Cuneiform Scribal Errors in Genesis

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James Stinehart

Cuneiform Scribal Errors in Genesis

Postby James Stinehart » Mon Apr 22, 2019 4:21 pm

Cuneiform Scribal Errors in Genesis

I view the Patriarchal narratives as having been recorded in cuneiform writing, by a scribe hired for the occasion by the illiterate early Hebrew tent-dwellers, in the mid-14th century BCE Amarna Age. If so, then there m-u-s-t be some cuneiform-induced scribal errors in the received text of the last 40 chapters of Genesis. In each case we will examine on this thread of a classic cuneiform-induced scribal error: (i) a cuneiform sign was ambiguous as to which letter (phoneme) it intended to record; (ii) the letter that was chosen (when a fine Jewish scholar in 7th century BCE Jerusalem was transforming the Patriarchal narratives from cuneiform writing into Hebrew alphabetical writing), which appears in the received text, does not make sense; but (iii) an alternative letter, which could just as easily have been intended by the ambiguous cuneiform sign, makes perfect sense on all levels.

“Hobah” = “the Ubi”

The analysis of “Hobah” / ḪWBH / חובה in this post will focus on the Biblical Hebrew word “the”. Though spelled with a he in alphabetical Hebrew writing, cuneiform writing had no he, so the only way to spell the west Semitic word “the” (the direct equivalent of the Biblical Hebrew word “the”) in cuneiform was with a heth. We will find that the heth at the beginning of “Hobah” / ḪWBH / חובה was intended to be a he and to render the common word “the”. We will also explore whether the west Semitic word “the” existed as early as the 14th century BCE. It did. By focusing on the Biblical Hebrew word “the”, we will see that “Hobah” = “the Ubi”.

Perhaps the clearest example of a cuneiform-induced scribal error in the Bible is “Hobah”, at Genesis 14: 15.

In context, “Hobah” at Genesis 14: 15 must mean “a site north of Damascus, Syria”, or to be more precise (based on the Amarna Letters): “the Hurrian-based name used in the Amarna Age for the area northwest of Damascus, which adjoins the central Beqa Valley”. Yet the name “Hobah” has heretofore been considered inexplicable: “Hobah, a site mentioned nowhere else in the Bible or in other ancient texts.” Gordon Wenham, “Genesis 1-15”, p. 315. [Having said that, a German scholar in 1903 correctly surmised, in a single sentence without further explanation, that surely Biblical “Hobah” at Genesis 14: 15 must be the “Ubi” of the Amarna Letters: “The land of Ube here named [in Amarna Letter EA 189] corresponds to the Hobah of the Bible, mentioned in Genesis xiv. 15….” Carl Niebuhr, “The Relations of Egypt and Western Asia in the Fifteenth Century B.C. According to the Tell El Amarna Tablets” (1903), p. 54.] Abram rescues Lot at a locale north of (“on the left hand of”) Damascus, in the region northwest of Damascus, Syria (“Hobah”), at or near the beginning point of the Orontes River / Danu in the central Beqa Valley.

We know that the cuneiform of the Amarna Letters did not distinguish ה/h from ח/ḫ: “[I]n the [cuneiform of the] El Amarna tablets the h, ḥ, ǵ, and sometimes even ’ [aleph] and ‘ [ayin] are represented by [cuneiform] signs with ḫ....” Yohanan Aharoni, “The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography” (1979), p. 113. Cuneiform writing had heth, but no he.

Pursuant to a cuneiform-induced scribal error (with cuneiform not distinguishing between heth/ḫ and he/h [and with the latter rendering ha and meaning “the” in Hebrew]), what the received text shows as “Hobah” / ḪWBH / חובה was intended to be H - [’]WBH / [אובה] xx [-ה]/ “the Ubi”, being the Hurrian name in the Amarna Letters for land northwest of Damascus, Syria.

By the time the original cuneiform text was transformed into alphabetical Hebrew (in 7th century BCE Jerusalem), the archaic Hurrian geographical place name (“the Ubi”) had long been forgotten. It had been recorded in cuneiform using an ambiguous cuneiform sign that did not distinguish ה/h/he from ח/ḫ/heth. The “Hobah” / ḪWBH / חובה that we see in the received text was intended to be H - WBH / [ובה] xx [- ה] -- where the initial H/ה = ha / “the”, rather than being heth/Ḫ. As to the second letter [vav/W/ו], in standard Hebrew orthography, unlike in cuneiform, the vowel sound U at the beginning of a word or name cannot begin with vav/W/ו, but rather must begin with either aleph/’/א alone, or aleph-vav/’W/או. So the proper rendering in alphabetical Hebrew is H - ’WBH / [אובה]
xx [-ה], where (i) the first letter is H/ה / ha / “the”, and (ii) the second letter (vav) must be preceded by an aleph: aleph-vav/’W/או. As such, “Hobah” = the Ubi.

From a Hebrew language point of view, the name of a region is preceded by the definite article ha/h/H/ה; thus “the Mizpeh [region]” at Genesis 31: 49 is H-MṢPH / המצפה, and likewise at Joshua 10: 40 we see both “the south region” as H-NGB / הנגב, and “the Shephelah [region]” as H-ŠPLH / השפלה. So in the Amarna Age, the Hurrian-dominated Damascus region would have been known as “the Ubi”, if Canaanite / pre-Hebrew had the definite article that early. In two recent articles, linguist Na’ama Pat-El has argued for a much earlier development of the west Semitic definite article than previously supposed. Moreover, in response to a specific question from me as to how old the definite article was in Hebrew and Canaanite, Prof. Pat-El responded as follows:

“Indeed, the article is probably very old. I think it already existed at least as far back as proto Canaanite, i.e. it developed before Hebrew split from its sister languages.”

In fact, the west Semitic / Canaanite / pre-Hebrew definite article ha, meaning “the” and spelled h/H/ה in Hebrew, is probably attested as early as the 15th century BCE, in the geographical place name Hassil‘a / ha-Sil‘a / H-ÇL‘ / הסלע / “The Rock”. Anson Rainey, “The Sacred Bridge” (2006), p. 70. Another pertinent example here is the city-name URU ḫa-ra-bu-wa at Amarna Letter EA 281: 13, which should be analyzed (since the cuneiform of the Amarna Letters could not distinguish heth from he / ha / “the”) as being URU ha ra-bu [plus suffix], meaning “City of The Great” / Kiriath The Arbe. Cuneiform ḫa was there used to render the Canaanite definite article ha, meaning “the”, because Akkadian cuneiform only has ḫ, not h.

As such, the ultra-mysterious name “Hobah” / ḪWBH / חובה that we see in the received text at Genesis 14: 15 is revealed to be a cuneiform-induced scribal error for what was intended: H - [’]WBH / [אובה] xx [-ה], that is, “the Ubi”. Indeed, once one knows to ask whether an otherwise inexplicable cuneiform heth in initial position may be the Canaanite word for “the” (being he / ha), the foregoing analysis of “Hobah” becomes quite obvious. But one must be willing to take into consideration the well-attested Hurrian name (Ubi) in the Amarna Letters for land northwest of Damascus, Syria that adjoins the central Beqa Valley.

All of this strongly suggests that rather than being a longstanding oral tradition, as has always been assumed, the “four kings with five” in chapter 14 of Genesis in fact was a written cuneiform text in the mid-14th century BCE Amarna Age. No one knew the Hurrian-based name for land northwest of Damascus (Ubi) in the 1st millennium BCE. The only plausible explanation for “Hobah” in the received text is as a cuneiform-based scribal error, which could occur only on the basis of a written cuneiform text of the Patriarchal narratives from the Late Bronze Age.

Jim Stinehart

R.J. Furuli
Posts: 126
Joined: Sat Sep 28, 2013 10:51 am

Re: Cuneiform Scribal Errors in Genesis

Postby R.J. Furuli » Tue Apr 23, 2019 11:59 am

James Stinehart wrote:


I view the Patriarchal narratives as having been recorded in cuneiform writing, by a scribe hired for the occasion by the illiterate early Hebrew tent-dwellers, in the mid-14th century BCE Amarna Age. If so, then there m-u-s-t be some cuneiform-induced scribal errors in the received text of the last 40 chapters of Genesis. In each case we will examine on this thread of a classic cuneiform-induced scribal error: (i) a cuneiform sign was ambiguous as to which letter (phoneme) it intended to record; (ii) the letter that was chosen (when a fine Jewish scholar in 7th century BCE Jerusalem was transforming the Patriarchal narratives from cuneiform writing into Hebrew alphabetical writing), which appears in the received text, does not make sense; but (iii) an alternative letter, which could just as easily have been intended by the ambiguous cuneiform sign, makes perfect sense on all levels.


Dear James,

According to the Tanakh, the five first books were written by Moses in the 15th century BCE. I see no historical or archaeological reason to deny that. But there is of course no hard evidence that a man named Moses wrote the books. If the Tanakh is correct, we do not know whether he used written or oral sources for Genesis. But in any case, Genesis 1 and 2 could not have been conveyed orally or by writing, because there would not have been any man present.

We should note that the language of the Amarna scribes was Canaanite, and we can see that because verbs written in cuneiform script have some Canaanite characteristics. I have read a number of these tablets with my students in class, so I am familiar with them. The scribes wrote in cuneiform script because the Egyptians could understand this script.

While it is not impossible that the spelling of one or more names in the Tanakh could have been influenced by cuneiform writing, I see no clear evidence for this. It is true, as you say, that one cuneiform sign can code for different syllables, letters, or words. But the situation is in no way chaotic, and by the principle of crosswords, in most cases it is possible to eliminate all the possible references of a sign and find the right one.

