[b-hebrew] Exotic Names in II Samuel: Akkadian?

jimstinehart at aol.com jimstinehart at aol.com
Thu Sep 8 22:37:28 EDT 2011

1.  Karl wrote:  “Because in Genesis 10:16 the [Jebusites] were listed as descendants of one of Canaan’s sons, and because Canaan’s descendants settled the land of Canaan, that would make “Jebusites” a Canaanite name.”

It’s an excellent idea to look at the Table of Nations for insight on this question.  The Table of Nations in chapter 10 of Genesis (which is not part of the Patriarchal narratives) contains three of the 10 names that are listed at Genesis 15: 19-21, including Jebusites.  Genesis 10: 15-18 lists 11 peoples, including Heth (a shortened form of “Hittites”), the Jebusites and the Girgashites, as having been begotten by Canaan.  All 11 such peoples seem to reference peoples whose original homelands were in Lebanon or Syria, which would include the Hurrians.  [Yes, it’s a bit confusing, because Genesis 15: 19-21 is listing the peoples who were the ruling class in Canaan in Year 12, whereas Genesis 15: 19-21, which was composed much later, is by contrast listing 11 peoples whose homelands were north of Canaan proper.  Yet as it happens, most members of the ruling class in Canaan in Year 12 had their original homelands north of Canaan proper.  Note that Genesis 10: 15-18 does not appear to list any people who are indigenous to Canaan.]  Since the Table of Nations seems to view the Jebusites as having their original homeland in Lebanon or Syria, that opens the door to the possibility that YBWS-Y may be an Akkadian-based name with Hurrian characteristics, as 28% of the “Hurrian” names at Late Bronze Age Nuzi in eastern Syria are of that type.  

As to the Table of Nations that Karl mentioned, it is very important to note that per the curse of Genesis 9: 25-27, which says that Canaan shall serve Shem, the author of that portion of the Bible seems to be asserting that the people north of Canaan are supposed to be beholden to the Hebrews, who per the Table of Nations are viewed as coming from a different line of Noah’s descendants, Shem.  In any event, that grouping is broadly consistent with the view that the Biblical author of the Table of Nations, like most all of the Biblical authors, may well have understood Heth (and the “Hittites”), the Jebusites and the Girgashites as being Hurrians, whose original homeland was in Syria.

2.  Karl wrote:  “How exactly their language fit within the language families is unknown, as their language and society were wiped out millennia ago, leaving behind no examples written down.”

In the Late Bronze Age Hurrian province of Nuzi in eastern Syria, ovwe 2,000 personal names have been discovered that can be categorized as to language type.  In the classic 1943 “Nuzi Personal Names” by Gelb and Purves, we read at p. 5:  “Of the 2,235 personal names at Nuzi whose language group has been determined, 1,500, or 67%, are Hurrian, and 631, or 28%, are Akkadian.”

So we’ve got 1,500 pure Hurrian names as examples, and 631 Akkadian names (usually with Hurrian characteristics) as examples.  In a word, we have tons of examples of Akkadian-based names with Hurrian characteristics.  It turns out that two different names at Nuzi have the same root as YBWS-Y.  The reasons why scholars have missed these close matches, and have been unable to come with an etymology for YBWS-Y, are:  (i) “Jebusites” is not a purely Hurrian name, but rather is an Akkadian name with Hurrian characteristics;  (ii) the Hurrian spelling of Akkadian verbs is often unexpected, so one needs to look at a source like Moshe Berkooz’s fine 1937 dissertation for the unusual ways in which Akkadian verbs were spelled at Nuzi, instead of relying on a general knowledge of Babylonian Akkadian;  and (iii) university scholars are reluctant to acknowledge how ancient and accurate the Bible is as to non-west Semitic names.

As an example of that last point, most book-length treatments of Genesis give surprisingly short shrift to Genesis 15: 19-21.  Consider the following dismissive comment, which unfortunately is atypical only in being so blunt:  “The enumerations of the nations in vs. 19-21 must be considered an addition;  in it was collected everything that was known of ancient names”.  Von Rad, “Genesis” (1972), p. 189.  In my view, by contrast, Genesis 15: 19-21 accurately sets forth precisely who comprised the ruling class in Canaan in Year 12.  8 of the 10 names of peoples at Genesis 15: 19-21 are Hurrian-type names, because almost 80% of the princeling names in Canaan in Years 12-14 are, per the Amarna Letters, Hurrian-type names.  That includes Yi-id-ia, an Akkadian name with Hurrian characteristics.  Just like YBWS-Y/“Jebusites”.  Same.  Same form, and almost the same meaning.  Same.

If we can figure out the etymology, meaning and antiquity of the name “Jebusites”, there’s no telling how many mysterious Biblical names of that type we may be able to figure out.

Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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