My journey to Ethiopia was actually two journeys. I’ve already written about one, and the one I have yet to write about actually began on the Ethiopian Airlines jet that took me to Addis Ababa.
As soon as I boarded that jet, every time I would meet an Ethiopian, I would ask her (the stewardesses were all women) what her name meant. I did this consistently through the end of my travels. In this sense, my journey began with Mulubebet. As soon as she told me what her name meant, I knew that my Ethiopian language journey would be an interesting one.
Mulubebet means “full in the house,” and in Hebrew it would be Malebabayith. Many, if not most, Ethiopian names have some sort of Hebrew-like root. Take the late emperor, Haile Salassie. Haile means “strength” – as in the Hebrew esheth Hayil or “woman of valor.” Salassie means, of course, “trinity.”
I had already known that Addis Ababa means “new flower” in Amharic, and when I told the man sitting across from me (on the plane) that the first word Addis was clearly related to Hebrew hadash, and had lost the initial “H” sound (due to Amharic lacking any equivalent), the man enthusiastically agreed. “In Tigrinya (a related, more conservative, Ethiopian language) it’s hadish,” he said. As for the second word, Ababa, it also has a Hebrew equivalent (Song of Songs 6:11) Ibbe haNahal – “blossoms/sprouts of the brook.”
The Hebrew word for the season of spring is Aviv, which is obviously related to the aforementioned word for “blossom/sprouts.” In Biblical times, this was probably pronounced Abheebh, with a soft “b” as we find in Spanish – and in Amharic. The City of Tel Aviv partially shares its name with the City of Addis Ababa.
One popular Ethiopian name, Hiwot, means life. At the end of my stay in Addis Ababa, I visited a hospital by the name of Hiwot Ababa. It means “The Flower of Life.” In Hebrew, “life” is hayim. In Arabic, it’s hayat. In ancient times, some Semitic languages experienced a shift from w‘s to y‘s in many words. For the most part, Arabic escaped this fate, but Hebrew was greatly effected. The Biblical Hawa (“Eve” as in “Adam and Eve”) predates this shift. Today, some Hebrew speakers will name their daughter Hawa (pronouncing it according to the Ashkenazic tradition: Khava) and their son “Hayim.” They’re unlikely to realize that one version is an archaic form, while the other is a modern one, but that they essentially mean the same thing.
Another interesting Amharic word I heard is the word for cross (as in the symbol of Christianity). It’s “mesqʔele.” It bears no resemblance to the Hebrew word for cross: Tselabh. Most people would leave it at that. However, it’s not that simple; this Amharic word is essentially the same as the Hebrew word for weight (as in scales), which is “Mishqal.” A cross does look like a scale for weight measurement.
Israeli tourists, in Ethiopia, commented how similar Amharic is to Hebrew. There are a few common words that are obviously similar, or the same, such as the word bet, whose Hebrew version, bayith, also means house. The word bet is pretty much a catch-all for any structure, or office, in Amharic, and is very common. Toward the end of my visit, an old woman in Addis Ababa held out her hand to me and said imma miskena, which means “poor mother.” By coincidence, it’s exactly the same in modern Hebrew, imma (mother) having been borrowed from Aramaic (in Hebrew, the word is em), and miskena (poor) being original Hebrew. Hearing this, I couldn’t resist, and I gave her one Birr.
Though Amharic uses an entirely different alphabet than Hebrew, and it’s read from left to right, there is one similarity that struck me: It uses the Tiberian vocalization system!*
Granted, I’m exaggerating a bit here, but each Amharic base letter takes an appendage (or modifies its form in such a way) that indicates which vowel goes with the letter. In general, if the appendage is to the lower right (on the bottom), this means the vowel is a long “i” as in “keep.” If it’s on the upper right (on the top), then the vowel is “o.” If it’s in the middle, to the right, then it’s “oo” as in “zoo.” This should seem familiar to readers of Hebrew. As for the “ah” sound, it’s indicated with what looks like the addition of an Arabic alif into the letter (in other words, a vertical line). To illustrate, I’ll use the letter ቀ (a clicking unvoiced “k” sound followed immediately by a glottal stop):
As for the segol (the “eh” sound), it’s indicated by a larger appendage, which might be a simplification of three dots (which comprise the segol in Hebrew), as in:
Admittedly, it takes some imagination to see this pattern with other letters, but I don’t believe it’s coincidence either. Incidentally, the letter I used above is the same as Hebrew ק (qof) and it even retains the ancient form of this letter. Its ancient pronunciation is also preserved. It was interesting for me to hear people speaking, in everyday life, using the original/archaic pronunciation of this letter – or something very close to it. Most forms of both Hebrew and Arabic have lost it, replacing it with either a voiced “k” (כּ,ك), a hard “g” or a glottal stop.
The elements of Amharic, which are clearly of Semitic origin, do bear a strong resemblance to Hebrew, even more so than to Arabic. For example, in the previous post, I mentioned the ancient king of Kush, Tirhaka. We can more accurately spell it Tirhaqa. It contains the Hebrew root “RHQ,” which means “far” or “far away.” According to my Arabic dictionaries, Arabic doesn’t retain such a root at all, though the colloquial form ruh (go!) might possibly be derived from it. In contrast, Amharic has ruq for “far.” Since Amharic has no unvoiced h sound (h), it’s dropped; in Tigrinya (which more closely resembles the ancestral Semitic language Ge’ez), it’s rahuq.
Semitic languages do not often share the same words for colors. Presumably, the names of colors were derived from common items that had those colors. For example, the Hebrew word for “red”, adom, is derived from either adama (earth) or dam (blood) or both. The Arabic word, hamraʔ, presumably comes from an ancient word for wine. Hebrew probably derives its word for “white” from a word for “milk,” while Arabic derives its word for “white” from the word for “egg.” The Hebrew word for “green” (yaroq) comes from the word for vegetable.
