Six Words for Triablogue

Six Egyptian "loanwords" cited by Triablogue are debunked.

In the near future, I may issue a more thorough rebuttal to some of Triablogue’s recent and comically uninformed posts (e.g. “The Avalos Legend,” “Au Chocolat,” “The End of Hector Avalos,” etc.), but here I will concentrate on the SIX so-called Egyptian loanwords that Dr. James K. Hoffmeier uses to deny that the Moses story in Exodus 2 could have been composed in the post-exilic era.

The six words (TEBATH, GOME’, ZAPHETH, SUPH, HAYE’OR, and SAPHAH) are listed and discussed on pp. 138-140 of Dr. Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt. These six words also will show how poorly Mr. Steve Hays reads scholarly materials, and how uncritically he reads Dr. Hoffmeier.

Let’s begin with the claim Dr. Hoffmeier made about these six loanwords (Israel in Egypt, p. 140):

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that a scribe during the
late Judean monarchy or the exilic period (or later)
would have been familiar with these Egyptian terms.

If we use more precise dates for “the late Judean monarchy or the exilic period (or later),” then Dr. Hoffmeier is claiming that scribes would not be familiar with these words in the years ca. 600?-400 BCE (or later). I have a question mark at 600 BCE because Dr. Hoffmeier is ambiguous about the dates he assigns to the “late Judean monarchy.”

If we can demonstrate that scribes are, or could be, familiar with these Egyptian loanwords during that time or later, then we cannot preclude the composition of the Moses story ca. 600-400BCE (or later).

In any case, I already have proven definitively that at least one of these words, GOME’, occurs in Jewish Aramaic papyri dating to around 441 BCE. Apparently, Triablogue misses the implication of my falsification of Hoffmeier’s claim because Mr. Hays declares (Au Cholocat):

Now Hoffmeier cited no fewer than six Egyptian
loanwords. For Avalos to question one out of six doesn’t
get him where he needs to go. Avalos needs “actual evidence”
for the late occurrence of each and every loanword.

First, note that Hoffmeier does not claim precisely that these words don’t OCCUR in later periods---that is Hays’ interpretation of Hoffmeier’s claim. Hoffmeier claims only that scribes (presumably Hebrew or Jewish ones) would not have been FAMILIAR with the Egyptian terms.

Note also how Hays evades the comprehensiveness of Dr. Hoffmeier’s comments about these so-called Egyptian loanwords. Dr. Hoffmeier said “these Egyptian terms,” and so that would include gome’.

In any case, Dr. Hoffmeier’s statement is false. By using the phrase, “these Egyptian terms,” Hoffmeier included all of the Egyptian loanwords in a set defined as “unlikely” to be familiar to scribes in the “late Judean monarchy or the exilic period (or later).” Therefore, finding one word in a late Judean or post-exilic text falsifies the statement about the entire set. Let’s use more symbolic logic, so that Mr. Hays can understand it better:

-X states that elements A, B, C, D, E, and F are ALL in Set Y.

-Even if only A is not in Set Y, then the statement by X is false.

This would be no less erroneous than if I said that Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton were ALL presidents after 1970.

In the same way, Dr. Hoffmeier’s statement is false. Dr. Hoffmeier should clarify, and say that “one of,” “some of” or “most of” these words would not be familiar to the scribes of the late Judean monarcy or post-exilic period.

But, let’s look at the words one-by-one and see if it is unlikely they would be familiar to scribes at the time Dr. Hoffmeier claims (ca. 600?-400 BCE or later).

1. TEBATH (“basket” in Exodus 2:3)
The fact that this word was understood by later scribes is evidenced by the Targum of Onkelos. This Aramaic translation uses the word TEBUTHAH, which is cognate with the Hebrew word. The Targum of Onkelos dates from early Christian times or later.

The Jews who translated the Septuagint used THIBIS or THEBE, which the translator expected readers to understand. Hoffmeier (Israel in Egypt, p. 205) dates the Septuagint to the third century BCE, and more precisely to the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (ca. 309-246 BCE).

Note that Hoffmeier (Israel in Egypt, 138) admits that the word survives into Egyptian Arabic, which is a relatively modern form of Arabic. Thus, knowledge of that word has not disappeared at all. Nor did people need to borrow it directly from Egyptian if it was being transmitted in other Semitic languages that eventually led to Arabic.

In this and the other cases, Hays seems to overlook the biggest problem of all for Hoffmeier’s claim: the vocalized Masoretic Hebrew text is of Medieval date, and it preserved the earlier vocalization of the Egyptian (or at least the vocalizations given by Hoffmeier). So, why does Hoffmeier claim that scribes would not be familiar with the word after the exilic period when the word occurs in Medieval Hebrew manuscripts? What scribes copied those words into the Medieval era?

2. GOME’ (“papyrus”)
I have already shown (Unholy Moses) that this term was familiar to Jewish scribes at Elephantine from around 441 BCE.

3. ZAPHETH (“[bitumen] pitch”).
Dr. Hoffmeier says this (Israel in Egypt, p. 139):

The word...appears only in Exodus 2:3 and Isaiah 34:9 in the
Hebrew Bible, and cognates are restricted to Syriac
and Arabic.

The operative phrase here is “in the Hebrew Bible,” for surely Dr. Hoffmeier should know that this Hebrew word occurs in LATER Hebrew books OUTSIDE THE HEBREW BIBLE. Perhaps that is why Hoffmeier said “only in Exodus 2:3 and Isaiah 34:9 in the Hebrew Bible.”

