The Lost Language of the Amorites Has Finally Been Discovered

March 21 2023

The Hebrew Bible makes frequent reference to the Amorites, a pagan people living on either side of the Jordan River, sometimes appearing to use the term as a catchall for all the non-Israelite residents of ancient Canaan. While there are ample references to the Amorites in other ancient Middle Eastern sources, their language—and thus many questions about their origins—has remained a mystery. A recent scholarly analysis of two Mesopotamian tablets seems to have changed that, writes Nathan Steinmeyer:

While the Amorites—first attested during the third millennium BCE as a nomadic people from Syria and the Levant—eventually became one of the most powerful groups to rule over Mesopotamia, very little evidence of their language has ever been found. . . . The tablets . . . are unprovenanced objects, having likely been illegally removed from Iraq about 30 years ago in the wake of the First Gulf War and subsequently stored in various collections in the United States.

The texts themselves provide important clues to the place and period where and when they were written. Both tablets are written in cuneiform and have linguistic features that strongly suggest they can be dated to the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1894–1595 BCE). In addition, the vocabulary and syntax of the tablets indicate they were likely written in southern Mesopotamia, the region known as Babylonia. Indeed, the language and handwriting used in the two tablets is so similar that they may have been written by the very same scribe or at least in the same scribal school.

Scholars have now confirmed that Amorite was actually a Northwest Semitic language, like Ugaritic, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Specifically, Amorite has striking similarities to the Canaanite language group to which Hebrew and Moabite also belong. Indeed, the Amorite from the tablets is incredibly similar to the Canaanite language found in the 14th-century BCE Amarna Letters, and some of the phrases are even nearly identical to modern Hebrew. It is important to note, however, that the Amorite language itself cannot be understood as Canaanite. Some of its features are much closer to other Semitic languages, like Arabic, rather than Canaanite.

Read more at Bible History Daily

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Canaanites

In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan