[b-hebrew] Kitchen article review

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Sat Jan 19 18:34:21 EST 2008

On Dec 24, 2007 6:00 PM, Uri Hurwitz <uhurwitz at yahoo.com> wrote:

>     It  would be a truism to state that individual opinions, on this list
>   or elsewhere, are valueless unless based on specific knolwedge of
>   the work discussed. Generalities, such as "many scholars believe
>   that.." can never substitute for refutations of an author's arguments.

In order to reply to the comments about Kenneth Kitchen -- he has been
brought up several times before on this list -- I read an article of his I had
on the subject:

Kenneth A. Kitchen, "Egyptians and Hebrews, from Raamses to Jericho,"
in Shmuel Ahituv and Eliezer D. Oren, eds., The Origin of Early Israel —
Current Debate, Beer-Sheva XII (Beer-Sheva: Ben-Gurion Univ., 1998), pp.

Of these 65 pages or so, 10 pages are bibliography, 2 of which are to his
own works.  For comparison, his is the last of three lectures, the other two
by Finkelstein and Whitelam, representing apparently centrist and
minimalist views, respectively, with Kitchen for a maximalist view.

Let me point out that some of Kitchen's writing style is rather tasteless at
best -- that is, it is not very enjoyable to read that his opponents
"bleat" their
arguments.  Maybe others like this style.  I find it tasteless.

Kitchen uses powerful words to make his argument, arguing that others cannot
continue to ignore the facts.  But this polemical style is used to
hide major, even
gaping holes in his own argument.  One example is the way he treats the Bible.
In fact, I would say he is does a very poor job.  For example, on p.
94, he notes
that a tabernacle would hardly have seemed sophisticated for a group
of 20,000 to
50,000 people, suggesting in a footnote that the common reading of Exodus 12:37
as "600,000" is wrong and noting that Hebrew ?eleph is ambiguous and might
only mean "family (or other group)", "leader', or "thousand."  He notes some
treatments of this word.  On p. 104, it is the "long-suspect figure of
and in the next paragraph on the same page, it is "certainly not 600,000 --
perhaps less then even a tenth of that figure."  In the conclusion, "as a large
group (20,000 to 50,000 at most, not two million!)."  All this is fine and good,
but one gets a different idea if one looks at Numbers 2.  Tens add up to
hundreds, and hundreds add up to thousands, and all in all, about 600,000
are mentioned.  Kitchen is no doubt aware of this.  He cites already in the
first mention in the footnote described some articles and books on the
subject --
but the articles (the book was checked out) make a rather poor argument.  They
argue that the "original text of the Torah" used "?eleph" to mean
troops, reading
something along the line -- "so many troops and so many men (in the troops)."
Besides lacking the word "men" for this to work (which is not a problem in the
traditional understanding), this also requires that in cases where the
number of
men reached above a thousand, the two numbers of "?eleph" (the troop number,
and the thousands number) were conflated.  This is explicitly argued by the
author -- that the text originally read "so many elephs (troops) and so many
elephs (thousands) and so many hundred (men)."   This has to be considered a
very poor argument, in my opinion.  I see no reason why it is better than the
traditional reading.  Kitchen is perhaps aware of this weakness which is why
he doesn't explain the argument.  He just says that scholars concluded that
Exodus' 600,000 is definitely not six hundred thousand, but does not explain
why.  If one does not accept the troop explanation for Numbers 1-2, (like me)
then his "certainly not 600,000", "not two million!" and so on, is a
very direct
objection to the Biblical text.  Someone who wrote Exodus apparently wanted to
exaggerate the numbers by over ten-fold.  Even in the troop explanation,
the text was edited later by an editor who conflated the numbers and no longer
understood the meaning of eleph = troop.