What I found interesting about Amharic is that none of the names for colors bear any resemblance to those of other Semitic languages – except for one: Blue. The word is semayami, and it’s clearly derived from the word for “sky” (semay, which is essentially the same in Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic).
Whenever Ethiopia became Semitic, all the other colors were already known, but not blue. The color blue was not known to the ancients. I’ll quote Radiolab:
Gladstone conducted an exhaustive study of every color reference in The Odyssey and The Iliad. And he found something startling: No blue! Tim pays a visit to the New York Public Library, where a book of German philosophy from the late 19th Century helps reveal a pattern: across all cultures, words for colors appear in stages. And blue always comes last.
See also here and here. The lack of blue, among the ancients, presented a challenge for Orthodox Jews; the Torah calls for a “thread of tekheleth” to be worn on the corners of one’s garments. Though tekheleth is often translated as “blue,” the matter remains a mystery.
Be it as it may, the original inhabitants of Ethiopia apparently had no word for “blue.” By the time they did recognize blue, they were already speaking a Semitic tongue, and they dubbed it “sky-color.”
The Amharic word for black “ttʔəqʔir,” is interesting, because it distantly resembles the Hebrew word for black, “shahor.” This word also reminds me of the Hebrew word for “hair”, se’ar, and its Arabic equivalent, sha’r.
Another interesting similarity is the Amharic plural form, which often involves adding the suffix otch to the end of the noun. The feminine plural form, in Hebrew, involves adding the suffix oth. An anonymous commenter pointed out that “the feminine human plural in Arabic is ات- (/aat/) (e.g. نساء عربيات, “Arab women”; طبيبات ناجحيات, “successful doctors (f.)”). This is entirely analogous to the “oth” suffix in Hebrew.”
What about numbers? I think it’s fascinating that Amharic has (apparently) non-Semitic words for “one” and “two,” but from that point onward, it’s all Semitic – with the exception of “twenty,” and “thousand” (and “nine” is a bit far off too). Could it be that the original Ethiopians could only count to two, like the Pirahã tribe of Brazil? In that case, they might have used their words for “many,” and applied them to “twenty” and “thousand.” Here are the first few numerals in Amharic and, for reference, their Hebrew (feminine form) equivalents. Courtesy of Selamyihun, I’ve added the Tigrinya equivalents:
English Amharic Hebrew Tigrinya
one and ahat hade
two hulet shetayim kilite
three sost shalosh seleste
four arat arbaʕ arbaʕte
five amist hamesh hamushte
six sadist shesh shedushte
seven sebat shebhaʕ showʕate
eight simint shemoneh shomonte
nine zettʔeñ teshaʕ tisheʕate
ten asir ʕeser aserte
haya – twenty ʕesrim ?
meto – hundred meʔa ?
shi – thousand elef ?
The words for “twenty” and “thousand” bear no resemblance to any Semitic numerals that I’m aware of. Obviously I’m missing something, so any help, from expert linguists, would be appreciated.
Amharic seems to have taken the Semitic word for “three”, and used it for “thirty.” The same is true for “forty,” “fifty,” “sixty,” “seventy” and “eighty.” What does this mean? This hints at something interesting in Ethiopia’s past. One possibility is that earlier Ethiopians already spoke a somewhat Semitic language before the arrival of the Aksumites, but this language had no words for numerals past “twenty.” When the Aksumites arrived, they applied the new words for 3-8 and applied them to 30-80.
In Exodus 2:10 we read:
The child grew up and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter. He ended up being like a son to her, and she called him “Moshe,” and she said, “Because I extracted him from the water.”
The word for I extracted him, that is used here is “meshitihu.” It’s root would be “mesh,” with the other letters indicating first person, past tense and him as the subject. I’m not aware of any other instance of this root meaning extract in the Bible, or in rabbinical literature. The normal Hebrew word we use is Motsee. The blessing we say over bread is: “Blessed is He… who has brought forth bread from the Earth” – haMotsee lehem min ha’arets**. Was there a middle ground between the Semitic letters Sade (צ) and Shin (ש) in remote antiquity? If so, might it have sounded like English “ch” as in “change?”
The word for exit is “mochee” in Amharic. I find this intriguing.
On top of this ancient layer of kinship between Amharic and Hebrew, there is a more recent layer: The one that came on the wings of Christianity. Biblical names are popular among Ethiopian Christians, and some place names are based on the Bible.
Despite all these aforementioned connections with Semitic languages, I have reservations about calling Amharic fully Semitic. I’ll address this in a later post.
* This is interesting, because of Ethiopia’s historic close ties to Yemen, whose Jews had used the Babylonian vocalization system until very recently.
** The traditional pronunciation of the letter צ (sade), among Oriental Jews (and possibly in antiquity) is akin to the Arabic ص. But since Ethiopians pronounce it “ts” (as do Ashkenazic Jews and modern Israelis), this is how I’m transliterating it here, to avoid confusion. After all, it is the same letter.
Ancient Hebrew names had meanings didn’t they?
Methusila means “When He Dies It Shall Be Sent.”
M. lived 969 years.
God extended M.’s life so long because He wanted to give man an
oppertunity to repent.
Two weeks after M. died the Flood was sent.
Yes, they sure did. Unfortunately, the language has changed so much, since biblical times, that it’s often difficult to interpret those meanings. The study of other Semitic languages can help in this regard.
In Amharic “red” colour is also termed “demyie” related to “dem”, whihc means “blood”.
“Dem” in Amharic means blood and “Demye” means ” red”.
