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Shining a light on להוא in Judean Aramaic : Evidences from Achaemenid Imperial Aramaic

Dr. Ohad Cohen (University of Haifa)


The origin of the third person להוה/א in Biblical and Qumran Aramaic has to date not been satisfactorily explained. The unexpected change of the third person prefix y- with l- stands at the heart of the ongoing debate regarding this form. Several explanations have been proposed to this phenomenon: many scholars agree that the initial motivation behind this form is the taboo on the writing of the Tetragrammaton (e.g. Bauer-Leander; Kutscher); others base their interpretation on observations from remote Aramaic dialects such as Late Babylonian Aramaic (5th CE) or the ancient dialect from Zincirli (10th BCE), in which the prefix l- systematically replaced y- (e.g. Bauer-Leander; Kutscher; Fassberg; Rubin). Nonetheless, there is no consensus concerning the origin of this form. The goal of the current presentation is to provide a new observation on this phenomenon based on contemporaneous evidence from the same geographical expanse. In my analysis I compare two corpora: ostraca from the closest neighboring province of Judea, namely Idumea, and texts from the Judean Elephantine community in south Egypt. These sources are written in Imperial Aramaic and contain a long list of personal names that reflect different ethnic situations – the exclusivity of Canaanite Judean personal names in Elephantine in contrast with the melting pot of Canaanite dialects that result in a variety of Canaanite names in Idumea. The comparison between these corpora shows that the alternation between l- and y- was prevalent in the Canaanite dialects of the southern part of Palestine during the Persian period due to the increase in the predicative use of the infinitive construct liqtol, especially as the substitute of the third person yiqtol. At the same time, no such alternation was available at Elephantine. Taken together, the data highlight the impact of the synchronic language contact on the l-/y- alternation in Judea, and suggest not only a cultural-religious but mainly a complex Cannanite socio-linguistic motivation for this alternation.

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