Dictionary of the North-West Semitic Inscriptions (Handbook of Oriental Studies 1/21, 2 volumes)

Written by J. Hoftijzer and K. Jongeling Reviewed By Richard S. Hess

For the student of the Hebrew Bible, there are few contemporary Hebrew writings to place the Bible in its literary context. This renders difficult the interpretation of thousands of words that occur only once or twice in the Bible. While materials such as the Ugaritic texts and the Dead Sea Scrolls have shed light on many lexical questions, the interpreter must reach out into the field of North-West Semitic languages, of which Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic are a part. Until now, the most important dictionary to fill that gap appeared in French some 30 years ago, the Dictionnaire des inscriptions sémitiques de l’ouest by Jean Hoftijzer. For the English reader nothing comparable existed, nor was there a convenient dictionary for reading the many inscriptions that have been published since the early 1960s.

This gap has now been filled with a new edition of the French work, published in English. This work deals only with the epigraphic texts, omitting both the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls. It includes the variety of Canaanite (e.g. Hebrew, Phoenician, Punic, Moabite and Ammonite) and Aramean (Old Aram., Official Aram., Jewish Aram., Nabatean, Palmyrenean, etc.) dialects, as well as those whose classification has been disputed (Samalian and Deir Alla). The entries are arranged alphabetically, with verbs listed according to their roots of three consonants, and nouns and adjectives appearing under their masculine singular absolute form. Similar forms spelled differently in different dialects result in a great deal of cross-referencing. Proper names do not appear although interpretations of forms may include proper names. Under each entry, occurrences, interpretations and analyses of forms occur. However, the dialects are divided for each entry. Significant phrases and constructions are cited and translated. Unlike the French edition, no Hebrew script appears. All entries appear in transliteration.

Four forms of ‘dwd’ are listed, including one alternative spelling of ‘dd’, a Palmyrenean word for ‘cauldron’, Official Aramaic ‘friend’, and the suffixed form, ‘dwdh’, from the Moabite stele. This latter is discussed with references to 29 different interpreters who propose three ‘possible’ interpretations (title, noun denoting a deity, divine name) and four ‘less probable’ ones (personal name, defeat, cultic object, champion). Although forms from the recently discovered Tel Dan stele did not make it into the dictionary, the first entry for ‘asherah’, with its usage as a sanctuary or cult symbol, includes citations and bibliographic discussion of the Kuntillet Ajrud inscriptions. The secondary literature appears to go as far as the late 1980s or early 1990s.

The work concludes with a list of Porten’s new readings of Egyptian Aramaic papyri and a discussion and glossary of North-West Semitic texts in Egyptian script. Although this is a technical work, the study of theological terms and concepts in the Hebrew OT will be enriched by reference to the larger context in which they occur. The comprehensive nature of this work, bringing together a collection of the vocabulary of diverse texts into a single convenient source, makes the dictionary a useful reference tool for theological libraries.

Richard S. Hess

Denver Seminary, Denver