“Geen” is calld “Qitelle” or “Arenguadie”
“Qitel” means leaf or green leaf.
So “qitlie” is for green, having the color of a leaf.
Sorry, but which dialect of Amharic uses the words demye and qitelle? I’ve never used those words or heard them used before. Where do people talk like that?
Yes, you’re right. Good catch.
@jewamongyou, please delete my comments. Thank you.
It’s interesting to note that ISIS terrorists beheaded Ethiopean
captives in Lybia. That’s a long way from home.
Egypt will have to restore order to that region. They are the only
ones that can.
It’s sad to see some of the cruelest people on Earth murdering some of the gentlest people on Earth. If there’s a God, He’ll take vengeance.
The terrorist cancer is much more advanced then thought.
Plots have just been broken up in France and Italy. That’s a short
distance from Lybia.
The terrorist sleepers are everywhere. And numerious states have
terrorist training camps.
We presently have terrorist and criminal sympathsisers in power here.
While people are distracted by fraudulent newscasts from Marxist
shysters. Terrorist’s are protected by politically correct fair tales.
It’s simply Satan’s age old methodology of destroying while prentending
to be building.
A link to how Biblical Hebrew was (probably) pronounced:
I think the man is an amateur. It’s amazing what he’s done IMO. It’s also proven extremely helpful (to me) in figuring out the development of Aramaic toward Syriac.
Some university needs to pre-emptively declare it worthy of a doctorate and summon him to defend it.
Looks really impressive. When I have more time, I’ll look it over. Orthodox Jews are shackled, by their belief that ancient Hebrew was essentially the same as modern (liturgical) Hebrew, from investigating such things with an open mind. The Zohar (believed by most Orthodox Jews to be an ancient document) contains esoteric explanations for the masoretic vowel signs. Thus they’re blinded to the fact that the masoretic vowel signs were a late invention.
Linguists have known for some time that Hebrew and the other Semitic languages are part of the Afro-Asiatic group.
Yes, but not all similarities are equal. Also, it’s more dramatic encountering such similarities in a far-away land. I’ll quote the Jewish Encyclopedia:
While Ethiopic has many features in common with the other South-Semitic dialects (such, for example, as “broken” or internal plurals), it has preserved some features in common with certain members of the North-Semitic group (such as the “k” of the first person perfect of the verb). Such characteristics are important philologically; for coincidences in languages far removed from one another in locality are strong evidence of the survival of primitive features.
>> Askkenazi Jews consider Hebrew to be our “ancestral/sacred language,” and yet we hold Yiddish in much higher esteem than Arabic
Speak for yourself.
>> even though Arabic is much closer to Hebrew than Yiddish is
Yiddish is ==written in the Hebrew alphabet==. Arabic is not.
Actually Afula, I’m not speaking for myself; I have much higher regard for Arabic than for Yiddish, even though my own ancestors spoke Yiddish. But it’s pretty obvious that most Ashkenazic Jews don’t feel this way.
As for Yiddish using the Hebrew alphabet, while Arabic doesn’t, I’m not sure what your point is. Arabic can, and has, been written with the Hebrew alphabet, and Yiddish can be written with the Roman alphabet. The fact of the matter is that Yiddish isn’t even in the same language family as Hebrew, while Arabic is.
jewamongyou, I am glad that you have the mind and the time to address such linguistic issues. Sadly, everyone is not on your level nor will some people bother to do independent research or check things out because they’re still controlled and afraid to find out that they’ve been misinformed and that their cherished beliefs may not be as ancient or as correct as they thought. I came across this while explaining the connection to a Korean who didn’t know or even want to know that the Korean martial art of “Hapkido” and links to the Japanese martial art of “Aikido,” which when written in the tradition Chinese once commonly used by Koreans is written exactly the same as the Japanese when they’re using Chinese to write this word. My point is that whether it relates to religion, martial arts, or language, many people are stuck in the belief that before their ethnic group there was nothing, and that what their culture is unique and original with no connection to anything (which others may believe preceded it).
Hi there. I stumbled on your site purely by accident. I am from Ethiopia and some time ago, I was listening to a Jewish rabbi preaching on you tube and heard him using so many words that sound (spelled entirely different) the same as amharic/ ge’ez and mean the same thing and I was like… what? So I thought of sharing that with you after reading your very interesting post…. I would love to read more about your findings and thank you for all the information you shared. I have found your blogs being refreshing and original.
So the rabbi said …. shemay… pronounced as semay in amharic, shemay in Ge’ez.
Melehot=melekot in amharic/ ge’ez… a word used to refer to the powerful trinity,,, is hard for me to translate it to english,… Yihuda=yihudi, tsadiq=tsadiq=holy person,
Amete Mesih= Amete Meshiha= the year of the Messiah (amet=year)
Alemin metekom/mades= tikun alem=mending the world
Mihala= Mehila=prayer for forgiveness
Andinet=Ahadut=Unity… ahad in ge’ez could mean the first/ also one
Yebereket mesihaf= Mesahife berekot = book of blessing? (mesihaf = book)
there is more to add to this list but these are the ones i wrote down from the rabbi because I was kind of surprised. And as you said, Ge’ez is our holy language, so to say and I am sure there will be a lot more of overlapping with ge’ez than with amharic but the way it is is that we use ge’ez in the churches and use amahirc for everyday activity and I personally don’t know ge’ez as is the case with many of us although we can recite prayers with ge’ez.
I Speak hebrew, so I’ll correct some of the hebrew pronunciation, the changes are labeled with an asterisk:
Tirufat=Tehuva – ? tehuva isn’t a word, you might refer to the name of g-d.
