The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Aramaic style-switching… in Egypt

Benjamin Suchard has a paper up on “two cases of Aramaic style-switching in Biblical texts set in Egypt”. He’s not done editing it yet; for the next three weeks he’s running a “session” for subscriber feedback. We the "Orientalists" are all aware of Aramaisms in suras 12 and 18, which cover the same texts – Genesis and Exodus respectively. I am not on the Bible beat anymore, and I haven’t joined Suchard's session. But his thesis does interest me, so I’ll muse on it here.

Of interest to Suchard for these Aramaic terms is that the context here is Egypt. One might wonder why not an African language like, oh, Middle or Late Egyptian. Suchard picks on Genesis 41 raqqot for “thin” (plural) and Exodus 2 ‘alma for “girl”.

I will note here that several exegetes of Genesis and Exodus, down to the Qur’an’s author(s), have noticed that the Genesis king is not a Pharaoh – sura 12 calls him ‘Azîz. The ancient Egyptians treated these regimes differently too. Their historian Manetho assigned Moses to the Nineteenth Dynasty, and the first Jews to the riff-raff of the Hyksos before them. The Hyksos, as it happens, had entered in from the Semitic Near East. So the seventh-century-BCE Israelites would not have found it so anachronous that a court of Oriental usurpers might speak Aramaic. That much can account for the earlier Aramaic word, raqqot.

When we get to Exodus, the court is no longer speaking in Aramaic. In this case, though, the ‘alma is none other than Moses’ sister. She'd have been an Oriental like him.

posted by Zimri on 16:48 | link | 0 comments

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