Akkadian does not have laryngeals, but the glottal stop codes for the four Hebrew laryngeals. However, Akkadian has the letter h, which is a fricative velar. That Hebrew sounds (consonants and vowels) can be conveyed by cuneiform signs is seen in the more than hundred tablets found two decades ago in Al-yehudu (Yuda-town) in Babylonia.

These tablets contain many Hebrew theophoric names. In some of these names ye-ho are written at the beginning and ya-hu at the end. In Babylonia, often the whole name of a god was included in the personal names, and we also find the whole neme of the Hebrew god both at the beginning and at the end of some names. The h at the beginning and end is the fricative velar, and the full name is written as ye ‘o-wa. The glottal stop before the o represents all Hebrew laryngeals, and the crossword principle shows that in this case it represents he. Thus, the name is Ye-ho-wa. A detailed analysis of Hebrew and Akkadian writings leading to the form Ye-ho-wa is found in my book: The Tetragram—its History, Its use in the New Testament, and its Pronunciation, pp. 192-241.

The number of consonants, and the quality of consonants are different in Semitic languges at different times in history. Therefore, in my view, it is more likely that strange names in the Tanakh are caused by this situation and not because the Tanakh originally was written with Akkadian cuneiform.


Best regards,

Rolf J. Furuli
Stavern
Norway

James Stinehart

Re: Cuneiform Scribal Errors in Genesis

Postby James Stinehart » Tue Apr 23, 2019 5:44 pm

Rolf J. Furuli:

You raise some interesting issues regarding cuneiform. However, please remember that my theory of the case is that the Patriarchal narratives were recorded using the same cuneiform writing that is found in the Amarna Letters from Canaan, except that instead of using Akkadian common words, the common words used were Canaanite / pre-Hebrew. Thus comments about other types of cuneiform writing, used in different locales and/or in different times, are not relevant to my particular theory of the case.

1. You wrote: “According to the Tanakh, the five first books were written by Moses in the 15th century BCE. I see no historical or archaeological reason to deny that.”

That cannot be, as the entirety of the Patriarchal narratives is utterly relevant of the world of Year 13 in the Amarna Age / mid-14th century BCE. Thus both in the Amarna Letters and in the Patriarchal narratives, the most prominent princeling ruler in western Upper Galilee is Abimelek / Abimilki, and his greatest concern is contested access to valuable water wells. I could give 50 or more examples such as that. But on the b-Hebrew list, instead of historical questions like that, the focus is more on language issues, including (per this thread) how alphabetical Hebrew in 7th century BCE Jerusalem would interface with cuneiform writing from mid-14th century BCE Canaan.

2. You wrote: “While it is not impossible that the spelling of one or more names in the Tanakh could have been influenced by cuneiform writing, I see no clear evidence for this.”

I plan to set forth half a dozen examples of that very phenomenon on this thread. The first is “Hobah” / Ḫubah, which is a cuneiform-induced scribal error for “h[a] Ubi”. Please note that the meaning of “the Ubi” is absolutely perfect for the context of Genesis 14: 15. The only way a Jewish scribe copying this in 7th century BCE Jerusalem would know this mid-14th century BCE Hurrian name for the region northwest of Damascus is if this peculiar, foreign name had been recorded in cuneiform writing -- the only kind of writing that was prevalent in Amarna Age Canaan. And since in the Amarna Letters there was no he/H as a separate letter distinct from heth/Ḫ (in all cases connoting a following vowel as well), the only way to distinguish Ḫubah from “h[a] Ubi” is by context; that was easy for a contemporary who knew the name of the region northwest of Damascus, but impossible for a Jewish scribe in 7th century BCE Jerusalem who had never heard of this ancient Hurrian name.

3. You wrote: “It is true, as you say, that one cuneiform sign can code for different syllables, letters, or words. But the situation is in no way chaotic, and by the principle of crosswords, in most cases it is possible to eliminate all the possible references of a sign and find the right one.”

That is true only for a given language; it is not true when it comes to deciphering foreign proper names that are unknown to the reader. As to Canaanite / pre-Hebrew common words, to the best of my knowledge there is not a single cuneiform-induced scribal error in the entirety of the Patriarchal narratives: “the principle of crosswords” works there. But this thread will document a half-dozen cuneiform-induced scribal errors for proper names in the last 40 chapters of Genesis, most of which, like “Hobah”, involve a proper name that is from a non-west Semitic foreign language.

4. You wrote: “Akkadian has the letter h, which is a fricative velar. That Hebrew sounds (consonants and vowels) can be conveyed by cuneiform signs is seen in the more than hundred tablets found two decades ago in Al-yehudu (Yuda-town) in Babylonia.”

But of decisive importance here, the Akkadian cuneiform used in the Amarna Letters did not have the letter H. Rather, the letter heth/Ḫ was the only way to render H. (Similarly, in unpointed Hebrew writing there is a single sign for both sin and shin; these two very different phonemes can only be distinguished by context.)