Bekur=*Behor (change ‘h’ to Spanish ‘j’. from now on i’ll use J.) =first born
Ayin=*Ayin, same = eye
Amete Mesih= year is Shana in hebrew, Messiah is Ma-shi-aJ. = the year of the Messiah (amet=year)
Alemin metekom/mades= tikun *olam=mending the world
Mihala= *MeJila =prayer for forgiveness
Esirat=Asurim=prison – * Asurim means prisoners and was used in Mishnaic Hebrew yet remained in prayers. Mishanic Hebrew would call prison “Beit Asurim” which means “House of Prisoners”. Today (Modern Hebrew) we use “Asirim” for prisoners. “Asurim” is used more often as the plural of “Asur” = forbidden.
Andinet=*Ahdut=Unity… ahad in ge’ez could mean the first/ also one
Yebereket mesihaf= Mesahife berekot * There’s no Mesahife in hebrew, Book is Sefer in hebrew. = book of blessing? (mesihaf = book)
Mot=*Mavet. Mot is like saying “death of” . ex. “Mot Isacc” – death of Isacc= death
There’s no Mesahife in hebrew….? masejet https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/מסכת ברכות
Upon further reflection, I can’t say I agree. Firstly, the initial “mem” in the Hebrew word is part of the root, which is not the case with the initial “mim” in “mas-haf.” The latter is from Arabic, and the root is “Ssahhifah,” or something to that effect. The “s” in “masekha” is the letter “sin,” which is not the same as the “S” in mas-haf, whose Arabic/Ge’ez equivalent is “Ssad.” The final “f” is not found in the Hebrew word, nor is there any trace of it. The “kh” in Hebrew “masekha” is the letter “kaf/khaf,” which is practically never used as an equivalent of the letter “Het” (Hha in Arabic/Ge’ez). So the Hebrew word you suggest actually shares NONE of the radicals of the word in question.
me again. forgot to mention few things.
Its true to me that tigregna is more closer to ge’ez than amaharic. Tigrigna is the language spoken by many of the ethiopians in the norther region. Also the political leading party is predominantly from tigray region. And this tribe is kind of very strong in keeping its culture, language alive by passing it down to children, marrying between each other and so on… I had very close, very good friends that were tigre and they all speak tigrigna and amharic though they grew up in a city that spoke amharic. I grew up with a father that valued being an Orthodox Ethiopian more than priding me because i belonged to a certain tribe. He used to nag me to learn our number systems tho, But we have had kings n queens of the amhara region that widely established amharic as our national language. the new system though does give every region to have its own official language and the capital city with amharic.
One more note on your post is about the amharic word elef. Elef doesn’t literally mean thousand. It is a word used to refere to a large large number. So if i say in amharic ‘elef mela’ikt’ that would mean ‘so many many angels’ or ‘thousands of angels’….
Have a good day.
It’s great to hear from an Amharic speaker. I tried to keep in touch with a few of the people I met in Ethiopia, but after a while I got the impression that all they wanted from me was money.
Yes, there are many similar words between these languages, and it’s all the more amazing considering the distance between Ethiopia and the land of Israel. Regarding the word “elef,” now that I think about it, your definition is likely how it was used in Hebrew in ancient times as well.
One question I forgot to ask, while in Ethiopia, is how many people pray in Ge’ez without understanding the meaning. From your comment, I understand that this is fairly common. There are many Jews who pray in Hebrew without understanding what they’re saying too.
Do you still live in Ethiopia? If so, which part?
your post seems to correct, Because the people are commonly using in that context. But, based on the Geez language, for those large numbers are used differently. It has unique patterns. Some examples:
your post seems to correct, Because the people are commonly using in that context. But, based on the Geez language, for those large numbers are used differently. It has unique patterns. Some examples:
yea… this similarity did surprise me and there might be more to it.
To answer your question, I give you one example. So in the orthodox church, we have one very basic church service that we attend to early morning especially on saterdays and sundays (like around 4 am the priests diakons start and from 5 am to just before 6 am, other followers enter the church and once it starts at 6 am, can not enter the inside church but can still pray inside the gates)… so it lasts for about 2 hours and in the midst of this prayer/song to God is kurban or the holy communion. So this service is like the most important service that a christian needs to attend. Well I fell short on that but you get the idea. The point is its done entirely in ge’ez and only few sentences I can understand but i still attend and recite what i know and I would assume there are more ethiopians like me. And it is done that way not because the church is not aware of that few christians understand ge’ez well but the churches approaches the matter in a way that when a christians need to know is there, he/she would learn it instead of the church changing it all for you. In addition to that I get the impression that those words have more meaning/ power in ge’ez and a church language needs to be differentiated and the church also wants to play a role in keeping traditions, cultures, history…. Now I am in boston, we have churches here and because believers have been asking why we dont do it in amharic, what they are doing now is we recite in ge’ez but on a projector screen, is the amharic and english translations of every word.
Another example i can give you is that we had a family priest back home, he would be the one that visit you on holidays, when you need some prayer, blessing etc… so when he comes in the morning, he will do a prayer on a water vase and bread and what he recites is in ge’ez but he will be speaking but looking at you looking at things here and there not like a prayer with fixed eyes… just reciting fast to a point that i feel like he needs to say the words, and dont really have to be conscious and my grand mother does the same thing. Hope you get the idea after reading all this. Yes we recite it but not many of us can translate it back to amharic but you can get an idea of what you are saying in ge ez.
As for the fellow ethiopians that might have tried to take advantage of you, I apologize. But I know how it is. Our country is poor and most of us are not educated enough.. not only school like education but about life in general and getting out of ethiopia or speaking to/ befriending a diaspora is seen in many ways over there. So please don’t let the few bad ones that you meet leave marks on you. There are so many good hearted ethiopians as is the case with the whole world.
Thank you for your reply.
