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

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Thu Nov 22 02:53:00 EST 2007

On Nov 21, 2007 8:35 PM, Jim Stinehart wrote:
> 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.

It is unfortunate that you continue to explore ridiculous theories.
It was already
explained to you that a Hurrian etymology for these words is a non-starter.  In
the context of the few verses provided we see that: 1) Laban is from Aram.
2) Laban calls the place X. 3) Jacob calls the place Y.  Whereas Y is perfect
Biblical Hebrew, X is the exact Aramaic translation of Y.  As far as literary
analysis goes, this provides good reason to understand that the intention of
the author was for X to be an Aramaic translation of Y.  Any other suggestion
-- that X is not Aramaic, not a translation of Y, or neither Aramaic nor a
translation of Y -- cannot counter the received translation.  It is
more reasonable
that if originally Laban called this place something in a different
language -- say
Hurrian -- then the hypothetical original Hurrian is now lost and a
later editor
replaced the old text with a completely new text in Aramaic of his time.

It is unlikely that &hd is related to Arabic shahid, and
reinterpreting shahid so
that it contains some relationship to "witness" is simply popular etymology.  If
there is some relationship, it clearly works against your Hurrian theory because
then the root &hd would be reconstructed for Central Semitic and must have
existed in the history of Aramaic all along for over a thousand years before its
first attestation.  This is already the case for ygr 'heap'.  Hebrew
ygr does not
mean 'heap' nor is it clear that such a relationship between Hebrew ygr and
Aramaic ygr exists.  I pointed out that if such a relationship
existed, it is very
very distant.

Just because a text reads something in one language doesn't mean that that
something also has to make sense in any other language.  Thus, yagar
&ahaduta does not have to mean anything in Hebrew or Hurrian.  Nor is the
decision to read it as one or the other going to be based on when we think
the text was written and when we think different languages were spoken.  If
it is Aramaic, it is Aramaic, and we are going to have to explain why it is
Aramaic even if it is attested at a very early/late time.  Explaining why it is
not Aramaic but Hurrian is again, a non-starter.

& was not "s" or "sh".  It was a lateral fricative [l~] in the 14th century BCE.
There is nothing odd about -uta in Aramaic.  It is a nice good ending
in Aramaic.
You can't create syllables out of thin air just because you don't like the fact
that the words are in Aramaic.  I am certain there are even more problems in
your "Hurrian" interpretation.

Just because Aramaic is attested very late does not mean that Aramaic did
not exist prior to this period.  The very fact that Aramaic is an independent
language from the Canaanite languages, means that Aramaic developed
independently from Northwest Semitic.  It didn't just come to be out of thin
air.  It was spoken all along, and just not written until the 1st milennium BCE.
I already mentioned that "Amorite" names may indicate a stage of a language
from which one "Amorite" dialect later developed into Aramaic.  I tend to
agree with this conclusion for various reasons.

I quote here a short statement by Ran Zadok in one of his articles on the
history of Aramaic - "E. Edel is of the opinion that Eg. P3-j-r'-m-w from
Amenhotep III's reign (ca. 1391-1353) designates the Arameans.  This is
linguistically plausible because the -w can be a Semitic nominative in which
case a Hurrian etymology is excluded."

If you have a problem with Aramaic as a first milennium language, perhaps
you should also look at another problematic language used in the Patriarchal
narratives and which is not attested before the 1st milennium.  I am talking
about Hebrew.  While both Aramaic and Hebrew were likely very different
in the mid-2nd millenium than they were 1000 years later, this does not
mean that a text in the old language could not survive.  It might have
survived with scribes slowly changing the orthography and vocabulary as
the older terms were dropped by the language, ending up with a translation
of the "older" stage of the language to the newer stage.

A controversial theory is one which can interpret all the evidence
successfully but its conclusions are in debate.  It may be that it interprets
some evidence better than a competing theory but in other evidence it has
a weaker interpretation.  It may be that its conclusions are far-reaching and
they are the source of the debate.  But in all cases, it interprets the evidence
well.  Your theory is not controversial.  It is simply a non-starter.  It can't
interpret the Aramaic because you don't know Aramaic, and it can't read it
as Hurrian because your knowledge of Hurrian is probably worse than your
knowledge of Aramaic.  I also have serious doubts about your capability in
Hebrew.  Your theory -- your entire theory for placing the Patriarchal
narratives in the 14th century BCE -- is itself a non-starter for the simple
reason that you picked the 14th century BCE because that is the period for
which we have surviving records in Amarna.  But it is only by accident that
records from this period survived as opposed to from other periods -- when
such records were written but simply did not survive.  Just because records
from the 14th century BCE survived and mention one "Abimilki" does not
mean that the Patriarchal narratives must come from the 14th century and
all other evidence must be reinterpreted in that light.  Maybe you think it's
not a silly idea, but it is.

A good theorist needs some method of selection for good and bad ideas.
One method that does not work is one that says that any way is good if it
allows us to ascertain the authenticity of the accounts in Genesis to the 2nd
millenium, to show how the text is perfect but was just misunderstood, in
contrast to the bad evil secular scholars and minimalists who think that the
evidence points to the 1st milennium.  A good theorist will also realize this is
not the place to propound the details of such theories.  Rather, they should
be published in academic publications where they can be considered by
scholars -- secular and non secular -- along with other theories.  Your theory
will win out if it successfully and convincingly interprets the evidence.

Yitzhak Sapir

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