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.


Lvka said...

Nor did people need to borrow it directly from Egyptian if it was being transmitted in other Semitic languages that eventually led to Arabic.

No. That's now how it happened. Coptic is still spoken by Copts (the Egyptian Orthodox Christians) That's how that word got [from Coptic] into *Egyptian* Arabic.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Whether Coptic is still spoken is irrelevant
to whether a word NEEDS to be borrowed from Egyptian (or Coptic) to explain an occurrence in Egyptian Arabic.

Moreover, to say that your particular route is
"how that word got [from Coptic] into "Egyptian"
Arabic," requires much more evidence than you
have provided.

For example, could you answer these questions?

- What is the earliest occurrence you can date in Egyptian Arabic?
-What is the latest Coptic document you can
find with that word? Could you cite an edition
we can check?
-How did you determine that the first occurrence in Egyptian Arabic was from Coptic and not from another Semitic language?
-Why can't Egyptian Arabic have derived its word from a Semitic cognate?

Lvka said...

You're the one that has to prove the long connection. I gave You the short one, which I think is right. You're the doc, You do the research. I just relied on Occam's Razor.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

My point was not to prove a short or long
connection. I am simply making an observation:
A word need not be borrowed from Egyptian (or Coptic) to explain is occurrence in Egyptian Arabic.

This is important because Dr. Hoffmeier suggests
that an Egyptian borrowing is the ONLY way
to explain the Hebrew words.

Occam's razor needs to be combined with observations about the morphology and documentary trail of the words in question. This is especially the case in a multi-cultural or multi-lingual environment.

brian_g said...

Dr. Hector Avalos,

First, let me say that I'm no Old Testament Scholar. I'm sure you'd kick my butt in a debate on the Old Testament. I don't even have much background knowledge on the area you are discussing. That said I would like to point out what I believe is a reasoning fallacy in your argument. It seems that you are trying to dispute a probabilistic argument on by appealing to possibilities. The source you cricticised said:

"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."

The key words are "seems unlikely." These suggest that Hoffmeier is making a case based on likelihood. You responded to this by showing that some of the words are found in the exilic period. The rare find of one or more of these words in that time period would not challenge Hoffmeier's point that it is unlikely for a scribe to be familiar with them. If the words were common, that would be another matter. The rare find of a word only proves that a scribe could have known the word, not that he was likely to.

Perhaps, you can revise your argument to strengthen your case. (This is outside my realm of knowledge so I can say one way or the other.)

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Actually, my argument is that at least some of these words were common enough to be understood, not
just in the pot-exilic period, but even into the
Medieval period.

At least some of these words were common enough that they were understood by Greek translators.

Please note again that ALL of these words are
represented in that Medieval Masoretic tradition
with vocalizations pretty near what Dr. Hoffmeier
assigns. Therefore, scribal familiarity with these terms was NOT UNLIKELY at all in the post-exilic period.

Given such data, I think I have shown that Dr. Hoffmeier's probabilistic characterizations are clearly false.

John W. Loftus said...

Bravo Hector!

I honestly don't think Steve Hays or Paul Manata are trying to be honest with the evidence. They don't need to. Their Calvinist God sovereignly decreed them to believe. Strange as this sounds they don't need evidence. Evidence doesn't matter to them. Evidence is used in a gerrymandering fashion to support God's eternal decree. Since they believe, therefore God decreed them to believe. They just know you are wrong. It doesn't matter if the evidence says otherwise. I've critiqued such a view of theirs here.

Lvka said...

Well, ... You chose the wrong word then ... :-\

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

All I wanna know Doc. Avalos, is this:

Is your view the REAL minimalist view this time or are you overstating your case like you did with Sargon?

That'll be a good starting point.

Harry McCall said...

Ivka, Harvey, Steve Hays and any other Christians out there.

The supernatural origins of a so-called Biblical Israel have been proven, not only by Hector, but other major scholars such as John J. Collins to be what I term a religious parasite looking for a historical host.

It simply CAN NOT live on its “Biblical” claims as archeology has proven are mostly baseless.

But like a true parasite it must try and get its roots into factual history in order to live a pseudo-existence or die!

Time and time again, Christians have inserted their parasitic pseudo-facts into history hoping for it to take root only to find it poisoned by the real facts.

Great job Hector!

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Hello, Mr. Burnett,
I only report what the evidence shows. Otherwise,
where did I overstate my case with Sargon?

I specifically made these four statements:

I. There is no actual evidence that a Moses river-story was present in the seventh century BCE.

II. There is plenty of evidence that the Sargon river-story was present in the seventh century BCE.

III. Sargon’s presence in actual documents can be attested from the late third millennium BCE and far into the first millennium BCE.

IV. Moses’ presence cannot be found in any extra-biblical record before around 1-3 centuries BCE.

Could you tell me which of these is an "overstatement"?

Edward T. Babinski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edward T. Babinski said...


Inerrantist Christian bibliolators like Hays and Holding don't know the difference between proferring "an" explanation and "the" explanation (the latter of which is far far rarer).

Inerrantists like Hays and Holding cite lists of possible explanations that might keep the Bible inerrant and self-consistent with both itself and history and science, etc. But none of those possible explanations are themselves inerrant, and even the inerrantists can't agree which might be "the" one and only explanation. (Just compare inerrantist divisions concerning how best to interpret Genesis or Revelation.)

But having "a" possible explanation (even just one, even an unprovable guess), is all it takes once you have "faith" in "the inerrancy of the Bible."

The Bible expressly warns inerrantists that if you are "lukewarm" then you will be "spewn out of" Jesus' "mouth." So can a Christian inerrantist ever maintain a lukewarm position on the inerrancy of any particular passage found in the entire Bible?

