[b-hebrew] historical question with linguistic import

jimstinehart at aol.com jimstinehart at aol.com
Fri Jul 13 22:47:45 EDT 2012

Dave Washburn wrote:  “If I may speak for him, he means that if it truly was syllabic and not alphabetic, then each symbol would represent only one CV combination.  Example: the symbol BA in Akkadian only represents BA, it doesn't occasionally represent BE or BU. In a true syllabary, each represented consonantal sound is followed by only one possible vowel; a different vowel would require another symbol. I hope that clears it up.”

Yes, after a fashion that’s the way Hurrians wrote Hurrian, too.  But who cares about that?  What counts, rather, is that when Hurrian names were written down in Biblical  H-e-b-r-e-w , there was one Hebrew consonant used per Hurrian syllable.  Most syllables were C-V, but some were V-C.  Thus the Hebrew letters XTY render the Hurrian name Xu-ti-ya, where each Hebrew letter represents one C-V Hurrian syllable, and there are no vowel markings.  The modern Hebrew pronunciation of XTY is totally wrong, because three Hebrew letters in rendering a Hurrian proper name mean three [not two] Hurrian syllables;  the final yod/Y is a true consonant;  and all three syllables are, as is most often the case, C-V.  [If a non-final Hurrian syllable consisted solely of a vowel, that would be rendered in Biblical Hebrew by a Hebrew consonant used as a vowel indicator.  The necessity of doing that for rendering Hurrian proper names in Biblical Hebrew may be the origin of the later plene spelling that eventually came to be used for Hebrew common words.]

Unlike Hebrew common words, whose Hebrew spellings were updated century after century [as the ancient texts were recopied innumerable times] until we can no longer determine the original Hebrew spelling, nor do we know the original Biblical pronunciation either [as Karl rightly points out], the original Late Bronze Age Biblical Hebrew rendering of Hurrian proper names was  n-e-v-e-r  updated in any way, shape or form.  We’re quite sure of the original pronunciations, because the Hurrian writing of these same Hurrian proper names indicates the vowels, and we can usually determine the Hurrian syllable division as well, all as of the Late Bronze Age [2,000 years or so before the Masoretes did their famous pointing].  So when you see XTY in the received unpointed Hebrew Masoretic Text, you’re seeing exactly what the original author directed to be written down in the Late Bronze Age, with no changes whatsoever.

In my controversial view, one of the best ways to determine what original Hebrew spelling was like [for Hebrew common words] is to look at the never-changed Biblical Hebrew spellings of Hurrian proper names.  The Biblical Hebrew spellings of Hurrian proper names are fully in accord with Karl’s theory of what Hebrew spellings of Hebrew common words originally entailed.

Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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