odd phrase 'yegar sahaduta' at Genesis 31: 47 could be based on 
Hurrian.  In mid-14th century BCE Hurrian, ugar sa-ha-du-tta would likely mean "to 
show that I am purified".  In context, Laban is claiming that the stones being 
piled up in connection with his treaty with Jacob are "to show that Laban is 
pure in heart" in promising to abide by this treaty.
2.  As to 'ugar' in Hurrian, this word is used for example with 'tad', a 
Hurrian word meaning "love" or "affection".  In Hurrian, 'tad-ugar' is a 
well-known phrase meaning "show affection".  (In attested Hurrian, 'ugar' appears after 
other words, not in an initial position.)  It is not clear at this remove how 
close 'ugar' in Hurrian would sound to 'yegar' in Hebrew, but the sounds 
presumably are fairly close.
3.  As to 'sa-ha-du-tta' in Hurrian, the Hurrian word for "pure" is either 
sa-ha-la or se-e-ha-la.  (All Hurrian S sounds, by the way, may sound closer to 
SH than S.)  The phrase sa-ha-la-su means "they shall purify".  There is a 
very long Hurrian phrase that begins "se-e-ha-du…", and presumably could 
alternatively be spelled "sa-ha-du…", which is based on the word "pure".  The ending 
'-tta' is well-known in Hurrian as meaning "I" or "me".  So although the tiny 
corpus of Hurrian writing does not literally contain the phrase 'sa-ha-du-tta', 
it seems likely that in Hurrian, 'sa-ha-du-tta' would mean "I am purified".
4.  Without going into a long explanation, it is unlikely that the Hebrew 
author of the Patriarchal narratives could have distinguished between T and D in 
Hurrian.  In the Hurrian index I looked at, for example, T words and D words 
are put together, because T and D so often substitute for each other in Hurrian.
5.  Now let's look at a possible Hebrew-Hurrian meaning of 'yegar sahaduta' 
at Genesis 31: 47.  
In the mid-14th century BCE, the Hurrian leader of the Hurrian state of 
Mitanni had a similar situation to Laban.  This untrustworthy man lived on the 
upper Euphrates River.  He had a son-in-law from far to the west, who was a 
monotheist.  That son-in-law rudely broke off relations with him, with the last 
straw being, believe it or nor, certain statues that the irate Hurrian 
father-in-law insisted that his monotheistic son-in-law should deliver to him, but which 
in fact were never delivered.  A long series of Amarna Letters documents this 
in secular history.  In the Patriarchal narratives, Jacob's wife Rachel steals 
Laban's statues, called teraphim, and that is the last straw in Jacob's rude 
break from his untrustworthy father-in-law Laban on the upper Euphrates River 
in chapter 31 of Genesis.
The conventional English spelling of this mid-14th century BCE Hurrian 
leader's name is "Tushratta".  But the T could be a D:
"The name Tushratta is spelled Tui?srata in the Hittite cuneiform script, 
which does not distinguish between \d" and \t" very well. Some have suggested 
that the Sanskrit original is Dasaratha…."
Subhash Kak, at: _http://www.ece.lsu.edu/kak/akhena.pdf_ 
The Hurrian name of this mid-14th century BCE Hurrian leader could 
alternatively be Du-shah-ra-tta.  If we start with the R at the end of ygr, that phrase 
at Genesis 31: 47 could be ra-shah-du-tta.  We see the identical four 
syllables, though out of order.  Thus 'yegar sahaduta' could on one level be a 
slightly disguised reference to the disliked Hurrian leader of the only Hurrian state 
in the mid-14th century BCE:  Du-shah-ra-tta/Tushratta.  Laban is saying that 
Laban is properly fearful of, and hence honors (ygr, in regular Hebrew), 
Du-shah-ra-tta, whose name is slightly disguised as ra-shah-du-tta (starting with 
the R at the end of yegar).
6.  Note that both of my proposed Hurrian meanings of 'yegar sahaduta' at 
Genesis 31: 47 make sense.  On the all-Hurrian reading, the meaning would be "to 
show that I am pure in heart [in promising to abide by this treaty]".  On the 
Hebrew-Hurrian reading, the slightly disguised meaning would be "in proper 
fear of, and hence honoring, [my Hurrian king] Du-shah-ra-tta".
7.  Meanwhile, we still have the all-Hebrew meaning there as well:  "in 
proper fear of, and hence honoring" (ygr), by my "witness" or "testimony" (shd, 
plus the odd non-Hebrew suffix –uta).  (Eric Forster has nicely pointed out the 
Semitic root SHD in the odd word SHDUTA, where Shahid in modern Arabic means 
"someone who dies as a witness to his faith".)
Thus it is possible to understand the odd phrase 'yegar sahaduta' at Genesis 
31: 47 in terms of Hebrew, Hebrew and Hurrian, and Hurrian, without any resort 
to Aramaic.  Whether Aramaic picked up the word 'sahaduta' from Hurrian I do 
not know, but that is definitely possible.
I myself view 'yegar sahaduta' at Genesis 31: 47 as being a clever play on 
Hurrian and Hebrew words by the Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives, who 
lived in the mid-14th century BCE, and who had never heard of the Arameans or 
Aramaic, which did not yet exist in the Patriarchal Age.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois 

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