[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Sun Oct 14 18:24:09 EDT 2007

On 10/14/07, Shoshanna Walker wrote:
> That is all very nice, but the Torah, which existed prior to
> Creation, is independent of arabic.
> If there are any similarities, the Torah was the original basis, and
> the arabs took from there, what they wanted, just as they are trying
> to do today.

Dear Shoshanna,

The Mishna writes that at Mt. Ebal, the Torah was written in 70
languages (Sota 7:3).

Sifre Devarim comments on Deut 33:2:
"And he said: The LORD came from Sinai, " - When God revealed himself to
give the Torah to Israel, he didn't give it in one language, but in four...
"God came from Sinai" - This is Hebrew.
"and rose from Seir unto them;" - This is Latin.
"He shined forth from mount Paran," - This is Arabic.
"and He came from the myriads holy," - This is Aramaic.

So from a theological point of view, you can reconcile all this along the lines
that Yigal laid out -- God knew the languages at the time he would give the
Torah, and gave the Torah in the appropriate languages for that time.

In any case, the issue is linguistics.  Hebrew and Arabic are similar,
so similar
that we conclude they developed out of the same language.  Medieval
grammarians related this to the Tower of Babel, but even without the
story of the
tower, the similarities are so vast that they most reasonably
developed from the
same language.   Because of this words in the original language were inherited
by the other languages too.  Here again, Medieval Jewish grammarians argued
that Hebrew was the "original language."  From a linguistic point of
view, all of
these languages underwent major changes in their development since the
common stage, and yet each can be traced directly to that common stage.
So linguistically, Arabic is as original as Hebrew, it just depends whether you
want to call the stage "Very Early Arabic" or "Very Early Hebrew."  Linguists
call it "Central Semitic."  Whatever view you take for the "original language,"
the consequence of all this is that words in the other languages inherited the
words of the common stage.  Therefore, one can get a better idea of a meaning
of a word in one language by looking for its related reflex in a
related language.
It is this concept that led Medieval grammarians to use Arabic to explain words
in the Hebrew Bible, including interpretations that you take for granted.  This
is also why it matters to the study of the Hebrew Bible.

Yitzhak Sapir

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