[b-hebrew] Old West Semitic Words from the Valley vs. Classic Biblical Hebrew

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Dec 14 14:37:25 EST 2012

Old West Semitic Words from the Valley vs.  Classic Biblical Hebrew 
In asking whether the oldest parts of the  Torah may have been committed to 
writing as early as the Late Bronze Age, one  key issue is whether the 
vocabulary of west Semitic Canaanite at that time was  or was not very similar 
to the vocabulary of classic Biblical Hebrew in Iron Age  Judah.  Of course, 
the pre-1200 BCE  archaic case endings must be discarded, and we should 
rightly expect that the  endings generally may differ.  But  are the roots the 
same, and with the same meaning, so that vocabulary is really  no problem? 
As a start toward answering that important  question, let’s take a look 
here at the three west Semitic words that were  recorded in cuneiform by Yapaxu 
and his successors in the Ayalon Valley in Year 14, near the end of the  
Amarna Age.  [Remember, we’re  looking at old west Semitic Canaanite words,  
n-o-t  Akkadian words, to see if those old  Canaanite words match up quite 
nicely with the vocabulary of classic Biblical  Hebrew in Iron Age Judah.] 
1.  Amarna Letter EA 297: 13, from Yapaxu,  who is the tent dweller-hating 
firstborn son of longtime Amorite princeling  ruler Milk-i-Ilu. 
si-ri =  “pot”. 
That west Semitic word compares directly to  the following Biblical Hebrew 
SYR = “pot” at Exodus 16: 3;  II Kings 4:  41. 
Here the match is exact, once one drops the  archaic pre-1200 case ending.  
[By  the way, we are usually certain as to the meaning of each of these old 
west  Semitic words, because in most cases the west Semitic word is 
directly  juxtaposed with the Akkadian word that has the identical meaning.  Thus 
we can also check whether the  meaning of the west Semitic root changed over 
a period of 700 years.  It  didn’t!] 
2.  Amarna Letter EA 296: 18, from Yaxtiru, who likely is allied with  
Yapaxu’s successor Adda-danu. 
la-bi-tu =  “mudbrick”. 
Although having a different  ending, that west Semitic word can readily be 
compared to the following Biblical  Hebrew word: 
LBNH = “mudbrick”, at Genesis 11:3;  Ezekiel 4: 1.  [This word appears 
most famously in  Exodus, but in the plural.] 
In classic Biblical Hebrew, in Canaanite,  and for that matter in Akkadian 
as well, the word for “mudbrick” can be viewed  as being LB + ending. 
3.  Amarna Letter EA 292: 29, from Adda-danu, who is Yapaxu’s successor 
late  in Year 14. 
ba-ni-ti = “I  built”. 
That west Semitic word compares directly to  the following Biblical Hebrew 
word [and since it’s a verb, there’s not even an  archaic case ending to 
drop here]: 
BNYTY = “I have built”, at I Kings 8:  13. 
Based on the Amarna Letters from Jerusalem and from the Ayalon Valley  just 
northwest of Jerusalem, it appears that west Semitic words  used in the 
Amarna Age can usually be traced directly to Biblical Hebrew  words.  Scholars 
say that those west  Semitic words in the Amarna Letters are “Canaanite”, 
and are definitely  n-o-t  “Hebrew”.  But that narrow view of what properly  
constitutes “Hebrew” is not helpful as to the key question, which is 
whether  Amarna Age Canaanite and classic Biblical Hebrew in Iron Age Judah  
essentially shared the same vocabulary.  Note that in 10 out of 12 cases from 
Jerusalem and the Ayalon Valley, the  root of the old west Semitic word from 
the mid-14th century BCE had  not changed 700 years later in the time of 8th 
- 7th  century BCE Judah.  I tentatively  conclude from that small sample 
size that Amarna Age Canaanite and Iron Age  Judah classic Biblical Hebrew 
essentially shared the same vocabulary.  If the first Hebrews living in the 
Late  Bronze Age committed a portion of the Torah to writing, then the Jews 
under King  Hezekiah in early 7th century BCE Jerusalem would know the west  
Semitic vocabulary that was used in that truly ancient writing.  It seems to 
me that the underlying  vocabulary of west Semitic changed little over those 
700  years. 
Jim  Stinehart 
Evanston,  Illinois
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