No need to apologize for the Ethiopians trying to get money from me. I know they’re not all like that, and I did see their poverty first hand. As for people being good-hearted all over the world, this has been my own experience as well. I do acknowledge group differences, both cultural and genetic, but this doesn’t keep me from appreciating the good in people.
Even though I did have negative things happen to me in Ethiopia (rocks thrown at us, almost getting pick-pocketed, and scammed), my visit there has has given me great respect for Ethiopians overall. The vast majority of natives were very kind.
Let me know if you want to skype.
Such arrogance from the writer. But so typical of white jews. For your information, the Original Hebrews/Israelites were a phenotypically African people closely related to their non Hebrew brothers and sisters in the rest of East Africa and present day Saudi Arabia and Yemen. To think that the Semitic languages and scripts came from the so-called middle east to East Africa is not only nonsense but also a sign of eurocentric blindness. Unfortunately this is the dominant idea among whites people ,whether jew or not.
Reuben I’m ashamed of you bring Jewish your racist rant is not becoming of you. You found like a supremecist despite your Semitic origin? I’m half African , European and Jewish.
Africans have a large amount to be proud of. Yes the previous writer saying Jews were African makes no sense as their are many phenotypes and races of Africans. However to say Africans have no culture to speak of is wrong and unlearned. There is s vast array of culture and practices in African. The culture of my father is rich in mythology, written literature, with an existing written language still in use, art, a quite sor calendar system and s mathematical system of taxes still in use today. There is no such as a brown Caucasian. Csucasians refer to cultures that emerged from indo- Europe not Semites from the Middle East and horn of Africa. I think you are deluded. I wonder what an anti-Semetic genocidal maniac would make of you and I calling ourselves brown Caucasian? Do not succumb, perpetuate or inflict upon others that has been inflicted on us
I could have worded my reply better. “Those Africans who have little to be proud of in their own heritage try to co-opt the heritage of others.”
But most black Africans are NOT proud of their heritage. They’d leave Africa if they could. In so doing, they vote with their feet – that European civilization is superior. Many, if not most, African men (such as your father) would rather date a white woman than an African one. In so doing, they indicate that white women are superior. Most black Africans have adopted non European religion. In so doing, they admit that Christianity and Islam are superior to their own ancestral beliefs. Most Africans use Western technology. In so doing, they admit that Western science/technology is superior to their own.
As for Ethiopians, they do have long traditions to be proud of, though most of them would still prefer living in Europe or America.
I’m assuming that your father is Nigerian, and that you’re referring to the is Nsibidi. I’m not sure how you can compare this system of codes and symbols to the full-fledged scripts of Europe or the Middle East. How many books have been written in Nsibidi?
The term “Caucasian” does not refer to skin color; it refers to a set of features found in India, Iran, the Middle East, north Africa and Europe. Caucasians can be of any color. “Semite” is a linguistic term. A Semite can also be of any color – and he can be of any race. You should look these things up before you comment.
The videos, which have Semitic languages starting in the Middle East, come with a caveat that this is only one possibility. Others have them starting in Africa. I’m agnostic in this regard, though I’m partial to Southwest Arabia (Yemen).
As for the original Hebrews being African, this is wishful thinking by Africans – who have little to be proud of in your own heritage. So you try to steal other peoples’ heritage. There is no evidence that ancient Jews were Negro, though some Judaeans probably had some Negro ancestry. The same is true of ancient Egyptians, who were clearly Caucasian – but with some Negro admixture. You can point to some depictions of ancient Egyptians that appear African, but their main bloodlines were Caucasian (not “white” but brown Caucasian).
The evidence is in the archaeological remains of humans in that geographic area. The Natufian culture is said to be among the first on that landmass and date to about 10,000 years before present. Their human remains are “Negroid.” In terms of Western Asia at large, the oldest artifacts date to 125,000 years ago with Nubian stone tools in United Arab Republic and 106,000 years ago with the same type of tools found in Oman. All the oldest human remains of Western Asian are of three phenotypes: “Negroid (African with coarse hair),” “Australoid (African with wavy hair),” and “Dravidian (African with straight hair).” So, it is looking at the evidence of the early humans and the early non-African eyewitnesses that inform us to the appearance of the early Semitic speakers. All of which match the physical descriptions of the early Greek and Roman scholars who labeled people as “Ethiopians” with coarse or with straight hair as being the predominant people throughout Africa and westward into India.
Additionally, there is no such thing as a Caucasian skull type that did not already pre-exist throughout the entire continent of Africa because that is one of the African phenotypes. There was no ancient migration of a northern Caucus Mountain region people into Western Asia or Africa as carries of a specific skull type that already pre-existed and pre-exists in every country within Africa (as due traits for producing light eyes, light hair, so-called Far East Asian eyes, etc.). There were no Caucasian ancient Egyptians as the skull type is already African and impossible to relate to a 17th Century AD term that has no bearing in genetics or reality of the diversity of African phenotypes especially as there is no such thing as a “brown Caucasian”…. again, that would be an African.
That is very true of i heard a lot of people say that and they are so wrong. And non semitic african are changing the name ethiopia to kush and saying ancient jews are black and ancient ethiopians are also kush. And that is because they don’t have anything to be proud of but i think you should leave things at they are and start your own history then taking others history and culture. And again am so sorry that peoples throw stones at you that is because they are jealous but when you are Semitic in ethiopia you will get used to it.
Hi there. You should contact Professor Efriem Isaac of Princeton. He is a foremost authority in this topic. He is a linguist (and much more), amharic and hebrew speaker (and many other languages) If you find him it will be so worth it for you.
