Semitic Programme

The following courses will be given within the Semitic programme:

Introduction to Comparative Semitic (9.30 - 11.00)

Agustinus Gianto (Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome)

This introductory course presents the following topics:

  • The historical-geographical distribution of the Semitic languages within the Afro-Asiatic family of languages.
  • The phonology and morphology of Proto-Semitic and their major developments in the main languages such as Akkadian, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Ethiopic.
  • The basic mechanisms of language change, i.e., reanalysis, analogy, and language contact.
  • An outline of the development of prefix conjugation and definiteness marking in Semitic.
Sample passages will be read and discussed in class. No specific background in Semitic languages is required. Handouts and specific bibliographical information will be distributed during the course.

Introductory reading  
J. Huehnergard, “Afro-Asiatic” in R. D. Woodard (ed.), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World’s Ancient Languages (Cambridge 2004) 138-159.


Introduction to Ugaritic (11.30 - 13.00)

Agustinus Gianto (Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome)

The indigenous language of Ugarit, a city-state on the northern Syrian coast that flourished in the second millennium BCE, is the oldest independently documented language in the Northwest Semitic group and has a special relevance for the historical-comparative study of the Semitic languages. Its rich literature also provides important context for the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.

Elements of Ugaritic grammar and vocabulary will be presented such that by the end of the course the student will have a working knowledge for further philological studies of the Northwest Semitic languages. The student will also, among other things, enjoy reading the following poetic passage in the original language while entertaining alternative renderings: "I have a word to tell you, a story to recount to you: the tree's word and the stone's charm, the heavens' whisper to the earth, the deep ocean's to the stars. I understand the lightning which the heavens are not capable of knowing, the word which mankind does not seem to know, and the earth's crowd cannot understand. Come and I will reveal it in the midst of my mountain, the divine Zaphon, in the holy place, the mountain of my inheritance, in the beautiful place, the hill of my might!" (Baal's message to Anat, KTU 1.3:III:21-28).

This course requires no previous background in Semitic language. For a brief presentation of Ugaritic, see A. Gianto, “Ugaritisch” in H. Gzella (ed.) Sprachen aus der Welt des Alten Testaments [Darmstadt 2009] 28-47. Notes of Ugaritic grammar with exercises and annotated texts prepared by the instructor will be available.

Introductory bibliography

   P. Bordreuil – D. Pardee, A Manual of Ugaritic ( Winona Lake, Indiana 2009). This manual contains an outline of Ugaritic grammar, hand copies, fity-five texts of various genres, translated and analyzed, and glossary.
   KTU / CAT = M. Dietrich – O. Loretz – J. Sanmartín, The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani and Other Places (Münster 1995); this is the second, enlarged edition of Die keilalphabetischen Texte aus Ugarit (AOAT 24/1; Neukirchen-Vluyn 1976). Its numbering system has been widely accepted.
   G. del Olmo Lete – J. Sanmartín, Diccionario de la lengua ugarítica, vol. I-II (Sabadel 1996, 2000) = A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition, transl. by W.G.E. Watson, vol. I-II (HdO I/67; Leiden 2004).
   S. B. Parker (ed.), Ugaritic Narrative Poetry (Scholars 1997). The texts are arranged in poetic lines with facing translation and brief explanatory notes by a team of scholars.
   W. G. E. Watson – N. Wyatt (eds.), Handbook of Ugaritic Studies (HdO I/39; Leiden 1999). This 892-page book provides a serious overview of Ugarit's history, languages, literature, religion, economy and society.


Introduction to Old Aramaic (14.00 - 15.30)

Holger Gzella (Leiden)

With an uninterrupted history of 3,000 years, Aramaic is the Semitic language group with the longest continuous written attestation. The first textual witnesses, international treaties and royal inscriptions, date back to the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E. and are commonly subsumed under the label “Old Aramaic”. They were composed shortly after various Aramaean tribes had settled down in Syria and elsewhere in the Fertile Crescent, where they established a number of local kingdoms, soon to engage with their neighbours and the newly- emerging Neo-Assyrian Empire. Hence, the material reflects a considerable amount of cultural interaction from the very beginning.

This course will provide an introduction to the language of these inscriptions and their cultural background. At the same time, it is meant to serve as an introduction to Aramaic in general. No prior knowledge of any Semitic language is mandatory. By the end of this course, participants will have a basic understanding of the grammar of Old Aramaic and thus be able to learn other varieties of this group, such as Official Aramaic, Biblical Aramaic, Qumran Aramaic, Syriac etc. more easily.

Introductory bibliography
    K. Beyer, The Aramaic Language. Its Distribution and Subdivision, Göttingen 1986.
    R. Degen, Altaramäische Grammatik der Inschriften des 10.–8. Jh. v.Chr., Wiesbaden 1969.
    J.A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire, 2nd ed. Rome 1995.
    A. Gianto, “Lost and Found in the Grammar of First-Millennium Aramaic”, in: H. Gzella and M.L. Folmer (eds.), Aramaic in its Historical and Linguistic Setting, Wiesbaden 2008, 11–25.
    J. Hoftijzer and K. Jongeling, Dictionary of the North–West Semitic Inscriptions, 2 vols., Leiden 1995.


In the Shadow of the Hebrew Bible: Transjordanian Languages (16.00 - 17.30)

Holger Gzella (Leiden)

Syria-Palestine was a complex linguistic area in the first half of the first millennium BCE: Hebrew, Aramaic and Phoenician were not the only idioms in use in those days. East of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, several other Semitic-speaking civilizations took shape in the Early Iron Age, each with its own official language, ruling dynasty, and national god. The Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites were closely linked to the history of Ancient Israel and occupy an important place in biblical historiography. Nonetheless, they are rarely studied in their own right. It is the purpose of this course to provide a brief introduction to these peoples in light of the epigraphic record. We will also discuss the evolution of the alphabetic script, core features of the Northwest Semitic languages, and aspects of the cultural history of Syria-Palestine in Antiquity.

No previous knowledge of any Semitic language is required, but those familiar with, e.g., Hebrew and/or Aramaic will have a chance to further contextualize their understanding of Northwest Semitic grammar. By the end of this course, participants will also have some basic experience with Semitic epigraphy.

Introductory bibliography

   K. Beyer, “Die Sprachen Transjordaniens”, in: H. Gzella (ed.), Sprachen aus der Welt des Alten Testaments, Darmstadt 2009, 89–103.
   D.V. Edelman (ed.), Edom and Seir in History and Tradition, Atlanta 1995.
   W.R. Garr, Dialect Geography of Syria-Palestine 1000–586 B.C.E., Philadelphia 1985.
   E. Gass, Die Moabite. Geschichte und Kultur eines ostjordanischen Volkes im 1. Jahrtausend v.Chr., Wiesbaden 2009.
   B. Macdonald and R.W. Younker (eds.), Ancient Ammon, Leiden 1999.
   S.B. Parker, “Ammonite, Edomite, and Moabite”, in: J. Kaltner and S.L. McKenzie (eds.), Beyond Babel. A Handbook for Biblical Hebrew and Related Languages, Leiden 2002, 43–60.
   I.-S.A. Yun, “The Transjordanian Languages During the Iron Age II”, Ugarit-Forschungen 37 (2005) 741–766.