In any case, it becomes clear why Kitchen disputes this number.  On p. 104, he
puts Redford to task for claiming that there is no evidence for 600,000 West
Semites journeying in the East Delta at the time.   Kitchen agrees with this
interpretation -- he just says, "in the first instance, we do not know
the size of
the putative exodus-group -- certainly not 600,000, perhaps less then even a
tenth of that figure."  So Kitchen realizes the archaeological evidence shows no
sojourn of millions (600,000 does not include women and children) of West
Semites -- but disputes this on the grounds that the Bible isn't interpreted
correctly.  Hebrew 'elef is as ambiguous as English 'bark.'  It would
be different if
Kitchen admitted that the account of the Exodus in the Pentateuch exaggerates
the numbers.  But Kitchen is unwilling to do that.  Probably because if the
exaggeration was done knowingly, then it would indicate that the author
of the Pentateuch knowingly lied, and we can't have that.  If it was done
unknowingly, the only possible conclusion is that the author didn't witness the
events, and we can't have that either.  So the solution Kitchen opts for is to
hide the Biblical evidence in scholarly articles referenced by a footnote that
suggests that this is simply an issue of interpretation, even misreading.  At
least we know that Kitchen agrees that there is no archaeological evidence
for 600,000 Israelites sojourning in Egypt, and this is not a case of "absence
of evidence."  Given Kitchen's theological position, and given his widespread
use of "absence of evidence," the fact that he agrees on this small fact is
very significant.  If Shoshanna wanted to know what archaeological evidence
disputes the Pentateuch, there could be no better example -- given that even
Kitchen agrees on this point.

Kitchen does not only approach issues of Biblical linguistics and interpretation
problematically, his approach to linguistics in general appears to me to be
problematic.  He beings by offering an equation for Raamses.  Letter by letter,
he analyzes the correspondences, dwelling mostly on the letter /s/.  This is
a significant letter because our understanding of the development of this letter
has progressed in the past few decades, whereas the theory he proposes was
essentially developed using the previous understanding of this letter, which is
now known to be incorrect.  Specifically, we know that samekh and daleth were
originally affricates - ts and dz respectively, while shin was
originally an [s], not
[sh] sound.  It has even been suggested based on Egyptian evidence and
transcriptions into Hebrew of such foreign names as Shobi or Nahash that until
early monarchic times in Judah, shin was still pronounced [s] in Hebrew unless
adjacent to a high vowel (/u/ or /i/).  Thus we get the shibboleth
incident.  Now,
the two developments -- of samekh deaffricating to become an /s/, and of shin
palatalizing completely to become /sh/ are not directly related, although we may
possibly suggest that shin developed first or else we would have had many
words with shin crossing over to samekh because of the high vowel issue.  We
know the pronunciation of the name R(mss in Egyptian -- Ri(amasesa.  There
is no high vowel adjacent to the /s/, and so in the pronunciation of the name
before Monarchic times in Israel and Judah, it would have been transcribed with
a shin.  This is further supported by the spelling of the word spr
'scribe' with a
t_, a palatalized letter in Egyptian, and its use for samekh is
generally taken as
evidence that samekh had not yet deaffricated.  Papyrus Anastasi I, dated to the
latter part of the 13th century, contains at least one if not both of
these.  A "knowing
scribe" is transcribed from Semitic 't_pr yd('.  A tribe of ?-s-r that
inhabited the Galilee
at this time is transcribed with an /s/ and has been related by
various scholars to the
tribe Asher.  Thus, the conclusion would have to be that anyone who
transcribed the
name R(mss from Egyptian would have used shin, not samekh.
Interestingly, for all
the time he spends on the name Raamses, he spends much less on the
correspondences of the name Sukkot, which also has a samekh, and which he also
holds to be directly equivalent to Egyptian T_kw/T_kt.