I made this critical point in my post: “[I]n the [cuneiform of the] El Amarna tablets the h, ḥ, ǵ, and sometimes even ’ [aleph] and ‘ [ayin] are represented by [cuneiform] signs with ḫ....” Yohanan Aharoni, “The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography” (1979), p. 113. The cuneiform writing used in the Amarna Letters had heth, but no he.

Further confirmation of this key point can be found at p. 23 of Shlomo Izre’el, “Vocalized Canaanite: Cuneiform-Written Canaanite Words in the Amarna-Letters” (2003), where it is explained that as to laryngeals and pharyngeals, the cuneiform writing of the Amarna Letters either used heth/Ḫ or used no letter at all. There is no separate and distinct he/H in the cuneiform writing of the Amarna Letters.

Finally, in Sholomo Izre’el’s excellent rendering of the Amarna Letters, there is only heth, never he; that is to say, Izre’el always uses the letter H to render heth, because there is no actual letter H in the cuneiform writing of the Amarna Letters.

* * *

Thus whenever one sees a proper name in the Amarna Letters that begins with heth but makes no sense, one should consider whether the letter H was what was actually intended. For example, as I noted in my original post, the city-name URU ḫa-ra-bu-wa at Amarna Letter EA 281: 13 should be analyzed (since the cuneiform of the Amarna Letters could not distinguish heth from he / ha / “the”) as being URU ha ra-bu [plus suffix], meaning “City of The Great” / Kiriath The Arbe. Cuneiform ḫa was there used to render the Canaanite definite article ha, meaning “the”, because Akkadian cuneiform only has ḫ, not h.

Jim Stinehart

Isaac Fried
Posts: 1233
Joined: Sat Sep 28, 2013 8:32 pm

Re: Cuneiform Scribal Errors in Genesis

Postby Isaac Fried » Tue Apr 23, 2019 8:58 pm

The letter ה Heh is the letter ח Xet but with a tiny opening on top of its right leg. The name XET is for חי, 'alive', and standing up firmly on both legs.

Isaac Fried, Boston University

James Stinehart

Re: Cuneiform Scribal Errors in Genesis

Postby James Stinehart » Tue Apr 23, 2019 11:10 pm

In the first post on this thread, we found that the inability of cuneiform writing to distinguish he from heth led to the cuneiform-induced scribal error of “Hobah”. Whereas there is no geographical place name Ḫobah in Biblical or non-Biblical history, once the initial heth is recognized as intended to have rendered he, being the west Semitic word for “the”, we suddenly see that the intended reference was to “the Ubi”, a region northwest of Damascus that is well-documented in the Amarna Letters.

In this post we will examine a second somewhat similar cuneiform-induced scribal error in the Patriarchal narratives, based on the fact that in cuneiform, zayin - A cannot be distinguished from samekh - A.

“Zarakh” = “Çarakh” = “What Remained” at Genesis 38: 29-30

In the received text of the Patriarchal narratives, the name of Perez’s “older” twin brother is set forth as being “Zarakh” [KJV: “Zarah”]: זרח / ZRḪ [first letter zayin / Z] at Genesis 38: 30. But as we will see, certainly the intended name for Perez’s “older” brother must actually have been “Çarakh”: סרח / ÇRḪ [first letter samekh / Ç].

At Genesis 38: 29-30 we read that when Jacob’s son Judah sired twin sons/grandsons by his daughter-in-law Tamar, one son (whose name is either Çarakh or Zarakh) stuck his finger out first in the birthing process, so that he was considered the firstborn son, but he nevertheless “remained” in the womb a bit longer. The other twin son (Perez) “burst forth” first, so that the “younger” twin son was actually born before his “older” twin brother.

As a common word, פרץ / PRṢ / perez (the name of the “younger” son who actually came out of the womb first) appropriately means “bursting forth”. Correspondingly, it would make all the sense in the world if the name of the “older” twin son means “What Remained”, since the “older” twin son “remained” in the womb, while “younger” twin son Perez (whose name literally means “Bursting Forth”) was borne first.

Çarakh, but not Zarakh, means “What Remained”. Thus although the received text has “Zarakh” : זרח / ZRḪ with a zayin (which is a common Biblical Hebrew name), meaning “Rising” (per Isaiah 60: 3), certainly what was intended must have been “Çarakh” : סרח / ÇRḪ with a samekh (not otherwise attested as a Biblical Hebrew name, which likely is what confused the scribe in 7th century BCE Jerusalem who was dealing with the cuneiform original), meaning “What Remained” (per Exodus 26: 12).

