Friday, June 30, 2017

Lambdin on Egyptian loan words in Hebrew

NEWS YOU CAN USE: Egyptian Loanwords in Tanach (Mitchell First, Jewish Link of New Jersey).
Did you ever wonder which words in Tanach are not Hebrew but are Egyptian? Others have been wondering as well! In 1953, the classic article on this topic was published by Thomas Lambdin in the Journal of the American Oriental Society. Lambdin was a professor of Semitic languages at Harvard for many years. (His “Introduction to Biblical Hebrew” is used as a textbook at YU.)

Of course, identifying Egyptian loanwords in Tanach is not an exact science. We must distinguish between: 1) words that are definitely or almost certainly of Egyptian origin, 2) words that have a significant possibility of being of Egyptian origin, and 3) words for which an Egyptian origin has been suggested but the suggestion is very unlikely. For the most part, Lambdin’s article avoids words in the third category.

I am going to present to you the words that Lambdin included. Usually, the suggested original Egyptian word does not completely match the Hebrew word. But scholars are capable of making educated guesses about which discrepancies are to be expected, and which discrepancies indicate that the supposed word-borrowing should be rejected altogether.
Cross-file under Philology.

That JAOS article was written a long time ago and I don't doubt that there have been advances on this question — one that is outside my expertise. But Professor Lambdin's research has always been impeccable and I imagine it would have stood the test of time well.

Incidentally, Professor Lambdin is still alive as far as I know. A past post on him is here. He retired from Harvard in 1983, the year I began my PhD studies. He was the teacher of John Huenhergard, from whom I learned Comparative Semitics and the historical grammar of Hebrew.

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