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Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew

November 5, 2011

One of the areas of burgeoning course study in Near Eastern Studies today is that of AkkadianAssyro-Babylonian, the major language of the Middle East from 2800 BCE to the 8th century BCE, when it was gradually replaced with Aramaic. Both Akkadian and Aramaic functioned as languages of widespread communication. Akkadian literature includes mythology, philosophy, medicine, astronomy and mathematics among other areas. Increasing awareness of Akkadian as a literature should help us to view Hebrew from the perspective of its larger language family. Hebrew is significant to us for its role in Judaism, as a continuing vehicle of cutural expression, and now as the language of the nation of Israel; while Akkadian has been extinct for millenia. Neo-Aramaic, also called Syriac, is extant today as the language of several minority groups in the Middle East.

Here is a review of a recent publication on Akkadian and its influence on Hebrew,

Tawil, Hayim. An Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew: Etymological-Semantic and Idiomatic Equivalents with Supplement on Biblical Aramaic

As the oldest attested Semitic language and the only well-attested member of the Eastern branch of the Semitic family tree, Akkadian is clearly important for the comparative study of the Semitic languages. Add to this the fact that Akkadian has a long and diverse literary tradition that has clearly had some influence on biblical literature, and it is evident why Akkadian is important for the study of Biblical Hebrew. The volume under review by Hayim Tawil is focused specifically on the comparison of Biblical Hebrew/Aramaic and Akkadian, using cognates and semantic/idiomatic parallels. Since the study of Akkadian has become quite widespread among biblical scholars—at the expense of Arabic, Ethiopic, and even Aramaic—there will surely be an audience for this book in the field.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2011 7:03 am

    Assyro-Babylonian… was gradually replaced with Aramaic.

    Any idea how this happened? And how gradual up to the “8th century BCE”?

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 6, 2011 11:49 am

    Akkadian was written in cuneiform, and Aramaic in an alphabet. As the Assyrian empire expanded in the 9th to 6th centuries BCE, (Neo Assyrian Empire) Aramaic was required as a language of administration along with Akkadian. There was a period of bilingualism during the Neo Assyrian and Neo Babylonian empires, with Aramaic more commonly spoken and written but Akkadian kept as an elite language.

    Then the Persian empire used Aramaic as the major language, but Akkadian cuneiform was still used by a minority up until the first century AD, when it died out completely.

    Duane Smith of Abnormal Interests and Alan Lenzi would be the guys to go to for more information on the extent to which the characteristics of cuneiform literacy were significant in its demise.

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 6, 2011 1:38 pm

    I want to add that writing system characteristic is not currently thought to be a major reason for the replacement of Akkadian with Aramaic. I would like to take this up further with interaction from Duane Smith. I will try to contact him on this topic soon.


  1. Literacy and writing system « BLT
  2. Another review of An Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew « BLT

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