I’m not sure about 9 or 1,000, but I’m pretty sure all of the other numerals in Amharic are Semitic. 2 just comes from a different Proto-Semitic root than its equivalents in Hebrew and Arabic.
Aha, so it looks like 1,000 is borrowed from a Cushitic language, and 9 comes from another Semitic root altogether, apparently related to زحزح zaHzaHa in Arabic meaning something like ‘to displace’ or ‘to rip off’.
I figured the word for nine is close enough to Hebrew and Arabic to be of the same origin. How did you get this information? It’s good to know that somebody has already researched this stuff. And what are your thoughts on the word for ‘twenty?”
Well, I have a master’s degree in linguistics, and yeah, there’s been a lot of research done on the history of Semitic languages (although I didn’t work on them). It’s one of the best studied language families after Indo-European as far as historical linguistics goes. Anyway, you can see Proto-Semitic *kil’ for ‘two’ in the chart here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semitic_languages#Cardinal_numerals. I’m pretty sure both ‘two’ and ‘twenty’ in Amharic come from that.
I got the part about ‘nine’ from this book: https://books.google.com/books?id=IiXVqyEkPKcC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Semitic+languages+outline+of+a+comparative+grammar&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwif2LHyyfDJAhWD7CYKHc6-ATEQ6AEIHTAA#v=onepage&q&f=false (go to p. 296, section 35.14; see also 35.18 on p. 298 for ‘twenty’) the part about ‘thousand’ from…
Ah, yes, p. 70 of this: https://books.google.com/books?id=cJc3AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA73&lpg=PA73&dq=Ethiopic+numerals+thousand&source=bl&ots=8R06q6HxVP&sig=qtvJsZYSprkRZs5w3oyJncyPZto&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjh5aifyfDJAhVFZCYKHR2KBuE4ChDoAQgkMAE#v=onepage&q&f=false. They say that Tigrinya has something like “shah” for ‘thousand’, that that “has Cushitic affinities,” and that the Amharic equivalent is “apparently akin to the Tigrinya one.”
I stumbled on your blog trying to find a reliable pronunciation guide to Amharic greetings as I have some Ethiopians dropping by later today. Interesting opinions. I think I’ll continue reading your blog and have a suggestion: it’s confusing when you use h to denote ח as well as כ and ה. Burton used ch for ח, kh for כ and h for ה and it works well.
Btw do you know of online ways to learn Arabic and Amharic text, preferably from Hebrew text?
Greetings from HaAretz
I found your post fascinating. I’m Ethiopian too and agree with everything Eleni said. In addition to elf meaning a whole lot, elf a’elaf denotes an even greater number (think elf is a google and elf a’elaf is a google plex) although neither el nor elf a’elaf refer to an actual number just an extremely large quantity.
Additional similarities I’ve found between Hebrew and Amharic are
– ta’am = taste = taam
-lemin = why = lama (in Amharic lemin is a combination of “le” meaning “for” and “min” meaning “what.” This is not unlike Spanish “por que”)
-zinab/zinam = rain = zerem
-nebir = tiger = naber
-Nebiy = prophet = nabi
My apologies if I’ve messed up the Hebrew.
One more thing about colours, Hamra in Arabic describes a red object. Hamrawi in Amharic means fuchsia.
Thanks for writing this blog. I enjoyed reading it. That being said your comments are lacking in manners a little. A little courtesy goes a long way.
Thanks for your contribution. Here are a few notes on the Hebrew side of it:
Taste in Hebrew is also ta’am. The guttural ‘ayin is left out by most Israeli speakers though.
The word zerem means “flow” or “stream” (of liquid) in Hebrew. So it is likely related to Amharic zinab/zinam even though the standard word for rain in Hebrew is geshem.
The word for tiger is namer in Hebrew, which is definitely close enough to nebir.
I also found out that the word for “myself” is “nipsi” in Tigrinya. As soon as I gain more knowledge of Tigrinya, I hope to post about that too.
Thanks for your response. I don’t know any Tigrinya myself but I’m sure Tigrinya and Tegre offer more insight into the similarities between the Hebrew and these Afro-Asiatic languages.
Keep us posted as you find out more.
Hello my name is esther a burudian and i found your blog s interesting because im trying to learn tigrigna and it was funny to notice that some words are also similar to others in swahili and kirundi. For example miskena in hebrew is maskini in swahili and mukene or verb gukena in kirundi. Bereket is baraka in swahili and elef is elfu in swahili. Dam is damu in swahili. Really enjoyed reading this hope i ll find new words that relate kirundi to hebrew
Thanks for your kind words Esther. I’m pretty sure Swahili is not an Afro-Asiatic language. But it does have a lot of Arabic loan words.
As for Tigrinya, I’d also like to learn it. I’ve been looking for somebody to teach me. So far I’ve had no luck finding a local who can do that. Sooner or later, I’ll find somebody though.
When you say you’re a “Buridian,” did you mean “Burundian” as in from Burundi?
Hello, I’m eritrean and I speak a little Tigrinya since I was born in Sweden. I just wanted to tell that in Tigrinya twenty is very similar to Hebrew. Twenty in tigrinya is “isra”. A difference you may already know between Amharic and Tigrinya is that, Tigrinya uses their throat ALOT more and is so much harsher than Amharic. In fact Amharic isn’t rough at all.
Tigrinya is also suuuuper hard, and I honestly feel like the only way to learn the language is to have eritrean parents that could teach you and speak everyday or go & live in Eritrea for 2-3 years. I am going to do the latter one. Tigrinya grammar is like baby-easy though, there are no linking words which makes it easier or more complicated depending on the person.
