Saturday, December 31, 2011

Did the Tribes Speak Hebrew?

 was reading the list of names of the children of Ya'acov (i.e the tribes) and was struck by the fact that few of these names seem to have a meaning in Hebrew. Here is the list:
ט  וּבְנֵי, רְאוּבֵן--חֲנוֹךְ וּפַלּוּא, וְחֶצְרֹן וְכַרְמִי.
9 And the sons of Reuben: Hanoch, and Pallu, and Hezron, and Carmi.
י  וּבְנֵי שִׁמְעוֹן, יְמוּאֵל וְיָמִין וְאֹהַד--וְיָכִין וְצֹחַר; וְשָׁאוּל, בֶּן-הַכְּנַעֲנִית.
10 And the sons of Simeon: Jemuel, and Jamin, and Ohad, and Jachin, and Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman.
יא  וּבְנֵי, לֵוִי--גֵּרְשׁוֹן, קְהָת וּמְרָרִי.
11 And the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
יב  וּבְנֵי יְהוּדָה, עֵר וְאוֹנָן וְשֵׁלָה--וָפֶרֶץ וָזָרַח; וַיָּמָת עֵר וְאוֹנָן בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי-פֶרֶץ חֶצְרֹן וְחָמוּל.
12 And the sons of Judah: Er, and Onan, and Shelah, and Perez, and Zerah; but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan. And the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul.
יג  וּבְנֵי, יִשָּׂשכָר--תּוֹלָע וּפֻוָה, וְיוֹב וְשִׁמְרֹן.
13 And the sons of Issachar: Tola, and Puvah, and Iob, and Shimron.
יד  וּבְנֵי, זְבֻלוּן--סֶרֶד וְאֵלוֹן, וְיַחְלְאֵל.
14 And the sons of Zebulun: Sered, and Elon, and Jahleel.
טו  אֵלֶּה בְּנֵי לֵאָה, אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה לְיַעֲקֹב בְּפַדַּן אֲרָם, וְאֵת, דִּינָה בִתּוֹ:  כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ בָּנָיו וּבְנוֹתָיו, שְׁלֹשִׁים וְשָׁלֹשׁ.
15 These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore unto Jacob in Paddan-aram, with his daughter Dinah; all the souls of his sons and his daughters were thirty and three.
טז  וּבְנֵי גָד, צִפְיוֹן וְחַגִּי שׁוּנִי וְאֶצְבֹּן, עֵרִי וַאֲרוֹדִי, וְאַרְאֵלִי.
16 And the sons of Gad: Ziphion, and Haggi, Shuni, and Ezbon, Eri, and Arodi, and Areli.
יז  וּבְנֵי אָשֵׁר, יִמְנָה וְיִשְׁוָה וְיִשְׁוִי וּבְרִיעָה--וְשֶׂרַח אֲחֹתָם; וּבְנֵי בְרִיעָה, חֶבֶר וּמַלְכִּיאֵל.
17 And the sons of Asher: Imnah, and Ishvah, and Ishvi, and Beriah, and Serah their sister; and the sons of Beriah: Heber, and Malchiel.
יח  אֵלֶּה בְּנֵי זִלְפָּה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַן לָבָן לְלֵאָה בִתּוֹ; וַתֵּלֶד אֶת-אֵלֶּה לְיַעֲקֹב, שֵׁשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה נָפֶשׁ.
18 These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter, and these she bore unto Jacob, even sixteen souls.
יט בְּנֵי רָחֵל אֵשֶׁת יַעֲקֹב, יוֹסֵף וּבִנְיָמִן.
19 The sons of Rachel Jacob's wife: Joseph and Benjamin.
כ  וַיִּוָּלֵד לְיוֹסֵף, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה-לּוֹ אָסְנַת, בַּת-פּוֹטִי פֶרַע כֹּהֵן אֹן--אֶת-מְנַשֶּׁה, וְאֶת-אֶפְרָיִם.
20 And unto Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath the daughter of Poti-phera priest of On bore unto him.
כא  וּבְנֵי בִנְיָמִן, בֶּלַע וָבֶכֶר וְאַשְׁבֵּל, גֵּרָא וְנַעֲמָן, אֵחִי וָרֹאשׁ; מֻפִּים וְחֻפִּים, וָאָרְדְּ.
21 And the sons of Benjamin: Bela, and Becher, and Ashbel, Gera, and Naaman, Ehi, and Rosh, Muppim, and Huppim, and Ard.
כב  אֵלֶּה בְּנֵי רָחֵל, אֲשֶׁר יֻלַּד לְיַעֲקֹב--כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ, אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר.
22 These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob; all the souls were fourteen.
כג  וּבְנֵי-דָן, חֻשִׁים.
23 And the sons of Dan: Hushim.
כד  וּבְנֵי, נַפְתָּלִי--יַחְצְאֵל וְגוּנִי, וְיֵצֶר וְשִׁלֵּם.
24 And the sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, and Guni, and Jezer, and Shillem.

I'm not an expert, but many of these names simply don't sound like anything similar to Hebrew.  None of the classical commentators seemed to try and explain all of these names. Hartom-Kasuto tries to find meanings for all of the names. For some it finds an Aramaic or Arabic root for the name. For others (Kehat, Yov Shimron, Sered,Shoni Etzbon,  Areli, Ehi. Muppim, Huppim and Ard) he states that there are no known (or reasonable) explanations for these names. This is actually more problematic for me – because I would assume that if these names had meanings in other ancient Semitic languages, Kasuto would be able to figure them out.

Regardless I am left with the conclusion that the children of Jacob, did not speak Hebrew – or at the very least let their wives choose the names of the kids.

Note: I'm having trouble with the formatting of this post, and I would be thankful if anyone knows how to fix it!

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