A second issue dealt with by Kitchen is the other city the Israelites
are said to have
built -- Pithom.  Some of this has already somewhat prematurely raised
on-list, while
I was still researching this issue.  Kitchen establishes the
correspondence p(r)-(i)tm
"House of Atum."  According to this correspondence, pr became pi: and
the aleph of
Atum had assimilated to the long vowel i:.  This would be fine, but it
still needs to be
placed in a historical context.  For Hebrew, he provides an example of
Pi-Beset =
Bubastis "to which may be added such similar, later Assyrian spellings
as Pi-$apt,
etc."  I somehow doubt that the Assyrian is "later" because the Hebrew
is in Ezekiel.
For the Egyptian side, he provides various examples that pr was
confused with py.  But
he does not place them in a historical context.  He footnotes this
with "See Gardiner
1918:138 for examples.  That evidence definitively refutes the errors
made later by
Redford 1963:403, in this matter."  I have also read Redford, as well
as that one page
by Gardiner (it is part of a book-length article, complete with
chapters).  The errors
spoken of, apparently, is the claim by Redford that pithom was
probably vocalized
patho:m based on a transcription in Herodotus patoumos and the fact
that "Egyptian
/i/ in front position frequently supports an /a/ vowel" (thereby
suggesting that /a/ didn't
assimilate to /i/, quote from Redford).  Redford cites his article of
the same year "The
Pronunciation of Pr in Late Toponyms," with which Kitchen does not
interact.  That is,
Kitchen seems to think that Gardiner 1918 refutes Redford, but he does
not deal with
those examples noted by Gardiner 1918 which are also dealt with by Redford
"Toponyms."  Examples not noticed in Gardiner 1918 and perhaps not known in 1918
are adduced in Redford "Toponyms" to substantiate Redford's claim that the
unaccented pe "was soon indistinguishable in speech from the definite
article," and
Kitchen provides no input for that either.  In other words, Redford
suggests that pr
when in construct position and hence not followed by a vowel,
developed to pa? and
later was leveled to reflect the vocalization of the definite article.
 According to this, the
vocalization of the name of the town developed *par-?atu:m > *pa?
?atu:m > *pa:tu:m >
Hebrew *pato:m, and the initial -i- vowel in Pithom is an internal
Hebrew development.
The first stage probably took place already in the 12th dynasty.  For
this, see the following:
(originally published 1969, I found no newer articles on the subject).
 The question is
now when the development *pa? ?atu:m > *pa:tu:m took place. This would involve
looking up spellings of the name in foreign languages (such as
Herodotus, but the
question is how much earlier we can discern this development) but perhaps also
looking for when in Egyptian pr-(?)tm was confused by p-tm in  which
case there is no
aleph written down (neither in pr which was vocalized at one point as
pa? nor in ?atum).
I didn't do this yet.  But Kitchen didn't do this either.

Both the equations of Raamses and Pithom must be placed in a
linguistic historical
context in order to establish correspondences.  Kitchen cannot say that letters
correspond without saying when they corresponded.  As it happens, the Bible
provides two additional names in the Exodus narrative that are
generally taken to
transcribe the same Egyptian components as in Raamses and Pithom -- Moses
(Moshe) and Pharaoh.  Here, we do have a shin for the Egyptian, and a r for
Egyptian pr.  The name Pharaoh can be explained in that the r was not
syllable final
when r shifted to ? because in Pharaoh, *pariy > *pare was in absolute form, but
in Pithom it was in construct (nismakh) form.   Is it possible that Kitchen is
transplanting later pronunciations into 13th century BCE Egypt?  For Raamses,
the answer seems to be a clear yes.  For Pithom, it seems to me to be
likely, but
I need to research this more.  The inconsistent transcription of Moses
vs Raamses are
consistent with the view (as propounded by Mazar) that the Exodus
narrative contains
very old elements (comparable to the Hazor issue) that were placed in
a story later on.
Moses is a much more basic name in the Exodus narrative than Raamses
and Pithom --
which are just details.  Kitchen would like us to feel that Redford's
article on Pithom in
Exodus 1:11 (what he calls in the quote above "Redford 1963: 403") is
erroneous but he
doesn't interact with Redford's relevant study on the issue, and it
seems that Redford is
both following earlier scholarship on the issue, and later is accepted by other
Egyptologists (see above Italian article).  In the end, Kitchen only
tries (but does not
succeed, when one looks up the sources) to cast doubt on Redford's
suggestion that
the Masoretic i in Pithom is a later development and the original
vocalization had a.
(From the footnote, it sounds that he casts doubt on much more in
Redford's article).
This is nitpicking compared to what he did with the Exodus numbers
discussed above.

