[b-hebrew] Genesis 41: 37: What Foreign Language Is That?

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Mon Nov 26 14:15:37 EST 2007

On Nov 26, 2007 3:58 PM, Jim Stinehart wrote:
> Yitzhak Sapir:
> Thank you so very, very much for your patience in explaining the Aramaic
> analysis of "sahaduta" at Genesis 31: 47.
> 1.  Now I see that if one (i) goes to The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon and
> (ii) types in the four letters shdw, one gets the Aramaic word "sahduta".
> Several meanings are given for this Aramaic word.  The first is "testimony".
> Another definition given is "evidence of virginity".  (I believe that in Hurrian,
> the literal meaning of "sa-ha-du-tta" is "I am pure".)  See Peter Bekins' post
> on this Aramaic word at that site, which gives more details.

The meaning "pl. evidence of virginity" is listed for Gal. which I take to be
Galilean Aramaic.  There are, however, problems with connecting this to
an hypothetical Hurrian "I am pure."

1) There is a clear line of development to be proposed from "testimony" to
"testimony of virginity."  The specialization of nouns to a specific
of their original domain is common.
2) The meaning is attested in Galilean Aramaic.  But if it is from Hurrian,
shouldn't we expect such a meaning also in Syriac?
3) There is no other conjugation of a root that suggests this meaning.
you expect us to believe that "I am pure" survived as a word "evidence
of virginity"
without having had any other inflections or derived forms that were
borrowed from
Hurrian as well.
4) There is a great period of time.  You expect us to believe that the
word survived
almost completely unmodified from the 14th century BCE to the early
centuries CE.

In light of all of these, it is impossible to relate "evidence of
virginity" to an
hypothetical Hurrian sahadutta "I am pure."

> 2.  Interestingly, the Aramaic word "sahduta" is a 3-syllable word, whereas
> the traditional English transliteration at Genesis 31: 47 is a 4-syllable word:
>  "sahaduta".  (Hurrian words [which often seem more like phrases than
> individual words] are often 4 syllables or longer in length, whereas words as long as
> 4 syllables are rare in Hebrew and, I believe, in Aramaic.)

The reason the h has a following vowel is because in Aramaic and Hebrew,
the gutturals weakened.  At first they turned the previous vowel into
an [a], but
later they also 'slid' into the vowel, because they were so weak that only with
the vowel could the guttural be pronounced.  This is why there is a hataf
patax in the Hebrew.  Had there been a full (even short) [a] vowel in the 1st
millenium BCE pronunciation of this word, it would have ended up with a
patax, not a hataf patax.

There is no problem with long or short words in Aramaic.

> 3.  The Aramaic word "sahduta" contains the definite article "-a" at the end.
>  In the Hebrew word "galeed" at Genesis 31: 47, however, no definite article
> is used.  (Absent the "-a" at the end, "sahaduta" would not work as a Hurrian
> word.  One of the most typical Hurrian endings is "-tta", such as in
> "Tushratta", where such ending means "I" or "me".  A word of four syllables or more
> that ends in "-tta" is very typical for a Hurrian word.)

There is no -tta in the Hebrew.  While there is a slight difference here -- a
definite article and collective meaning in the Aramaic, this probably just shows
how the word was interpreted in Hebrew.  In the early 1st millenium BCE, the
final aleph had consonantal force.  In the 2nd millenium BCE, it might have even
been an [h] and it is not even clear how the "definite article" was
used then.  The
Hebrew place name's pronunciation in the late 1st millenium is Gala(ad, based
on the Septuagint.  Hebrew preserves a slightly different pronunciation for the
word as used here and as used for the place name, but it seems pretty clear that
the place name either had its name originally in this incident, or
this incident is
used as a folk etymology.  Also, any Hurrian /s/ would have developed into an
Aramaic samekh, not sin!  Any Hurrian /sh/ would have developed into an
Aramaic shin, again not sin!  The sin was a lateral fricative in the
time period
in question (14th century BCE).

> 4.  If we ignore questions of the historical time period, on a linguistic
> basis the word "sahaduta" sees to make sense either as a Hurrian word
> (sa-ha-du-tta), or as an Aramaic word (sahduta).

Hurrians did not speak in cuneiform!  Again, the question of Hurrian is a non-
starter for the entire discussion because underlying the text is an implicit
connection between Jacob's heritage and the name he chooses, paralleling
Laban's heritage (Aramaic) and the name Laban chooses (in Aramaic).

Again, any issue that comes up is interesting to discuss, but an Hurrian
etymology for this word is simply not tenable.  If I have been of help though,
you are very welcome.

Yitzhak Sapir

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