Indeed, the word occurs in the apocryphal work known as Ecclesiasticus or The Wisdom of Ben Sirach 13:1. More devastating to Dr. Hoffmeier’s claim is that the word occurs in manuscripts of Sirach from the famous Cairo Geniza (a Geniza serves as storage for discarded manuscripts) from the Medieval period! This falsifies the claim that scribes would not be familiar with this word after the exilic period “or later.”

For my Hebrew edition of Sirach, I use Herman L. Strack, Die Sprüche Jesus’, des Sohnes Sirachs (Leipzig: A. Deichert’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1903), p. 14.

The fact that Sirach used this word is apparent to anyone that consults a simple Hebrew lexicon such as that of Koehler/Baumgartner. Mr. Hays simply does little basic homework.

4. SUPH (“reeds”).
This word has been discussed and debated, and it is not clear that the word always means “reeds” or not. But more devastating to Dr. Hoffmeier’s case is his reliance on William Ward (“The Semitic Bicosonantal Root SP and the Common Origin of Egyptian CWF and Hebrew SÛP: 'Marsh Plant,'” Vetus Testamentum 24, no. 3 [July, 1974]:339-349). Hoffmeier says (Israel in Egypt, 214):

If the word sup is related to the Egyptian twf(y)—and I think this is virtually certain in light of Ward’s rigorous linguistic
investigation of the word...

But did Mr. Hays read Ward’s study? Probably not. Ward’s study makes it clear that the word in Hebrew IS NOT A BORROWING FROM EGYPTIAN. Rather, Ward shows that the Hebrew word was borrowed from Canaanite (Phoenician, more specifically). As Ward (p. 349) phrases it:

Finally, the Hebrew sûp would have been borrowed from Canaanite at a later time, after the shift from aw > ô > û had taken place in Phoenician.

Perhaps Dr. Hoffmeier’s misleading phraseology (“sûp is related to Egyptian cwf(y)”) led an amateur such as Hays to believe that “related to” means “borrowed from.”

Dr. Hoffmeier should have said that Ward explicitly denies that Hebrew borrowed the word from the Egyptian language. Thus, SUPH does not belong in a list of “Egyptian loanwords.” In fact, Ward shows that the Egyptian word was also borrowed from Canaanite.

But, even if SUPH were an Egyptian loanword in Exodus 2:3ff, it can be demonstrated that scribes after 400 BCE did know this word. The evidence comes from the Septuagint, the Greek translation(s) of the Bible. The Septuagint translators rendered SUPH as papyros (“papyrus reed”) in Isaiah 19:6. The Septuagint uses HELOS (“marsh”) in Exodus 2:3, which also shows that they knew what the word meant.

In other words, the Jewish scribes translated SUPH pretty much as Dr. Hoffmeier says it should be. So how could the Jewish scribes of the third century BCE translate this term correctly if, as Dr. Hoffmeier claims, it was unlikely that a scribe working later than the exilic period “would have been familiar with these Egyptian terms”?

5. HAYE'OR (‘the river”)
If one looks at Hoffmeier’s own discussion (p. 139), one learns that the Hebrew word (YE’OR) for Nile survives as IOR in Coptic, a language whose beginnings are usually dated to the second century BCE.

But note that this Coptic word, IOR, does not have the –t-that was found earlier in that Egyptian word. Therefore, the Coptic IOR is closer to the way the Hebrew spells it (ye’or---also’ without the earlier –t-). So while the word without the –t- may be as early as the Egyptian 18th Dynasty, the Coptic texts demonstrate that the word without the –t- could be known to later writers (Coptic uses a Greek-adapted alphabet).

Note that the word without a –t- was used in Akkadian (ia’uru) and so it does not preclude its use in an Akkadian story.

As usual, Hays is not a sufficiently good linguist to notice things like these, and so he just happily regurgitates what Dr. Hoffmeier tells him.

Dr. Hoffmeier clearly is hyperbolizing about the value of this word for dating Exodus before the late Judean monarchy. First, and as Hoffmeier himself admits, this is a well-known SEMITIC word (NOT an Egyptian loanword). Note Hoffmeier’s statement (Israel in Egypt, 139): “it was part of the inherited Semitic stratum of the Egyptian language.”

Hays should have noticed this because Hoffmeier says it in plain English that saphah is Semitic. Thus, there is no need for Egyptians to loan this word to the Hebrews, as it could have been transmitted through the Semitic family of languages. The word does not belong in a list of “Egyptian” loanwords or “elements.”

Dr. Hoffmeier tries to tie the expression SEPHAT HA-YE’OR (“edge of the river”) specifically to an Egyptian context, but the fact is that the same expression (construct of SAPHAH + YE’OR) occurs in Daniel 12:5, which is set in a MESOPOTAMIAN CONTEXT.

One would think that Mr. Hays would at least check his Bible every once in a while.

Of the six so-called Egyptian loanwords or “elements,” two are no such thing. SUPH is probably borrowed from Canaanite (Phoenician) and SAHPAH is a Semitic word. More importantly, we have shown that ALL these words were known to scribes after the exilic period (or later). At least two can be used in a Mesopotamian context even in the Bible. More importantly, this research demonstrates that we cannot preclude composition of a Moses story in the exilic or post-exilic period.

Mr. Steve Hays shows again that he does not possess the linguistic equipment to evaluate much of ANYTHING Dr. Hoffmeier or other scholars tell him about such issues. More importantly, Mr. Hays shows that he cannot even read what is said to him in plain English by Dr. Hoffmeier (as in the case of SAPHAH). He does not bother to check the basic biblical resources that reveal some of the weaknesses in scholars he trusts. I welcome either Mr. Hays or Dr. Hoffmeier to refute my evidence.

NOTE: Throughout my essay I use rough approximations of the vocalizations and orthography of Semitic and Egyptian words because my computer program does not have the capability to insert the proper diacritics.