Eskhult, Mats, “The Importance of Loanwords for Dating Biblical Hebrew Texts.” Pages 8-23 in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology Edited by Ian Young. London: T&T Clark, 2003.

Some scholars have argued that Biblical Hebrew was never a fully spoken language, but was an artificial literary language created by post-exilic scribes. For instance, Ullendorff’s paper “Is Biblical Hebrew a Language?” BSOAS 34 (1971): 241-55, Knauf’s “War ‘Biblisch-Hebräisch’ eine Sprache?” ZAH 3 (1990): 11-23, and North’s “Could Hebrew Have Been A Cultic Esperanto?” ZAH 12: 202-17. In this article, Eskhult argues that if BH is an artificial language created only in post-exilic times, then loanwords ought to be fairly equally distributed throughout the various books and genres contained in the Bible. 

The closeness of Hebrew and Aramaic (see my earlier summary of Hurvitz) makes it difficult to estimate when Hebrew picked up a certain Aramaic usage. Certainly Aramaic influence increased in the post-exilic period so that many Aramaisms are indicative of a late date, but they cannot always be so clearly distinguished from earlier influences. However, words borrowed from languages further from Hebrew, such as Akkadian, Persian, and Egyptian, are easier to discern as foreign. Akkadian is so widely attested that it is relatively simple to determine during what period a word was in use, and correspondingly, when it may have passed into Hebrew. Persian words would most likely only have been introduced during the Achaemenid era. Egyptian loanwords are fewer, and it is more difficult to determine when they would have entered.

Esther, Daniel, and Ezra-Nehemiah all overflow with Persian and late-Akkadian loanwords such as: אחשדרפנים (‘satraps’, Esth 3:12; 8:9; 9:3), שרביט (‘sceptre’, Esth 4:11; 5:2; 8:4), and פתבג (‘delicacies’, Dan 1:5, 8, 13, 15, 16; 11:26). While these words may be used to enhance the setting of these books in the Babylonian and Persian court, the Chronicler also uses Persian and Akkadian loanwords (which have entered Hebrew through Aramaic) in places where they are out of place. For instance, 1 Chr 28:11 refers to a treasure chamber as a גנזך (Persian ganza + ending -k) rather than the common Hebrew אוצר. Thus the Chronicler reveals his setting in the Persian period, even when describing the days of David, Solomon, and Hezekiah.    

Eskhult also concludes that Akkadian and Egyptian loanwords tend to occur in appropriate stories (ie with an Egyptian or Akkadian setting). For instance, the Egyptian loanword חרטם (‘magician’, Gen 41:8, 24; Ex 7:11, 22; 8:3, 14, 15; 9:11, < ḥr[y]-tp, ‘chief’) occurs appropriately in Egyptian settings. Thus, the Akkadian, Egyptian, and Persian loanwords seem to follow the pattern of the political history described by the biblical texts. It is difficult to explain such a connection if the language was artificial and late. Further, Perisan loanwords abound within the books that are obviously late, but do not appear at all in the Pentateuch.

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6 Comments on “Eskhult, Mats, “The Importance of Loanwords for Dating Biblical Hebrew Texts.” Pages 8-23 in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology Edited by Ian Young. London: T&T Clark, 2003.”


  1. [...] I have been reading a blog that has been summarizing some articles on dating the OT using Biblical Hebrew (BH). I have already linked to one summary on the use of Aramaisms to date BH and the OT books. The main thrust of that aritcle is that usually, Aramaisms indicated a late date but that is not necessarily true. Exodus has Aramaisms that actually seem to show that the book is older. In this article, Eskhult demonstrates that from loanwords, one can get an idea of the date of the book. Bibical Hebrew will use Egyptian terms, or Akkadian terms, or Perisan terms (as examples). These terms seem to fit the political age that the text indicates. Persian terms occur heavily in books like Daniel, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. But there are no Persian words in the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). I find this facinating and wish I had the $$$ to get these journals to read these articles. I find them facinating. I hope you enjoy reading this summary. Eskhult, Mats, “The Importance of Loanwords for Dating Biblical Hebrew Texts.” Pages 8-23 in Bib… [...]

  2. Andrew Compton Says:

    Thanks, Peter, for sharing all these summaries. I appreciate that I can get the gist of many of these excellent articles before taking the time to read through them . . . especially when I’ve got a stack of my own to slog through. I think I’ll follow your lead about summarizing articles that I’ve read. So far I found that it really helps the argument to sink in better when I’m forced to boil it down.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. Peter Bekins Says:

    Andrew, you hit the nail on the head. I am really summarizing these for myself. It takes me about an hour (after I’ve already read the article), which seems like a waste of time when I have so much to read, but it really helps me process the argument and memorize the examples. I’m thinking I may use this as a teaching tool in the future.

    I am very happy to be able to share with others as well, just please don’t rely solely on my summaries. I hope some people will actually be interested enough to go check these out for themselves.


  4. [...] linked to בלשנות (balshanut), which is a biblical linguistics blog, on the topic of loan words in the Hebrew Bible.  There the claim is made that “Akkadian, Egyptian, and Persian loanwords seem to follow the [...]


  5. [...] linked to בלשנות (balshanut), which is a biblical linguistics blog, on the topic of loan words in the Hebrew Bible.  There the claim is made that: Some scholars have argued that Biblical Hebrew was never a [...]


  6. [...] linked to בלשנות (balshanut), which is a biblical linguistics blog, on the topic of loan words in the Hebrew Bible.  There the claim is made that: Some scholars have argued that Biblical Hebrew was never a [...]


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