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    Language of the Old Testament was Not Called Hebrew?

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    السلام علیکم


    Language of the Old Testament was Not Called Hebrew



    The pre-exilic language used by Jews was a Canaanite dialect not known as Hebrew. The Phoenicians (or, more accurately, the Canaanites) invented the first true alphabet c. 1500 B.C.E., based on letters instead of descriptive images. All successive alphabets are indebted to and derivative of this Canaanite accomplishment. 19

    In general culture the Canaanites are no less remarkable, and not a little of that culture was taken over by the Hebrews.... The Hebrews were not great builders, nor very apt in the arts and crafts.As a result they had to rely heavily on the Canaanites in this field, and in others as well. Whatever language the Hebrews spoke before settling in Palestine, it was a dialect if Canaanite that became their language after the settlement. 20

    Some scholars believe that Hebrew and Aramaic are simply two dialects of Canaanite. 21 The pre-exilic Jewish script was in fact Canaanite, 22 although it is now falsely designated as old Hebrew or paleo-Hebrew. Abraham and his descendants formed too small a clan in Canaan to establish their own unique language, and by necessity they must have used the pre-dominant Canaanite; it is very unlikely that the Israelites, present in such small numbers and forced to endure hardship and slavery in Egypt, were in a position conducive to setting up a new language. At best they may have adopted a particular Canaanite dialect at some point, but certainly nothing separate and unique.

    In fact the OT itself never refers to the Jewish language as Hebrew, as illustrated by these two verses from Isaiah 36:

    11 Then said Eliakim and Shebna and Joah unto Rab-shakeh, Speak, I pray thee, unto thy servants in the Syrian language; for we understand it: and speak not to us in the Jews' language, in the ears of the people that are on the wall.
    13 Then Rab-shakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and said, Hear ye the words of the great king, the king of Assyria.

    Such is the rendering in the King James Version, and the same phrase is found in the New World Translation,23 the Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern 'Text ,24 the Revised Standard Version ,25 and the Arabic Edition. These last three substitute 'Aramaic' for 'Syrian language', but none of them designates the other as Hebrew 26 Kgs 18:26 and 2 Ch 32: 18 chronicle the same incident and incorporate the same expression.

    In another chapter of Isaiah we read:

    In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of hosts; one shall be called, The city of destruction.27

    The above translations unanimously agree on this phrasing; surely if Hebrew had been founded by then the OT would bear testimony to it, instead of vague wordings about the Jews' language' or the 'language of Canaan.28 Given that the text makes the reference to the language of Canaan generically - which, simply put, is Canaanite - we can infer that the Israelites did not possess a unique tongue at the time of the Divided Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

    In fact the word 'Hebrew' was indeed in existence, but it predated the Israelites and did not refer to anything remotely Jewish. The words 'Ibri (Habiru) and 'Ibrani (Hebrew) were in usage even before 2000 B.C.E. and referred to a group of Arab tribes from the northern reaches of the Arabian Peninsula, in the Syrian desert. The appellation spread to other Arab tribes in the area until it became a synonym for 'son of the desert.'

    Cuneiform and Pharaonic texts from before the Israelites also use such words as 'Ibn, Hobin, Habiru, Khabiru, and 'Abiru. In this sense the term 'Ibrani, as ascribed to Abraham in the Bible, means a member of the 'Abiru (or nomadic Arab tribes), of which he was a member. The phrase 'Ibru, denoting Jews, was coined later on by the rabbis in Palestine.

    ---------------------------------
    19 Isrā'īl Wilfinson, Tār'īkh al-Lugāt as-Sāmiyya (History of Semitic Languages), Dār al-Qalam, Beirut, Lebanon, P.O. Box 3874, ND, p. 54 .
    20 Dictionary of the Bible, p. 121; italics added.
    21 Wilfinson, p. 75.
    22 Wilfinson, p. 91.
    23 New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., 1984.
    24 George M. Lamsa's translation from the Aramaic of the Peshitta, Harper, San Francisco.
    25 Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1952.
    26 The Revised Standard Version uses "language of Judah".
    27 KJV Isaiah 19:18 .
    28 Of all the Bibles in my collection only the CEV explicitly writes Hebrew in Isaiah 19:18, Isaiah 36:11-13, 2 K 18:26, and 2 Ch 32.18 . But the accuracy of this work is highly suspect, while the other versions adhere far more closely to the original text. See this work pp. 293-4.

    *Adapted From: M.M.Al-'Azamī, The History of The Qur'ānic Text From Revelation To Compilation, pp.232-234, UK Islamic Academy.

    السلام عليكم

    Last edited by Caplets; 09-30-2019 at 10:02 PM.


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