[b-hebrew] Use of cognate languages in the interpretation of Biblical Hebrew

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Wed Oct 22 02:56:48 EDT 2008

Dear Matthew,

While the reading list suggested by previous posters is a good one, the 
rationale is actually very simple: like any other aspect of human culture 
and society, no human language exists in a vacuum. Languages spoken by 
neighboring peoples are inevitably interconnected by both etymology 
(development from a common source) and by borrowing from each other. And 
since the Bible only records about 30% of the spoken Hebrew language of the 
"biblical period" (without getting into a debate about that term), and quite 
a few of the words and phrases that the Bible does record are not really 
well understood just by their context, it makes perfect sense to use cognate 
languages as an aid. This was done by Medieval Jewish commentators with 
Aramaic and Arabic, but with the rediscovery of the Semitic languages that 
were actually spoken at the time in which the Bible, or rather its sources, 
were written, with a more developed knowledge of the actual relationships 
between the different languages, this has become a basic part of Hebrew and 
Semitic linguistics. However, like in the case of Dahood, this is sometimes 
over-used. We should always keep in mind, that the sources we have for these 
"cognate" languages are not always well understood, that they are often 
separated by hundreds of miles and hundreds of years from Biblical Hebrew 
(which is hardly monolithic in itself), and that a word or phrase can have 
different meanings in different dialects, times, and contexts.

Hope that helps.

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Matthew Dent" <dentm42 at yahoo.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Wednesday, October 22, 2008 4:56 AM
Subject: [b-hebrew] Use of cognate languages in the interpretation 
ofBiblical Hebrew

> Does anybody know of a good starting point for understanding the reasoning 
> and rationale behind the use of cognate languages in the interpretation of 
> Biblical Hebrew?  It seems to be a generally agreed upon principle that 
> there is value in it, but I'd like to know the origin of the practice and 
> upon what assumptions it rests.  Any help is appreciated.
> Thanks!
> Matthew Dent

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