words is in the language spoken before the Tower of Babel? 20
Are cases where the Hebrew word is cognate with an Indo-European word or a word from some other language family
any indication of that word coming from the language spoken
before the Tower of Babel? It may be significant that ‘camel’,
‘horse’, ‘lion’, and ‘ship’ first occur later in the book of
Genesis (12: 16; 47: 17; 49: 9, 13 respectively), so clearly they
too are all ‘early words’.
Let us now look at nine examples of possible ‘cultural
borrowing’. Most are from one language family to another.
The items listed below are grouped according to language
families with which the examples can be compared.
A. Semitic and Indo-European cognates
There are three examples of words being borrowed from
the Indo-European family or of the Hebrew word being
borrowed into the Indo-European family.
The common Hebrew term for ‘ship’ is oniyyāh, cognate
with Ugaritic any, and Egyptian inaya all of which may
be traced to a proto-Indo-European *nahw ‘to float’, ‘to
sail’ which in turn occasioned Greek naus, Latin navis,
and Sanskrit náuṣ. 21 The common Akkadian term for ‘ship’
eleppu is clearly different (figure 2).
Hebrew has a number of different words for ‘gold’. 22 One
of the less common terms ḥār ṣ is used in Psalm 68: 14;
Proverbs 3: 14; 8: 10–19; 16: 16, and Zechariah 9: 3. It is
cognate with Akkadian ḫurāṣu and Ugaritic ḫrṣ and would
seem to have been borrowed by several Indo-European
languages, e.g. Mycenaean Greek kuruso and Greek chruso.
In Hittite ḫarašu came to mean ‘bronze’.
Sumerian shows a different word in guškin which may be
related to Armenian (v)oski and Finnish vaski (in this case =
‘copper’) (figure 3). 23
There are a number of different Hebrew words for ‘lion’
(Panthera leo), but the one selected here for discussion is
lābiy, perhaps more exactly ‘lioness’ 24, which is cognate
with Egyptian rw(b), Ugaritic lbu, and Akkadian labbu. The
Indo-European terms illustrated by Hittite walwa, Mycenaean
Greek rewopi, Greek leōn, and Latin leo may be related to
Hebrew lābiy. However the common Akkadian term nēšu,
the Sumerian urmaḫ, and Sanskrit simha are not related to
the above or to each other. 25
It is worth noting that in Old Testament times lions were
not confined as at the present to Africa and India. Both
Samson and David encountered them in Israel (Judges 14: 5
and 1 Samuel 17: 34 respectively) where the last lion was
probably killed (near Megiddo) during the Crusades in the
13th century (figure 4). 26
B. Semitic, Indo-European and even wider cognates
There are examples of cognates extending beyond the
Semitic and Indo-European families, two perhaps into the
languages of the Caucasus and one into the Afro-Asiatic
The Hebrew term sûs for ‘horse’ (Equus caballus) is
cognate with Akkadian sisû and Egyptian śśm.t. But the
cognates extend wider too into the Indo-European language
family with the consonant -s- being preserved in Luwian
ásùwa, Lycian esbe, Avestan aspā, and Sanskrit áśvā. It is
generally proposed that all these forms are derived from the
Proto IE *nahw Lat. navis
Akk. un;tu / eleppu
* Ps.68: 14; Pr.3: 14; 8: 10-19; 16: 16; Zec.9: 3.
Figure 2. Words for ‘ship’ in languages of ancient and modern Europe
Figure 3. Words for ‘gold’ in languages of ancient and modern Europe