Egyptian Loanwords in the Torah May Provide Evidence of the Exodus

In a detailed linguistic analysis, Benjamin J. Noonan points to a preponderance of Hebrew words of Egyptian origin in the sections of the Pentateuch that describe the Exodus from Egypt and the Jews’ wanderings in the wilderness. He also argues that many of these words were most likely to have entered Hebrew in the late Bronze Age (the late 2nd millennium BCE)—the period during which the Exodus would most likely have taken place. While such an analysis cannot prove the historicity of the Exodus, it undoubtedly supports it:

[T]he Exodus and wilderness traditions contain significantly higher proportions of Egyptian terminology than the rest of the Hebrew Bible, proportions comparable to the high proportions of Old Iranian terminology in the books of Esther and Ezra-Nehemiah, [which were written when the authors lived under Persian rule and thus reflect foreign influence]. Furthermore, the Exodus and wilderness traditions contain significantly higher proportions of Egyptian terminology than other texts [from the sub-family of Semitic to which Hebrew belongs], with the exception of Imperial Aramaic texts that exhibit intense Egyptian contact. Finally, at least some of the Egyptian loanwords found in the Exodus and wilderness narratives were borrowed during the late Bronze Age [i.e., the putative period of the Exodus], and it is likely that many of the other loanwords also were borrowed then. What are we to make of these observations? . . .

Just as one concludes that the sudden increase of French loanwords in the English language around the period from 1050 to 1400 CE reflects some particular circumstance in history [i.e., the Norman Conquest], so one should conclude that a high concentration of Egyptian loanwords in the Exodus and wilderness traditions reflects some particular historical circumstance. Given the observation that at least some of the Egyptian loanwords in the Exodus and wilderness narratives were borrowed during the late Bronze Age, it is likely that the events of these narratives took place during the late Bronze Age, just as one would expect if they represent authentic history. This is the simple and logical conclusion we should come to [based on accepted standards of linguistic analysis]. The burden of proof remains on those who would offer any alternative explanation to demonstrate exactly why their hypothesis is superior to this conclusion.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Bible and Interpretation

More about: Ancient Israel, Exodus, Hebrew, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Language

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at New York Times

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East