[b-hebrew] Initial Consonant Clusters in Biblical Hebrew

jimstinehart at aol.com jimstinehart at aol.com
Mon Jun 14 07:30:02 EDT 2010

If we could get back now to initial consonant clusters, that may be one of the most important differences  between Indo-European languages and Semitic languages.  Names in Kassite and Hurrian, which are often based on Sanskrit, and the languages of Sanskrit, Tibetan, English, and all other Indo-European languages, have true consonant clusters on a ubiquitous basis.  By sharp contrast, true consonant clusters are rare in Semitic languages.  So $ra is easy in a Kassite name or in an Indo-European language, while being a tongue-twister in any Semitic language. 
1.  We know that the Kassite names of gods and kings are often based on Sanskrit words from India.  One of the most common syllables in Sanskit is sra.  [Depending on how the sibilant is pronounced, that’s the equivalent of $ra.]
(a)  In a September 15, 2008 post on Yahoo! Answers, it was noted:  “The primary sounds of Sanskrit such as DRA, BRA, SRA, GRA, TRA, RA are commonly found in European languages and in English like GRapes…”

(b)  In a more scholarly vein:  “Indo-European Lexicon.  Sanskrit Reflex Index.  Below we list 905 unique Sanskrit reflex spellings (words and affixes) in an alphabetic order suitable for the language family.”
sra;  srad-dha-;  sravas- 


2.  Although $ra or sra was virtually impossible as a single syllable in any Semitic language (including Hebrew and Akkadian, which have no Sanskrit influence whatsoever), $ra or sra is commonplace in non-Semitic languages such as Sanskrit, Tibetan, English, Hittite, Hurrian and Kassite.
(a)  Tibetan has both sra and $ra.  http://www.himalayanart.org/books/romanization.pdf    
(b)  English has $ra [that is, $R + vowel at the beginning of what is a single syllable]:  shrill, shrimp, shroud, shred, shrewd, shrew, etc., etc.
(c)  Hittite has:  sro, or sra, or sa-ra-a = “upwards” [S may be $ in Hittite.]
“Towards a Hittite Historical Grammar” at p. 89
(d)  Hittite and Hurrian often have sra or $ra.  Let me take examples from an old scholarly site [which itself is devoted to showing the influence of Hittite and Hurrian names on Assyrian names], which mentions many such names. 
http://www.archive.org/stream/assyrianpersonal00talluoft/assyrianpersonal00talluoft_djvu.txt  Note that the discrete syllable sra or $ra is commonplace.
(i)  “Hittite-Mitannian names…DiTuSratta”;  (ii)  Bel-ippa$ra;  (iii)  Tu(i}sratta;  (iv)  Bel-ippaSra;  (v)  tsra;  (vi)  SRam-ti;  (vii)  *Dusratta (prob. Iran., cf. SCHEFTELOWITZ, KZ 38);  (vii)  Esraia, or Um-eSraia "Born on the twentieth day";  (viii)  TuSratta; (ix)  *Ra-hi-ma-a (cf. SRahima;  (x)  Ram-ti-i (hypocor., cf. SRamtu];  (xi)  *lu(i}$ratta, DuSratta (Aryan tuvis "strong, big" + ratha "chariot");  (xii)  “Finally, a few Hittite consonant sounds should be briefly touched upon. The correctness of the observation 3 that fortis and lenis are interchangeable in Mitannian is confirmed in every way by Hittite names (cf. Ta$su-Da$a, DITuSratta…”;  (xiii)  SRam-ti
3.  Most exciting of all are items #ix and #x in #2above.  It appears that in some ancient languages, SRahima was simplified by dropping the initial S/$, to become Ra-hi-ma-a.  Likewise, SRamtu was sometimes simplified by dropping the sibilant to become Ram-ti-i.  As to #x, the author explicitly states that Ram-ti-i is a shortened form of, or “hypocor.” of, SRamtu.
That fits my theory perfectly that Ka-ra in Akkadian was a shortened form of Ka-$ra in Kassite.
4.  The fact that the Kassites could pronounce Ka-$a-ra [revered 7th mountain in the Rig Veda] as two syllables is indirectly confirmed by the fact that in Sanskrit, it appears that all three of those consonants could be pronounced as a single initial consonant cluster!  Ksra is a well-known word in Sanskrit.  “The Sanskrit scholars, for example, tried to Sanskritise the name of the river Paalaaru as Ksra Nati.”  http://tamilelibrary.org/teli/tamil7.html  [In a prior post, I unfortunately mistyped the Sanskrit word K$ra as Kr$a.]
5.  My theory of the case is based on the foregoing objective linguistic facts.  On my theory of the case, (i) the Kassite original was Ka-$ra [which was an easy consonant cluster to pronounce in Kassite, though extraordinarily difficult to pronounce in any Semitic language], (ii) the Akkadian shortened form became Ka-ra, and (iii) the Biblical Hebrew version at Genesis 11: 28, 31 is closer to the Kassite original, but is still a simplification, being Ka-$a.  As to the Kassite original, this post has shown that in non-Semitic ancient languages, the syllable $ra was commonplace.  Everyone on the b-hebrew list knows that such a syllable would be very rare, if not virtually impossible, in Biblical Hebrew, and the same holds true for Akkadian.  Over a long period of time, the hard-to-pronounce Ka-$ra in Akkadian simplified to Ka-ra, just as Ram-ti-i above is the shortened form of SRamtu historically.  The Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives changed things around a bit, in order for his Hebrew audience to have a chance of understanding what was going on.  Since some Hebrews knew the Kassites as Ka$-$u, the Hebrew author of Genesis 11: 28, 31 decided to use a slight variant of Ka$-$u, rather than Akkadian Ka-ra, as the first two syllables of the Hebrew version of the Kassite name of Kassite Babylonia.  So the first two letters are K-$.
That explains why the Hebrew version of the name of Kassite Babylonia in the Patriarchal narratives starts out as K-$, even though the Akkadian version, per the Amarna Letters, starts out Ka-ra.  There is no mistake, and no historical anachronism, at Genesis 11: 28, 31.  Pinpoint historical accuracy in a Late Bronze Age context -- thy name is the Patriarchal narratives.  Sometimes we need to take a quick glance at Sanskrit and Kassite [but n-e-v-e-r  at the post-exilic Book of Daniel!!!] to verify the pinpoint historical accuracy of the Patriarchal narratives in a Late Bronze context, that’s all.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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