Yes, both Tigrinya and (properly spoken) Hebrew sound something like Arabic. But Amharic sounds like a cross between Spanish and Italian somewhat. “Twenty” is ” ‘esrim” in Hebrew. Literally, it means “tens,” and it might have been pronounced ” ‘Esrayim” in ancient times. That would mean “two tens.” It’s similar in Arabic, except Arabic has “sh” instead of “s,” so it’s ” ‘ashrin.”
Jewamongyou, I was very pleased to see the work you’ve done on the linguistic affinity between the Ethiopian and Hebrew language, but disappointed with the dialogues between you and several others relating to the subject of superiority and the idea of “brown Caucasians.” Brown skin and dark skin denotes the presence of melanin, primarily found in people of Negroid descent. Caucasian, on the other hand, is a term that was devised in the 19th century by Eurocentric anthropologists who, of course, wanted to promote the idea that civilization and superiority belonged to and started with Europeans. The Oxford Dictionary stated that the classification is “outdated” and noted that the (racial) categories “are not generally accepted as scientific.” The term “Caucasian” stems from the word “Caucasoid” for people from a southern European mountain range, not from Northern Africa. The first Egyptian pharaoh, whom we know as Narmer and Menes, clearly had Negroid features. He was black. The earliest Egyptians were African before the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, French, Portuguese, Italians, Dutch, British and others took Africa as their own. The ancient Egyptians are close relatives of the Ethiopians, Somalians, and Sudanese people of East Africa. There were no “brown Caucasians” in ancient Kemet/Egypt, only Africans with various skin hues. Africans can have straight hair, narrow noses, thin lips, light or brown skin and still are Negro. Why is this so hard for Europeans and Eurocentric minded people to accept? It’s been said that necessity if the mother of invention. Just because the Europeans and North Americans invented more things than people from “Third World” countries, doesn’t mean that they’re superior genetically. The fact is that the black genotype is dominant. Biologists know this, even if they don’t admit it. So whether we consider ourselves “Black, white, yellow, brown, or red,” the bottom line is that we’re all related and need to learn how to appreciate each other and work together. To say and do otherwise is counterproductive, whether we realize it or not.
You can call the ancient Egyptians whatever you want. To many people, “Africans with dark skin, narrow noses and thinner lips are “brown Caucasians.” But if you want to call them “black African” I don’t see how it’s a problem. It’s only terminology – and, speaking for myself, the term “Caucasian” does not mean they were superior in any way. It’s only a term of convenience.
You’re right that the lone fact that Europeans invented more things is not proof that they are superior. Many factors can contribute to this. The term “superior” is a subjective one. We can fairly say that Europeans are superior at inventing things, and leave the question “why?” up in the air.
As for innate racial differences, you might want to read another post of mine:
You had several comments that were all pretty much identical, so I just kept one of them up. I apologize if I inadvertently removed some of the content.
I actually taught amharic was an invented language . I didn’t know it was that close with Hebrew . What’s the difference between Hebrew and aremaic.? And which one used first?
Well technically every language is an invented language. Are you asking about Hebrew and Amharic or Hebrew and Aramaic?
Biblical Hebrew is an artificial language – 5th century BC consonants and 10th century AD Aramaic vowels. Modern Hebrew, also an artificial language was developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, mostly by Eleazar ben Yehuda. .
I was saying about amharic
According to Jewish tradition, Aramaic is older. But it really comes down to semantics. At what point do we start calling a certain ancient north Semitic tongue”Hebrew?” But to answer your question, Aramaic is much closer to Hebrew than Amharic is.
Hebrew is not Northern Semitic. It comes from south West Arabia. See Rabin (1951).and my own works. The “Hebrew” in ancient Palestine was Canaanite.
My understanding is Jesus spoke aremaic . So what was Hebrew used for?
In his time, most Jews spoke Aramaic. Hebrew was a liturgical language and the language of scholars.
Greek was probably more important to Jews in the time of Jesus, which explains why the Old Testament was translated into Greek two hundred years before him.
Thanks for all your great, and insightful, comments Bernard. Currently, I’m on vacation, and I’ll respond to them after my return home.
Jesus appears to have been illiterate and his teachings in Aramaic were memorised as poetic prose.
This is one of the most interesting articles that I have ever read. Thank you so much. I am an Ethiopian. Please allow me to point out something that you may have missed. In the numbers, the Hebrew version a whole lot similar with Tigrigna. As you may know the chronology of Semetic languages in Ethiopia are Ge’ez, Tigrigna, Amharic, Guragigna & Harari. When Axumites start to migrate and expand to the south. It seems, the root of the Semetic base of their language started to change. Hence, Tigrigna is much closer to Hebrew than Amharic and Amharic is closer to Hebrew than Guragigna and Harari. It is very fascinating. Thank you so much again. Here is Tigrigna numbers.
Thank you so much! Actually I was aware of most of what you wrote. I’ve been looking for someone to teach me Tigrinya or Tigre.
Hi, your blog is very interesting. I speak both Tigringa and Amharic.
If you wanted to learn some Tigringa I can teach you some.
Hello Jewamongyou. Thank you for writing this article. And here here some similar hebrew and tigrinya words I found from a hebrew mizmor on youtube. And you are welcome to correct if I translated them wrong. Thank you for the lesson.
English hebrew tigrinya
me ane ani
he will hear me yish-ma-eni yise-ma-eni
be to me choneni choneni
your yishecha nisecha
your name sh’mech- cha sh’mech-cha
your heart libecha libicha
will take me up ya-asfeni ya-lieleni
tech me horeni amhreni
your way darkecha megdicha
lead me ooncheyni mirhani
don’t deliver me al-tit (eh) neni ayti(ha)beni.
And thanks for your input. Some day, I’ll continue studying Tigrinya. Aside from Aramaic, it’s probably the closest living relative to Hebrew.