For purposes of this thread, what is important here is that this is a cuneiform-induced scribal error. In the cuneiform of the Amarna Letters, the cuneiform sign ZA could render either ssade/Ṣ/צ or sin/S/ש or samekh/Ç/ס or zayin/Z/ז as the initial consonant. Anson F. Rainey, “Canaanite in the Amarna Tablets: A Linguistic Analysis of the Mixed Dialect Used by the Scribes from Canaan” (1996), pp. 16-17, 19-20. Accordingly, the names “Zarakh” : זרח / ZRḪ and “Çarakh” : סרח / ÇRḪ would be written the same in cuneiform, as cuneiform could not distinguish zayin/Z/ז from samekh/Ç/ס (the first letter in the names “Zarakh” and “Çarakh”, respectively).

The intended names of these two twin sons were “Bursting Forth” and “What Remained”; these names, in and of themselves, essentially tell the story of this semi-miraculous childbirth sequence. But due to an ambiguity in cuneiform writing, a cuneiform-induced scribal error was made, resulting in the latter name being misinterpreted as meaning “Rising”.

If, and only if, the Patriarchal narratives were recorded in cuneiform writing by a scribe in the mid-14th century BCE, then the Patriarchal narratives (i) must embody several cuneiform-induced scribal errors, and (ii) may have pinpoint historical accuracy in describing the Patriarchal Age in the Late Bronze Age. The more cuneiform-induced scribal errors we find in Genesis, the clearer it becomes that the Patriarchal narratives must date all the long way back to the Late Bronze Age as a w-r-i-t-t-e-n text.

Jim Stinehart

Isaac Fried
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Joined: Sat Sep 28, 2013 8:32 pm

Re: Cuneiform Scribal Errors in Genesis

Postby Isaac Fried » Wed Apr 24, 2019 11:00 am

The minute form differences between the two Hebrew letters ה Heh and ח Xet stem from traditionally small pronunciation differences of essentially the same letter. Later, Hebrew took advantage of the two individual letters to branch off kin words of a slightly shifted and more specific meaning. For instance, זרה ZARAH and זרח ZARAX both materially mean, 'to spread, to throw off'.

Isaac Fried, Boston University

James Stinehart

Re: Cuneiform Scribal Errors in Genesis

Postby James Stinehart » Wed Apr 24, 2019 10:09 pm

“Zaphnathpaaneah” / Ṣaphnathpaaneah / צפנתפענח = Sapanatpaankh / Sa-pa-nt-pa-anx = שפנתפענח : S P NT P ‘NḪ = sA pA nTr pA anx [Joseph’s Egyptian name at Genesis 41: 45]

Our third example of a cuneiform-induced scribal error in the Patriarchal narratives once again turns on the inability of cuneiform to distinguish most sibilants from each other. In particular, when followed by A, the cuneiform sign ZA(6) could render either ssade or sin (or any other sibilant, for that matter, except shin). Anson F. Rainey, “Canaanite in the Amarna Tablets: A Linguistic Analysis of the Mixed Dialect Used by the Scribes from Canaan”, (1996), pp. 16-17, 19-20.

“And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnathpaaneah”. Genesis 41: 45.

In the received text, the first letter of Joseph’s Egyptian name is a ssade / צ / ṣ [rendered as Z by KJV]. But as we will see, this was a cuneiform-induced scribal error, where the first letter in Joseph’s Egyptian name was in fact intended to be a sin / ש / s. The received Hebrew Masoretic text renders Joseph’s Egyptian name as follows, starting (erroneously) with a ssade: צפנתפענח. As we will see, the first letter in fact should be a sin, and per the Egyptian words that comprise this name (discussed below), the Hebrew letters in this name should be broken down as follows: שפנתפענח = S P NT P ‘NḪ.

The Masoretic Text’s rendering of Joseph’s Egyptian name makes perfect sense except for one thing. The original version of this name was written in cuneiform in the mid-14th century BCE, and then transformed into alphabetical Hebrew in 7th century BCE Jerusalem. In the original cuneiform writing in Canaan from the Amarna Age, ssade/צ cannot be distinguished from sin/ש, because the cuneiform sign ZA(6) can render either ssade or sin. The Jewish scribe in 7th century BCE Jerusalem guessed wrong, taking this ambiguous cuneiform sign ZA(6) to be ssade plus the vowel A, when in fact it was intended to be sin plus the vowel A. Once that cuneiform-induced error is rectified, Joseph’s Egyptian name makes complete sense.

Since the Hebrew ssade/ṣ/צ at the beginning of Joseph’s Egyptian name was supposed to be a sin/s/ש (followed by the letter A), the first Egyptian word in Joseph’s Egyptian name can readily be seen to be sA, meaning “son”. (In the Buurman transliteration scheme, Egyptian aleph is rendered by capital A; Egyptian aleph is never rendered by any Hebrew letter in Hebrew defective spelling.)

Now all of Joseph’s Egyptian name is child’s play to figure out, exclusively using very simple, basic Egyptian common words: שפנתפענח : S P NT P ‘NḪ = sA pA nTr pA anx. Each peh/פ/P is pA, meaning “the” or “who” in Egyptian. In the New Kingdom, pA/“the” before a divine name had a monotheistic connotation. To highlight that key fact, I will render this Egyptian word pA with a capital T in English when it means “The”.

