[b-hebrew] First 9 Written Hebrew Words

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Dec 3 15:51:12 EST 2012

Prof. Yigal Levin: 
You wrote:  “Shlomo Izre'el's article really is interesting – thank you 
for bringing  it to my attention. However your post totally misconstrues what 
it says. Nowhere  does Izre'el call the language of the Amarna letters 
"Hebrew". He calls it  "Canaano-Akkadian", a local literary dialect used by 
Canaanite scribes who  "thought that they were writing Akkadian". So do you 
consider Canaanite and  Hebrew to be identical? Most linguists would say that 
Hebrew is one of the  Iron-Age dialects that developed from Late Bronze Age 
southern Canaanite. But  they are not the same.”  
Are you sure that my post “totally misconstrues what it  [Shlomo Izre’el’s 
article] says”?  Shlomo Izre’el actually published a pair of articles.  
Let me quote here from his other  article, which seems to leave open the issue 
that you see as being an open and  shut matter: 
“Moran [the editor of the Amarna Letters] leans on the  later evidence of 
Biblical Hebrew which is supposed to reflect the Hebrew  dialect of 
Jerusalem.  In this respect, one may note the  following:  the Hebrew of the Bible  
may well reflect the dialect of Jerusalem (at least the bulk of it), but (1) 
it  is a first millennium B.C. dialect, whereas the Amarna evidence is from 
the  second millennium B.C., quite a few centuries earlier;  and (2) it 
reflects a dialect of Hebrew,  the roots of which may have been different from 
the local Canaanite dialect  attested by the scribe of Jerusalem of the 
Amarna period.  The question remains open, especially  when one recalls that the 
scribe may not have himself originated in Jerusalem, but might have been 
imported from  Syria.”  Shlomo Izre’el, “Vocalized  Canaanite:  
Cuneiform-Written  Canaanite Words in the Amarna Letters:  Some Methodological Remarks”, 
DS-NELL V, NR. 1-2 (2003), 13-34, at p.  20.  
Of the 9 west Semitic words that IR-Heba’s scribe wrote,  7 have a direct 
equivalent in the Hebrew Bible.  (2)  ma-ax-si-ra-mu, “whatever they need” = 
 Deuteronomy 15: 8:  MXSRW;  (3) zu-ru-ux, “arm” = ZR(Y at Genesis  49: 
11;  (4) ca-du-uq, “just” =  Genesis 38: 26:  CDQH;  (5) la-qa-xu, “they took”
 = Deuteronomy 31: 26:  LQX;  (6) ga-ag-gi-mi,  “roof” = Deuteronomy 22: 
8:  GG [as the root];  (8) $a-de-e, “field” = Genesis 23:  11:  %DH;  and 
(9) a-ba-da-at, “lose” = Exodus 10:  7:  )BDH. 
Are you saying that’s not  Hebrew? 
What language, then, did the first Hebrews  speak? 
The 9 “Hebrew” words that I cited are the  o-n-l-y  west Semitic words 
that IR-Heba’s scribe  ever wrote;  almost all of the rest  of his Amarna 
Letters use Akkadian words.  IR-Heba’s scribe did not think that those 9 west 
Semitic words were "  ‘Canaano-Akkadian’, a local literary dialect used by 
Canaanite scribes who  ‘thought that they were writing Akkadian’ ".  You know 
that.  What Shlomo Izre’el is referring to in  the passage you cite is the 
truly awful, substandard “Akkadian” that is used in  the Amarna Letters;  it’
s such awful  Akkadian that it’s better understood as being Canaanite, 
using Akkadian  vocabulary.  But you of course know  that.  I’m not talking 
about  Akkadian! 
Rather, I’m talking about the only 9 west Semitic words  that IR-Heba’s 
scribe ever wrote, not the thousands of substandard Akkadian  words he wrote. 
1.  Are these  9 west Semitic words “Hebrew”? 
2.  What is  the Biblical Hebrew equivalent of words #1 and #7, which have 
baffled me,  especially since they start with U as its own separate 
syllable, which to me  doesn’t seem like Hebrew.  But the  other 7 words fit 
Biblical Hebrew perfectly, don’t they? 
Prof. Levin, surely you see the Hebrews as pre-dating the  Iron Age, don’t 
you?  If so, then  what language did the early Hebrews speak in the Late 
Bronze Age?  Didn’t they speak pre-Hebrew, which was  quite similar to early 
Biblical Hebrew?  Aren’t we looking at that pre-Hebrew when we examine the 
only 9 west  Semitic words that IR-Heba’s scribe ever wrote? 
Jim Stinehart 
Evanston,  Illinois
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