Friday, April 28, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- philology

If A.H. Sayce had studied SWLT and heeded its warnings, he would never have equated shabbatum from the time of Cambyses with the Jewish Shabbat referred to 3 or 4 centuries earlier in Amos and Hoshea, because he would have realized that philology had led him into a false friends situation.  Unfortunately for him, SWLT didn’t exist yet.
Philology, of course, is the science of words and it has thrown up a number of mistaken conclusions.  Even in the 21st century.
According to 2013 news reports, an academic paper used distribution of common words to claim that Indo-Europeans spread from middle Asia through the Kurgan culture, bringing with them wheeled vehicles and the horse.  However, linguistic and genetic studies now argue for an Indo-European origin in Anatolia (sound familiar?), and the distribution of the targeted words and histories of the cultures don’t agree.
The word for “horse” in Akkadian, sisu, dates to the Ur III dynasty, when Utu-Hengel chased out the Gutians (remember them?).  The Gutians were Indo-Europeans who came over the Zagros mountains from a place called Teukri in Anatolia.  It’s hard for me to escape the conclusion that the Gutians brought horses and horse-drawn chariots to Mesopotamia which, up to then, used foot soldiers.
The burial kurgans in Anatolia are few and limited to regions closest to central Asia where the kurgan culture was endemic.  The Hittites, who ruled much of Anatolia, used cremation not kurgans, and yet the Hittites were famous for having horses.  The Hittite word for “horse” is asva, and there has long been an urban legend classing them as Indo-Europeans.
Uh-oh.  The “u” word.  
The conclusion is a case of philology gone wrong.  The Hittite language has affinities with Avestan and Sanskrit that no Indo-European language has.  For one thing, they share a root for “night” which has become shab (“shab bekheyr”, “good night”) in modern Persian, an Indo-Iranian language.  Greek has a similar root for a word meaning “dark,” which night certainly is. 
But the word for night in the Greek language, and its cognate in all Indo-European languages, nyx/nox/notte/nuit/noche/noch’/nos/nacht, is Anatolian in origin. (It’s also feminine.)
The Hebrew word for horse is sus, a pretty close cognate to the Akkadian word, and both languages are Semitic, not Indo-European OR Indo-Iranian.  The word in ancient Egyptian is ss, which I have seen voweled as ses.  Egyptian is neither Indo-European or Indo-Iranian.
SWLT says that word usage is culture-based, and the uniting cultural feature that would have brought the same word for “horse” to distant Egypt, would have been trade of horses between Anatolia and Egypt, mediated as early as the 15th dynasty by the forebears of the Hyksos rulers of the 17th dynasty, and thus passing through the Holy Land. 
It’s the context, stupid!  And that includes history and culture as well as the actual look or sound of the words.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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