Georg Steindorff (in 1889) and the overwhelming majority view of scholars are right as to the other two Egyptian words. נת : NT is nTr, meaning “god” or “God” or “the divine”. The Hebrew rendering has no resh/ר/R at the end, because as Egyptian linguist Antonio Loprieno points out, a final R in multi-syllable Egyptian words was undergoing “lenition” in the New Kingdom, and in Late Egyptian was not pronounced at all. This is confirmed by the Egyptian name Pa-ḫa-na-te at Amarna Letter EA 60: 10. Per Richard Hess, “Amarna Personal Names” at pp. 121-122, the final element in that name conceptually is nTr, but due to the complete lenition of the final R by the mid-14th century BCE, nTr is spelled in cuneiform as na-te.

This Egyptian word nTr was probably pronounced ne-tje(r), and such a 2-syllable Egyptian word would be expected to be rendered by 2 Hebrew letters: nun-tav/נת/NT.

There has always been unanimous agreement as to the Egyptian word rendered by the final three letters, ענח : ‘NḪ, which clearly is anx, conventionally spelled “ankh” in English. (This is probably a 3-syllable Egyptian word, khe-ne-ḫe, that more or less rhymes with “Hannukah”.) ענח : ‘NḪ : anx means “eternal life”.

שפנת : S P NT = sA pA nTr. On the first level, that beginning of Joseph’s Egyptian name literally means “Son of The [one and only] God”. That is quite similar in concept to sA ra, which was the grandest and best-known pharaonic title, befitting the fact that Joseph has just now been given powers that are almost equivalent to that of a Pharaoh. But on another level, note that Joseph has in effect now been adopted as a “son” by a Pharaoh who worships pA nTr, “The [one and only] God”. (pA nTr may well be an abbreviated form of the phrase pA nTr wa that appears in Akhenaten’s Great Hymn to the Aten, which is the most monotheistic phrase possible in the Egyptian language: “The one and only God”.) So a second level of implied meaning for שפנת : S P NT = sA pA nTr is: “[Adopted] Son [of Pharaoh, per] The One and Only God”; or “[Adopted] Son [of the Pharaoh who honors] The One and Only God”.

The rest of Joseph’s Egyptian name is פענח : P ‘NḪ = pA anx, and means: “Who Is Eternal Life”. (In Egyptian, pA can mean either “the” or “who”.)

שפנתפענח : S P NT P ‘NḪ : sA pA nTr pA anx = “Son of The One and Only God Who Is Eternal Life”, and/or: “[Adopted] Son [of Pharaoh, per] The One and Only God Who Is Eternal Life”; or “[Adopted] Son [of the Pharaoh who honors] The One and Only God Who Is Eternal Life”.

It is impossible to imagine a finer meaning for Joseph’s Egyptian name than that. Note Pharaoh’s profound religious conviction that Joseph is divinely blessed by God: “And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?” Genesis 41: 38. [The ultra-literal meaning of the name “Akhenaten” is “Spirit -- Aten (God)”. The implied actual meaning to an Egyptian of the name “Akhenaten” is “[I devote my] Spirit / Soul to God /Aten / Ra”. Although the underlying meanings are not quite the same, nevertheless the words are basically the same: “Spirit of God” in the Bible vs. “Spirit -- God [Aten]” / “Akhenaten”.] E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in the last 40 chapters of Genesis is redolent of the Amarna Age.

* * *

Perhaps I should mention here that the scholarly explanations of Joseph’s Egyptian name are unbelievably bad. Here are the three leading scholarly views. Read ’em and weep.

1. Kenneth Kitchen changes the order of the consonants, and if that isn’t bad enough, he then comes up with a meaning that has nothing to do with Joseph: “he who is called Anakh.”

2. The old Steindorff reading is still the standard view. Steindorff forcefits Hebrew ssade [a cuneiform mistake for sin] to be Egyptian Dd, and if that isn’t bad enough, his proposed meaning does not relate to Joseph: "God speaks (or has spoken) and he lives".

3. Donald Redford is (believe it or not) worst of all, as he incongruously focuses on the goddess Neith (even though Pharaoh has named as Joseph’s new father-in-law a high-priest of Ra!): "Ipet and Neith speak and he lives".

All three such scholarly views are completely unacceptable.

* * *

With the exception of the slight confusion as to the sibilant at the beginning of this name, due to an inherent ambiguity in the cuneiform original, the Masoretic rendering of this Biblical Egyptian name is perfect. The first letter in Joseph’s Egyptian name was intended to be sin/s, with the intended Egyptian common word being sA / “son”. All of the remaining letters and Egyptian common words are obvious (merely being a variant of the old Steindorff reading, which gets the rest of the Egyptian words right, but does not understand how such words fit together in this name).

