[b-hebrew] Early and late biblical Hebrew

jimstinehart at aol.com jimstinehart at aol.com
Sun Nov 27 20:55:00 EST 2011

Prof. Yigal Levin wrote:

“This passage in Zechariah envisions a future time in which Jerusalem will be so populous that its walls will no longer hold its population, and the city will thus be "perazot - unwalled". This use of perazot is quite common. Some scholars have speculated that the title "perizi", as one of the pre-Israelite Canaanite groups, thus refers to those who lived in unwalled towns (villages?). In fact, passages such as Deut. 3:5 seem to indicate just that. But is this always so? Or might "Perizi" also be an ethnonym, without connection to a certain type of settlement? Might the Perizi once have all lived in Perazot, but later also in walled cities and were still called by their old name? Who knows.”

1.  Deuteronomy 3: 5 refers to “unwalled”/PRZY cities.  But it makes no reference to the PRZY people [“Perizzites”, per KJV, but actually Piri-izzi-ya, which is a Hurrian name].

2.  Genesis 15: 21 refers to the “Canaanites”, so we would not expect PRZY at Genesis 15: 20 to be referring to “one of the pre-Israelite Canaanite groups”, since any such people would be covered by the word “Canaanites”.  Note that by contrast, there is no reference at Genesis 15: 19-21 to XRY/the “Hurrians” as a single ethnic group.  Rather we see six Hurrian-based Patriarchal nicknames, including PRZY, for the various Hurrians who dominated the ruling class of Canaan in the Patriarchal Age.

3.  No non-biblical source refers to a group of Canaanites called PRZY.  Likewise, no non-biblical source knows of a west Semitic name for a group of Canaanites that refers to “those who lived in unwalled towns (villages?)”.  But Piri-izzi is a well-attested name of a Hurrian envoy in the Amarna Letters, and also a form of the name PRZY is attested as a Hurrian name at Late Bronze Age Nuzi.

4.  Genesis 34: 20 and Genesis 13: 7 refer to both the Canaanite and the PRZY, so we would not expect the PRZY to be “one of the pre-Israelite Canaanite groups”.  Ditto for Exodus 3: 8, 17;  23: 23;  33: 2;  34: 11;  Deuteronomy 7: 1;  20: 17;  Joshua 3: 10;  9: 1;  11: 3;  12: 8;  17: 15-16;  24: 11;  Judges 1: 4-5;  3: 5;  Ezra 9: 1;  and Nehemiah 9: 8.  Note that by contrast, none of those passages refer to the “Hurrians”:  XRY, which we see at Genesis 14: 6.  Though less clear, we may also see references to the “Hurrians” at Genesis 36: 20, 21, 29 and Deuteronomy 2: 12, 22.  What is clear is that we never see “Hurrians” contrasted with PRZY, whereas on 20 occasions in the Bible we do see PRZY contrasted with Canaanites.  Thus it does not make sense for the PRZY to be “one of the pre-Israelite Canaanite groups”, whereas it makes complete sense for PRZY to be one of six Hurrian-based Patriarchal nicknames at Genesis 15: 19-21 for the many Hurrians who dominated Canaan in the mid-14th century BCE.

5.  Not a single passage in the Bible associates the PRZY with “unwalled towns (villages?)”.  That’s because the Biblical authors were native speakers of Biblical Hebrew, and as such they well knew that PRZY was a non-Semitic name, and hence did not refer to “one of the pre-Israelite Canaanite groups…who lived in unwalled towns (villages?)”.

6.  HALOT at p. 965 discusses various possible west Semitic etymologies for PRZY, but seems to tacitly admit that there is no satisfactory west Semitic analysis of PRZY:  “a pre-Israelite section of the population of Canaan….  [A]ttempts to identify the name more closely include…a section of the population driven out of a town and living in the open country”.  Much more convincing is the approach taken by Richard Hess, who like me sees PRZY as being a vintage Hurrian name referencing the Hurrians:  

“While the Perizzites could be ‘village dwellers’, the fact that a similarly named Pirizzi comes from the N. Syrian kingdom of Mitanni in the Amarna letters invites comparison with…the presence of Hurrians and other northerners in the region…..”

7.  Everything makes perfect sense -- textually, historically and logically -- if and only if PRZY is a Hurrian-based Patriarchal nickname for the Hurrians, that was recognized as such by all Biblical authors prior to the Exile.

Prof. Levin, one of the greatest triumphs in mankind’s long history is that the Hebrews somehow, some way managed to displace the highly regarded Hurrian charioteers as the dominant people in inland Canaan.  By contrast, central hill country lost 90% of its population in the transition from the Middle Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age:  the Canaanites basically disintegrated in front of the Hebrews’ very eyes.  The Merneptah Stele at the end of the 13th century BCE still refers to Canaan alternatively as Xurru/"Hurrianland".  The Hebrews themselves loved to re-tell endlessly the Biblical stories of how part of the Hurrian remnant was eventually absorbed by Israel, whereas other Hurrian elements were defeated by Israel.  That’s the Song of Deborah [re the QYNY/Qa-a-ni-ya/Hurrians].  The King David story likewise has as its climax the Hebrews displacing the Hurrians/YBWSY/A-bu-u-se-ya as the dominant people in Jerusalem.  The greatest story rarely told [largely due to a misunderstanding of Genesis 15: 18-21] is the Hebrews supplanting the Hurrians in non-coastal Canaan.

Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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