The Bible's true because they believe it's true, they just can't explain why they lack clear universal proof of its inerrant truth, or why so many biblical scholars with advanced degrees are NOT inerrantists. That includes Bruce Metzger, the leading Evangelical Textual Critic of the past generation. He was an Evangelical but NOT an inerrantist.

And if Steve Hays is so worried about his inerrant Bible being questioned by people like the Jesus Seminar, or even Hector Avalos then maybe Steve also ought to ponder why the Evangelical's leading textual critic Bruce Metzger doesn't agree with inerrancy, neither do many (any?) in the "context group" appear to be inerrantists though J.P. Holding lauds their work to the heavens.

EXPERIMENT: Add up all the inerrantists of the entiire Evangelical Theological Society in the U.S. (all of them sign a statement saying they are inerrantists, though there's a variety of flavors of inerrancy they ascribe to, some even have such a flexible definition of inerrancy as to be extremely close to admitting errors, including accepting evolution and "open theology"); and compare that number of all the inerrantist biblical scholars in the Evangelical Theological Society with the total of all scholars of all societies for biblical study in the U.S., the latter would be a clearly larger number and include more scholars who have done in-depth bibical study and fewer "inerrantists."

So I'd say Hays and Holding have several lifetimes of work cut out for them. Of course they are busy simply trying to get less highly educated Christians to agree to their versions of "inerrancy" via every means available from cursing and maligning to cartoons and emoticons. Good luck guys. Even if your job succeeds, you've only converted people less intelligent than yourselves and won't have much effect on the world's most proficient and highly educated biblical scholars who will continue to teach future generations, barring a natural apocalypse of civilization of course.

Edward T. Babinski said...


Speaking of words. I read that the meanings of some biblical words and phrases remain unknown or uncertain. For instance, some Hebrew or Greek words occur only once in the Bible, but nowhere else in ancient literature, so their exact meanings are unknown; and some biblical phrases are ambiguous, with more than one possible meaning.

Of course inerrantists like HAYS AND HOLDING are certain that even the earliest manuscripts, the ones long since rotted away or which we NO LONGER POSSESS -- were all without error -- that is if their offspring eventually made it into the biblical canon. Then that "proves" the earliest copies of those particular mansuscripts must have been "without error."

Edward T. Babinski said...


Daniel Taylor is a Bible translator who worked on a new translation of the Bible funded by Tyndale House in Wheaton Ill.

An article that Taylor wrote about his experience, "Confessions of a Bible Translator" was published in Books & Culture (a publication offshoot of Christianity Today),

In that article Taylor mentioned:

...dare any version accurately call it the Sea of Reeds?--"the deep waters congealed/ in the heart of the sea."


...what are we to say about those most explosive little words: "him" and "man." Inclusive language may be to our generation of Bible translations what "virgin" versus "young woman" were to an earlier generation. The consensus in our translation is that unobtrusively inclusive language has now become the norm in public discourse. It is simply how the English language functions in public usage in America at the end of the century. With our guideline of equivalent message and effect, it is clear that in the great majority of cases the original writer is addressing all humanity and therefore would use inclusive language if speaking or writing in English today. To use language that now is widely taken as referring only to men simply would not be an accurate translation. [However, he adds, in the Tyndale House translation that he worked upon it was voted to retain "Traditional use of gender in references to God"]

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Ed and Hector,

The problem I see is that for you guys "probability" only works one way and that's AGAINST the biblical narrative or message.

When I say "overstate" Hector you presented information as factual and indisputed pertaining to Sargon that the dates were early and without doubt BEFORE the Moses story. When the facts as was pointed out at Traib (FROM THE SAME BOOK YOU USED) were not in agreement with your assertions.

Those facts are clearly stated and outlined on The Avalos Legend

now, I don't want to rehash sargon...I want to move on and I know we can debate these issues and I'm glad for the debate because I've learned in the process but when information is presented with a SLANT as yours often is that it takes away the fun of discovery...that's what I mean by overstate...

In this case you discuss 6 words and say that if ONE word is out of the time frame then ALL of them are "probably" out of the time frame also...then you hail that "probability" as factual...

For a person who doesn't believe that history can give us any factual evidence, you seem to set those thoughts and feelings aside when you can minimize the bible or what scholars agree are historical confirmations of the biblical narrative.

Now I haven't dealt with your actual assertions yet, because I believe that i could set forth scholars to prove that your statements are overstatements based on what I've said.

If in your world a Christian can't take probability and agree with best evidence to make it a certainty, then why should you be able to do the same as an athiest?


Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Hello, Rev. Burnett,
Triablogue did not point to ANY facts that showed that the Moses story was written before that of that of Sargon. Even the so-called Egyptian loanwords were no such evidence.

Part of my evidence was this:
-The earliest manuscripts of the Moses story
do not date before 1-3 centuries BCE.

-The main Sargon manuscripts date from the seventh century BCE (as even Triablogue and Hoffmeier agree).

Therefore, I am absolutely reasonable to say
that THERE is no evidence of a Moses story
in the Seventh century BCE.

What Triablogue did was to confuse ACTUAL dates of the manuscripts of each story with the HYPOTHETICAL earliest dates for the Moses story.

The Sargon manuscripts are ACTUAL artifacts from th Seventh century BCE, NOT HYPOTHETICAL ones.

So, again, what ACTUAL evidence do you have of a Moses story in the Seventh Century BCE or earlier?

Please cite me ONE actual Moses artifact from that century or earlier, not manuscripts of the Bible from later times.