Yehudit (Judith)


Genesis 26:34 names her as the wife of Esav! O yes indeed. But of course, why would the name Yehudah (Judah), or its feminine equivalent Yehudit (Judith), not have been in use long before the son of Ya'akov (Jacob) was given the name. It surprises at first, but on reflection it is not an anachronism at all.

It is nevertheless the first reference in the Tanach to what will eventually become the Jews, and I confess I like the discovery that this first mention acknowledges the Jewess before the Jew.


And then there is Yehudit as the true name of the language of the Bible.

2 Kings 18:26 reads: "Then said Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, unto Rab-shakeh: 'Speak, I pray thee, to thy servants in the Aramean language; for we understand it; and speak not with us in the Jews' language, in the ears of the people that are on the wall.'

is the Mechon-Mamre translation, the work of orthodox contemporary Jews, who should know better than to render Yehudit (יְהוּדִית) as "this Jews' language" (and that leaves aside the mis-pronounced names, all of which are rendered in King James English). New International Version prefers "Hebrew", which is still not what the text gives; neither "Ivrit" (עִברִית), which would be today's word, nor any of the time that could reasonably construe "Hebrew"; which name has never been used by the Hebrews anyway - the Tanach only ever uses it when others are speaking about the Beney Yisra-El. No, the text definitely says "וְאַל-תְּדַבֵּר עִמָּנוּ, יְהוּדִית - ve al tedaber imanu Yehudit". The passage is taking place during the reign of King Chizki-Yahu (Hezekiah), in the 7th century BCE; can we conclude from this passage that the language of his day was known universally as Yehudit? And if so, should we stop calling it Hebrew and start using Yehudit? We need more evidence before we can do that.

And more evidence we do indeed have; unequivocal evidence at that. In the final chapter of Nehemiah, belonging to the middle and end of the 5th century BCE, Nechem-Yah notes that "In those days also saw I the Yehudim that had married women of Ashdod, of Amon, and of Mo-Av" (13:23), and "their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak Yehudit - ve eynam makirim ledaber Yehudit - וְאֵינָם מַכִּירִים, לְדַבֵּר יְהוּדִית, but according to the language of each people" (13:24).

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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