The Value of Egyptian Aramaic for Biblical Studies by Collin Cornell

June 23, 2022

The Value of Egyptian Aramaic for Biblical Studies

Collin Cornell

Collin Cornell is Visiting Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies for the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN.


Abstract: Biblical Aramaic accounts for a small fraction within the two-testament Christian Bible. Studying it would seem therefore to present a modest value for biblical studies, and Egyptian Aramaic, a nonbiblical counterpart from the same historical era, even more so. The present article argues, however, that comparing Egyptian Aramaic with biblical texts sharpens understanding of the Bible’s distinctive theological profile. It demonstrates the value of Egyptian Aramaic through two comparative case studies: the first is lexically-focused and traces the contrast between “former” (as in, “former times”; Hebrew ראשון//Aramaic √קדם) and “latter” in Haggai and in several Aramaic letters from the Egyptian island of Elephantine.  The second is more genre-focused and engages with the transmission of royal traditions, especially promissory oracles to the king, in post-monarchic texts: namely, biblical royal psalms and the Egyptian Aramaic Papyrus Amherst 63.

Keywords: Egyptian Aramaic; early Judaism; Persian Period; Achaemenid; Elephantine; Haggai; royal psalms; Papyrus Amherst 63

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