The more cuneiform-induced scribal errors like this that we see, the more certain it is that the Patriarchal narratives were recorded in cuneiform writing in the Amarna Age.

Jim Stinehart

R.J. Furuli
Posts: 126
Joined: Sat Sep 28, 2013 10:51 am

Re: Cuneiform Scribal Errors in Genesis

Postby R.J. Furuli » Thu Apr 25, 2019 8:49 am

James Stinehart wrote,

Our third example of a cuneiform-induced scribal error in the Patriarchal narratives once again turns on the inability of cuneiform to distinguish most sibilants from each other. In particular, when followed by A, the cuneiform sign ZA(6) could render either ssade or sin (or any other sibilant, for that matter, except shin). Anson F. Rainey, “Canaanite in the Amarna Tablets: A Linguistic Analysis of the Mixed Dialect Used by the Scribes from Canaan”, (1996), pp. 16-17, 19-20.

“And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnathpaaneah”. Genesis 41: 45.

In the received text, the first letter of Joseph’s Egyptian name is a ssade / צ / ṣ [rendered as Z by KJV]. But as we will see, this was a cuneiform-induced scribal error, where the first letter in Joseph’s Egyptian name was in fact intended to be a sin / ש / s. The received Hebrew Masoretic text renders Joseph’s Egyptian name as follows, starting (erroneously) with a ssade: צפנתפענח. As we will see, the first letter in fact should be a sin, and per the Egyptian words that comprise this name (discussed below), the Hebrew letters in this name should be broken down as follows: שפנתפענח = S P NT P ‘NḪ.


Dear James,

You have a theory, and every theory should be considered in the light of the Philosophy of Science. Your theory is based on deduction. Such a theory is formed on the basis of what the author finds to be likely. It is formed in a way as to predict something, and then it is checked if what is predicted is correct. The problem is that even if what is predicted turns out to be true, you have not proved your theory, because there can be a number of other explanations regarding what is found to be correct than your theory.

To illustrate: In the late 19th century, Geroge Darwin, the son of Charles, formed a theory about the moon. He believed that it once had been a part of the earth, and that it had broken away, and the crater that was left was the Pacific Ocean. What did this theory predict? That the moon and the earth were of the same material. Expeditions to the moon have shown that this is correct. But is the theory proven? Not at all! Because there can be so many other reasons why the moon and the earth consist of the same material.

Your theory is: In the 14th century BCE, Amarna scribes wrote down the patriarchal narratives in cuneiform script. What does this predict? Because most cuneiform signs can refer to two or several syllables and letters, when Hebrew scribes in the 7th century BCE translated the text into Hebrew, several errors in proper names occurred, because the scribes chose the wrong references for some signs. Has this prediction turned out to be correct? Possibly. As an example the name Jeseph is not correctly written. Is the theory proven? Not at all, because there can be several other reasons why errors in proper names occur, and all “errors” need not be real errors. I will look at this.

The standard text-book for cuneiform sings is R. Labat and F. Malbran-Labat, Manuel d’Epigraphie Akkadienne, and I will use this book. The sign ZA is No. 586, and it is correct as you say that it can stand for za tsa, sa. However, signs NOs. 123, and 356 can only represent sa. You have not seen any of the supposed cuneiform tablets, so you cannot know which sign the scribes used.

So, if the first letter of Joseph’s Egyptian name only represents Hebrew sin and the scribes wrote cuneiform, why they could have used NOs 123 or 356. In that case, the name was not written incorrectly if the Egyptian name of Joseph really began with sin. And the use of tsade in the Hebrew text may be a copying error.

There is also another possibility, namely, differences in pronunciation. If the Egyptian sign corresponded to Hebrew sin, this sign could have been pronounced of something between tsade and sin, or as both tsade and sin either by the Egyptians or the Amarnba scribes; and therefore it is written by tsade in the Hebrew text.

I recommend the book, E. Horowitz, How the Hebrew language Grew. This is an elementary book. But it shows that different Hebrew letters could represent different sounds. For example, ayin and ghayin are twin letters. Ghayin is lost in Hebrew but is found in Arabic. The place Aza was originally written with ghayin, as Gaza. It is shown that there is a soft and a hard het, that shin could be pronounced as th, that there are three different tsades in Hebrew etc. You can see this if you compare Hebrew consonants with Aramaic consonants.

So, the important point is: The tsade in Joseph could be based on a reading error of a cuneiform text. But it could also be based on a scribal error, or the different pronunciation of Semitic consonants in the past. I understand that Isaac Fried is thinking along these lines.


