[b-hebrew] [amarna] Old West Semitic Words

jimstinehart at aol.com jimstinehart at aol.com
Sun Dec 16 10:22:39 EST 2012

Nir Cohen:

You wrote [in part]: “i do not necessarily agree with your tracing the amarna texts to specifichebrew influence. it is quite possible that SR, LBYT, BNT were used in tyre aswell as in jerusalem.  …ALL the nwsdialects used in canaan shared a common vocabulary.  KPR, BWR, $DH, YM, THWM, (C, YYN, YLD/WLD,BYT, KWKB, $MYM, KLB, )B, )M, WSB/Y$B, )KL, )X, BN, BT/BNT, $M$, (BD etc etc.  …your basic conclusion that yoshiahu was ableto read hebrew text written 700 years earlier seems very plausible.”

Yes.  The old westSemitic words recorded in cuneiform in the Amarna Letters are common to manydifferent northwest Semitic languages including, but by no means limited to,Hebrew.

Accordingly, we have now established one realistic means bywhich the Patriarchal narratives could have been recorded in writing by anearly Hebrew in the Amarna Age.  A scribewas hired to record a comprehensive outline of the Patriarchal narratives,using cuneiform to write west Semitic words. [Per the Amarna Letters, we know that was possible.]  If such physical writing then survived until,say, the time of King Hezekiah in the early 7th century BCE, (i) hisscribe would have had no problem with the cuneiform writing system, sincecuneiform was still used in Jerusalem for the narrow purpose of correspondingwith Assyria and Babylonia [albeit the languages were Assyrian and Akkadian,but it’s the same cuneiform writing system], and (ii) King Hezekiah’s scribewould also have had no problem with the vocabulary, for as we have been seeing,the underlying vocabulary of west Semitic didn’t seem to change much duringthose 700 years.

In the early 7th century BCE, on that hypothesis,the detailed outline of the Patriarchal narratives, which had been written incuneiform using west Semitic words in the Amarna Age, would have beentransformed for the first time into narrative prose using alphabetical Hebrew.  It was not a translation from a foreignlanguage, since most of the vocabulary was the same.  But the writing system had to be changed fromcuneiform to alphabetical Hebrew, and instead of a detailed outline, it was nowturned into the narrative prose that we see in the received text.  For the most part, the writing style on thattheory of the case would look quite a bit like 7th century BCEJerusalem classic Biblical Hebrew, as to spelling and grammar.  Yes, there would be some archaic words andarchaic phrasings, but for the most part the non-poetic common words in thePatriarchal narratives in alphabetical Hebrew would look fairly similar totheir counterparts in I Kings [although obviously having a different author].  Indeed, as to the issue of the spelling andgrammar of non-poetic common words in the Patriarchal narratives looking a lotlike the rest of the Bible, let me quote here from Rolf Furuli’s recent post:  “Regardless of our view of the ClassicalHebrew verbal system we must study the text that we have. There are manyorthographical variations, but if we accept the dates given in the differentbooks; thus accepting that the text was written down over a period of severalhundred years, the text is remarkably uniform.”

One key point I am making here is that just because thenon-poetic common words in the received text of the Patriarchal narratives embodya writing style that in many respects seems redolent of I and II Kings, as togrammar and spelling, that does not necessarily mean that there was not anAmarna Age comprehensive written outline of the Patriarchal narratives, whichwas closely followed in coming up with the alphabetical Hebrew text in the 7thcentury BCE.  Thus as to all of thefollowing, we need to  a-s-k  if they do or do not match to the late Amarnatime period, since it is by no means impossible that they could match:  (i) the numbers;  (ii) proper names;  and (iii)substantive content.

However, in my next post I would like to turn to animportant corollary of the above.  Inorder to bring a key linguistic issue into focus, let’s now assume for themoment that, for sake of argument, I may be right that the three above items --numbers, proper names and substantive content -- are all redolent of the lateAmarna period.  If so, would it then havebeen possible for the first written version of the Patriarchal narratives, donein the Amarna Age, to have been written using the alphabet, rather thancuneiform?  I believe that the famous Qeiyafa Ostracon may giveus a pretty definitive answer to that question. So I would like to turn now to taking a quick look at the firstalphabetical writing that some scholars have called “Hebrew”, in order to askwhether alphabetical writing was a reasonable alternative to using cuneiform,if the first written version of the Patriarchal narratives was recorded inwriting in the mid-14th century BCE.

Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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