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Old Testament studies - Egyptian loan words in the Pentateuch

The purpose of these pages is to explore various Old Testament words showing clear signs of having been borrowed from Egyptian. This indicates that the level of contact between the two cultures was strong at one stage in history, and is particularly revealing if the Old Testament usage is confined to some books rather than others.

There are two basic situations to be considered:

  1. A common Semitic word shared amongst many family members,
  2. A word specifically borrowed from one language to another at some stage.
It seems probable that the first of these would show a fairly consistent use over the whole Old Testament, whereas the second may well show preferential use at one point in history rather than another, depending on the degree an nature of contact between the two cultures. Examples of both may be found in the companion pages.

The Pentateuch, and especially the book of Exodus, contains a considerable number of words showing evidence of borrowing from Egyptian uses. Where these words are not common Semitic ones (part of the underlying foundation of the whole language family), this indicates a close level of cultural contact between the Israelites and Egypt. Where in addition these words are preferentially used in one part of the Old Testament, rather than being spread roughly evenly throughout the whole, this strongly suggests authorship at a time when contact was close. The natural vocabulary of the authors was to include such words at such times, whereas authors at other times chose a different set of words. This can be useful at providing some tentative guidelines for dating portions of the Old Testament.

The diagram below shows when the words included in this study were prevalent in Egyptian texts.

Dating of Egyptian words included

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