Cognate Parallels Vs Semantic Parallels

What follows is really a methodological question with a long introduction.
I think it rational to question the nature of the significance of the many cognate parallel word pairs and even triplets between Biblical Hebrew and Ugaritic that Dahood gathered. I even think it rational, in individual cases, to question their very existence. But I think it irrational to think that the phenomena is without at least some significance.
A fairly large set of similar parallel cognate word pairs between Akkadian and Biblical Hebrew also exists. But there are also rather obvious semantic parallel word pairings. Akkadian adû // râšu as a parallel to Hebrew חדה // שמח in Jeremiah 31:13 may be a case in point. adû and חדה are both cognate and have approximately the same semantic ranges. Râšu and שמח are not cognate but share overlapping semantic ranges each with the other and with adû and חדה. Tawil, 379, explains the diverging semantic development of Hebrew שמח and its Akkadian cognate šamāu, “in Akk. ‘grow > flourish > prosper > be proud’; in Heb. ‘be high > shine forth > be happy.’” On the question of the semantic equivalence of Akkadian adû and râšu, consult STC 2 op l 57 r. ii 21ff (CAD R, 209),
LI = râš[û]
LI = nag[û]
LI = id[û]
Dahood (1972), 354 (#550), documented an apparent relationship between Hebrew חדה // שמח in Jeremiah 31:13 and Ugarit *šm // *dw in KTU 1:3 V:21-22 and possibly KTU 1:18 I:8-9 (the text is broken).
Let’s look at an Akkadian example from BMS 6:97-132, one of the witnesses to Meyer’s Shamash #1. Line 129 reads,
šamû lidūka eretim lirīšk[a]
May the heavens rejoice in you [Shamash], may the earth be jubilant in you.
In the Jeremiah passage, YHWH “will gladden them (נחמתים) and cheer them (שמחתים).” “Them” refers to YHWH’s people. In contrast, in line 129 of the prayer to Shamash it is the heavens and the earth that rejoice and are jubilant in Shamash. But the heavens and the earth compromise all that exists. While not part of the context of Jeremiah 31:13 specifically, in Akkadian, as well as Ugaritic, Phoenician (KAI 27:13 for example), and Aramaic, the juxtaposition of the cognates for “heavens” and “earth” is common in Biblical Hebrew. It is interesting that non-Semitic languages also juxtapose “heaven(s)” and “earth” but this fact may not be to the point I want to make here.
A couple of methodological questions with introduction and postscript: Assuming that our desire is to show some kind of cultural interaction between those who spoke and wrote in Hebrew and those spoke and wrote in the various dialects of Akkadian (or Ugaritic or anything else), how much methodological control do we lose at the sentence or a few sentences level when we venture beyond cognates? On the other hand, in the light of semantic development within the individual languages, do (some) cognate markers actually provide only the perception of methodological control without providing actual methodological control? For larger blocks, like flood stories and historical accounts, their many common markers seem more or less unproblematic; small blocks of material with few markers or even possible false markers certainly have their methodological problems.

Dahood, Mitchell, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” RSP I (1972), 71-382
Dahood, Mitchell, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” RSP II (1975), 1-39
Mayer, Werner, Untersuchungen zur Formensprache der Babylonischen „Gebetsbeschwörungen”, Studia Poul: Series Maior, 5; Rome: Biblical Institure Press, 1976
Tawil, Hayim ben Yosef, An Akkadian Lexical Companion For Biblical Hebrew: Etymological-Semantic and Idiomatic Equivalents with Supplement on Biblical Aramaic, Jersey City, NJ: KTAV, 2009

3 thoughts on “Cognate Parallels Vs Semantic Parallels”

  1. I think the heaven and earth example is germane, it shows that some word pairs are “natural” in the sense that many humans will tend to make them regardless of linguistic or cultural connection or distance.
    This means that “to show some kind of cultural interaction” one would have to first demonstrate that no other culture uses a similar pair.

  2. Tim,
    You are correct. Negative markers are as important as positive ones. Parallel usage where little or no cultural interaction is otherwise documented can be, but need not be, a negative marker. In attempting to take “heaven” and “earth” out of play, I was trying to avoid getting into a discussion of structuralism (or something like it) and focus strictly on the cognitive/semantic issue.

  3. Yes! Alleged cognates in themselves mean little without establishing some overall context and pattern within a group of them, which is what many scholars have learned to seek out. Even then however, we run the risk of mistaking features that can’t have independently arisen twice with features that are commonplace and therefore meaningless as proof, as Tim points out.
    This is why ‘proving’ cognates as real and not imagined takes an exceeding amount of effort, requiring that we draw in as many pertinent linguistic and even non-linguistic facts to substantiate our argument. The more the better. Linguistics is tricky, complicated business but a neverending enjoyment for bookworms.

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