Best regards,

Rolf J. Furuli
Stavern
Norway

Isaac Fried
Posts: 1233
Joined: Sat Sep 28, 2013 8:32 pm

Re: Cuneiform Scribal Errors in Genesis

Postby Isaac Fried » Thu Apr 25, 2019 3:19 pm

Here is another worthy example to the ה-ח reciprocity:
צִוָּה, 'order, command', as in Gen. 6:22
וַיַּעַשׂ נֹחַ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים כֵּן עָשָׂה
KJV: "Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he."
and צָוָח, 'shout, scream', as in Isaiah 42:11-13
יִשְׂאוּ מִדְבָּר וְעָרָיו חֲצֵרִים תֵּשֵׁב קֵדָר יָרֹנּוּ יֹשְׁבֵי סֶלַע מֵרֹאשׁ הָרִים יִצְוָחוּ. יָשִׂימוּ לַיהוה כָּבוֹד וּתְהִלָּתוֹ בָּאִיִּים יַגִּידוּ. יהוה כַּגִּבּוֹר יֵצֵא כְּאִישׁ מִלְחָמוֹת יָעִיר קִנְאָה יָרִיעַ אַף יַצְרִיחַ עַל אֹיְבָיו יִתְגַּבָּר
KJV: "let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains."

Isaac Fried, Boston University

James Stinehart

Re: Cuneiform Scribal Errors in Genesis

Postby James Stinehart » Thu Apr 25, 2019 3:58 pm

Rolf J. Furuli:

I agree with most of the points you make in your informative post. You conclude your post as follows: “So, the important point is: The tsade in Joseph could be based on a reading error of a cuneiform text. But it could also be based on a scribal error, or the different pronunciation of Semitic consonants in the past.”

But look at this matter from the other end. If my theory is correct that the Patriarchal narratives are a cuneiform text from the Amarna Age, then there m-u-s-t be some cuneiform-induced scribal errors in the received text. And these cuneiform-induced scribal errors should ideally embody the following precise pattern: (i) a name in the received text does not make sense; (ii) but one letter in such name could be a different letter, based on the ambiguity of cuneiform signs, if the name was originally recorded in cuneiform writing; and (iii) by correcting the received text as to that one letter, which could just as easily have been the originally-intended letter per the applicable ambiguous cuneiform sign, the name now makes perfect sense on all levels.

If I can show a sufficient number of classic cuneiform-induced scribal errors like that in the received text of the last 40 chapters of Genesis, then I will have gone a long way toward showing that the Patriarchal narratives were a written text many centuries before the dates posited for such by university scholars.

Consider now the three classic cuneiform-induced scribal errors in the Patriarchal narratives that I have identified so far:

1. Joseph’s Egyptian Name

The three meanings for Joseph’s Egyptian name proposed by university scholars are unbelievably bad. But once one recognizes that the first letter, if written in cuneiform, could just as well have been sin as the ssade that we see in the received text, then it becomes child’s play to analyze Joseph’s Egyptian name, based on very simple, basic Egyptian words. Totally unlike the three scholarly proposals, my cuneiform analysis results in a meaning of Joseph’s Egyptian name that fits Joseph’s role in the narrative perfectly, while also reflecting the mid-14th century BCE historical time period: “[Adopted] Son [of the Pharaoh who honors] The One and Only God Who Is Eternal Life”.

2. Judah’s Older Twin Son/Grandson

Judah’s firstborn / older twin son/grandson by Tamar actually comes out of the womb after the “younger” son is borne first. The name of the younger son, Perez, appropriately means “Bursting Forth”. Certainly the name of the older son, who remained in the womb while his “younger” twin brother was borne first, cannot be “Rising”, where the first letter in such name is zayin. Rather, if this name was recorded in cuneiform writing, then the first letter could just as easily be samekh, in which case the name of the older brother who “remained” within Tamar’s womb while Perez was being borne first means: “What Remained”. The meaning is absolutely perfect, instead of being totally irrelevant as in the received text, once the first letter in this name is recognized as intended to have been samekh in cuneiform, not zayin.

3. “Hobah” = “the Ubi”

There is no “Hobah” or Ḫobah in non-Biblical history, or elsewhere in the Bible. But the heth at the beginning of this name is the only way in cuneiform to spell ha / “the”. The west Semitic word for “the” begins with a he, not a heth, but the cuneiform in the Amarna Letters from Canaan only has heth, not he. If the first letter is corrected, per this cuneiform-induced scribal error, to be he/H, then the reference is obviously to “the Ubi” / ha Ubi. That makes perfect sense as to geographical location, indicating the region northwest of Damascus (near the beginning of Danu / the Orontes River). Equally importantly, the Hurrian-based name “Ubi” is only attested in the mid-14th century BCE Amarna Age, being the exact historical time period I have posited for the Patriarchal narratives.

* * *

Rolf J. Furuli, I realize and appreciate that you are skeptical. But as I keep setting forth classic cuneiform-induced scribal errors in the last 40 chapters of Genesis, which in every case fit the mid-14th century BCE Amarna Age historical time period, I hope I may eventually convince you as to my exciting theory of the case as to the origin of the Patriarchal narratives as a Late Bronze Age written text.

Jim Stinehart


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