The linguistic evidence suggests that Raamses (and probably Pithom)
are references
from much later.  Kitchen goes to lengths to show that Pi-Ramesse is the only
suitable town that could have been named such in the 13th century BCE, and
then goes on to show that it lay inhabited in the later centuries.  But he only
briefly mentions a second Raamses in the Eastern Delta, which he never says
was uninhabited later on.  My guess is that this shows that it was
inhabited later
on because he would have gladly rebutted this possibility if he could.
 He notes an
argument by Lemche that Pithom could only be no earlier than the 7th
century BCE
because that is when we know of a city "Pithom."  Kitchen responds here again by
claiming we are not reading the Bible properly, and the Bible does not
say "city."
For me, this is another forced reading of his in the Bible.  So we
also seem to have
equal archaeological evidence for cities Pithom and Raamses in later
times, when
the  sound shifts described by the linguistic transcriptions (pa?
?atum > pa:tum, s >
sh) had taken effect.

Sometimes Kitchen has a weird habit of citing evidence that seems to prove
the opposite.  Thus, for Moses petitioning Pharaoh he provides comparisons
in that on festivals even young people can petition the king, and that
are like the waves of the sea where a thousand die (are not heard) but one
prevails (reaches the king for audience).  How this compares to the situation
in Exodus when no Israelite can petition Pharaoh, and even Moses is afraid to
do so, I don't know.  They seem to suggest two totally divergent outlooks, and
given that one is authentic Egyptian, the other may reasonably be considered
to be a literary creation by someone who didn't witness firsthand how common
people can petition the Egyptian king for grievances.

Finally, Kitchen's oft-quoted phrase of "Absence of evidence is not evidence
of absence," is used by him only when suitable for his purposes.  He
ignores evidence just like everyone when it conflicts with the Bible.  For
example, when dealing with the tabernacle, he notes "Furthermore, there
is _no_ use of tabernacles in Mesopotamian sanctuaries in the 1st millennium
BCE (so far), but a four-pillared canopy was used in a sanctuary of the goddess
Assuritu at Ashur in the 13th century BCE (not later)."  What happened to his
absence of evidence rule, and how is a canopy in a sanctuary in Ashur
comparable to a sanctuary that is itself a tabernacle very far in the
Sinai desert?

In sum, Kitchen can only make his argument by using unconvincing, maybe
even flawed, Biblical analysis, and his use of historical linguistics
is definitely
flawed because he never provides the historical context for the correspondences.
He quotes evidence that does not prove his point and sometimes just
the opposite.
His comparisons are sometimes very distant if they have any relevance
at all.  He
is quick to quote 'Absence of evidence' but only for his support -- he
does not use
it equally to weigh evidence objectively.  I also think he sometimes suppresses
evidence that would directly contradict his theological assumptions.  Even on
Egyptological issues, we've seen his quote outdated scholarship (that particular
page in Gardiner 1918) without dealing with modern developments in Egyptology.
I'd have no problem if he would have discussed the later developments and come
to a conclusion, but a footnote is just not enough, and this
particular issue gives
me cause for concern regarding other possible claims by other
Egyptologists that
he disputes.

On all that, I should quote Kitchen himself, on the Copenhagen's school's
accusation that Biran fabricated the Tel Dan stela (not exactly what they
claim although my position is that their claim is still a baseless accusation):

"... we can only draw the conclusion that they have long since made up their
minds on what they _want_ to believe, and have firmly closed their minds
against any other view being possibly true (even if only in part) -- woe betide
any first-hand evidence that gets in their way!  This is the path that leads to
becoming cranks; ..."

And I agree.  If it weren't for this (and perhaps not using words like
'bleat' to
describe other scholars), I'm sure Kitchen could make some fine
contributions to Biblical scholarship.  But reading what he writes, it is clear
that he has made his mind what he wants to believe and would not consider
other possibilities.

For the Egyptian evidence of Semitic sibilants in light of the Bible, see:
"The biblical shibboleth story in the light of late Egyptian perceptions of
Semitic sibilants: Reconciling divergent views," by Robert Woodhouse

Yitzhak Sapir

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