The US military has a free course in Tigrinya
Where do you live? If you don’t live in the American Northwest, then perhaps we can skype some time. Please let me know if that’s what you have in mind. And thank you very much for the offer!
eleni -u are tigre but not amhar a
and urs comment xpr u
Hello! As an Ethiopian who is enamored with Israel, I have long wanted to learn lashon hakodesh! I enjoyed reading your post and found the responses to it interesting. Thank you, jewamongyou, for your interest in Ethiopia. Having been enlightened by the contributions, I thought I’d also note some similarities between Amharic and Hebrew.
Tongue (as in language)- lisan (amharic)- lashon (hebrew).
Felicity/success- simret (amharic)- simchat (hebrew) as in simchat torah.
Foot- igir (amharic)- regel (hebrew). Granted, these words are not that close but there is some proximity.
Priest(s)- kahan [singular] and kahinat [plural] (amharic)- kohen [singular] and kohanim [plural] (hebrew).
Medinat, as in medinat yisrael, means state of Israel in hebrew while medina in amharic means capital.
Holy- kidus (amharic)- kadosh (hebrew).
Messiah- messih (amharic)- mashiach ( hebrew).
While chammah means sun in hebrew, it is rendered as candle in amharic.
Angel- melak (amharic)- malach (hebrew).
Fear- firhat (amharic)- yirah (hebrew). To fear is commonly translated as mefrat but there is another less used verb which is merad. There is a male name in Ethiopia which is based on merad. It is Yayehyirad which literally means may he who sees you (yayeh) fear you (yirad).
Hello, I am Ethiopian. The name my father gave me is- Ewounet, meaning truth in the Ethiopian national language and that is what I seek in all honesty to discover.
I’d like to first call on all brothers and sisters of black skin to seek their true roots and hold them dearly, to never be told by another where his/her place is and to not love what other men have made in this world which fade and disappear with time but to love only what is eternal- the God of truth.
I stumbled upon this blog as I am interested in unveiling the truth about the true Isrealites and sharing this truth with the larger world as most are in the dark about the reality of things as I also was.
“Jew-ishamongyou” would be a more appropriate name for you, the writter of this blog, as the little picture of you shows that you do not have African or black traits. This means that you may be converted to the religion of the Jews, but cannot be of Israeli descent or descended from Abraham or Moses who were black phenotypically (and therefore genotypically). You are most-likely part of the 99% of so-called Jews in Israel today who have ancestors that were converted by blacks and eventually took the place of these blacks when they were moved out of the land and spread all over the world as was prophesied in the Holy Book. This is why there are no true Isrealites in the region of Israel today, and this is why there shall be none until the day that God lifts the curse put upon His people for not heeding to his word. The rest is common sense and fulfilling of prophecy. The truth cannot be hidden, or not for ever at least, so I know that anyone reading this post will understand what I mean. The true Israel has been cursed and is living out that curse, as the lowest-class citizens in far away countries. Reading the Biblical prophecies is enough to open ones eyes on the truth of the matter.
I am not trying to make this post about race, but simply pointing out the true race of the people discussed in this blog. What I mean is that this post is written to enlighten and not to offend.
One can discuss whether whites or blacks have created greater feats than one another but I believe that that is besides the point. (And anyway, I believe that there is nothing man made but what is given to him by the most High).
I hope that my opinion and statements will not be censored by the writter of this blog, but left for all to see in the eyes of transparency.
God bless to all.
There’s plenty of evidence that ancient Jews were neither black nor white, but in between.Some were darker and some lighter, but the average Jew was olive colored. Rather like Palestinians today.
The ca. 800 BC Sabaean inscriptions at Adi Kaweh, on separate incense burners, clearly state that the local people were “red” Sabeans and “black” Hebrew. The word “Kushi” in Hebrew means both Samaritan and Black person.
I am curious as to why you only focus on the phonetic similarities between modern Hebrew and Amharic. You made a comment saying that the two languages use entirely different alphabets.
As you already know, the modern Hebrew alphabet is more reflective of what we call the Masoretic text (sorry for bring religion into this discussion, but I couldn’t think of a better reference point).
Original (or Paleo) Hebrew in fact has characters that are either similar to or identical to the characters in Amharic just in a different orientation.
Now I’m not going to pretend to know more about Hebrew than you, and I’m sure this may have just been an oversight. But since this article has seen updates, I was hoping that in the future you would touch on this aspect of the two languages’ similarities.
That’s a very good point. When I have more time, I’ll do a proper comparison, and maybe post an update. If you’ve already done such a comparison (as you seem to imply), feel free to post another comment including that comparison, and I may use it in the body of my post. Thanks!
Ethiopians and Eritreans are mostly of agaw ancestry. That’s that have been subjected to both physically and cultural slavery for centuries by a relatively few colonists from Yemen, still doesn’t buy them any Semitic ancestry. Their mentality, curly hair and black skin prove it.
Sorry to inform you but you wrong, Semitic originated in Ethiopia and expanded to Yemen. Yes many Agaw were Semiticed but this started to happen in a relative recent time compared to the history of Semitic in Ethiopia. Semitic speakers were originally Black skinned. The Semitic speakers in Arabia and Levant are mostly light because the original Semitic speakers that went there from Ethiopia/Eritrea married and assimilated the local and later migrants who were white skinned.
Professor Wolf Leslau wrote a paper “Hebrew cognates in Amharic” which may interest you. One way of assessing the relationship between the two languages is to use the Swadesh word list to compare vocabulary and that will give you some insight into how long ago the two languages diverged. We do not know the original language of the Hebrew since they adopted Canaanite. However, it appears the Exodus began in Nubia and passed down the river courses of the Nile, Atbara and Takezze into Ethiopia/Eritrea before crossing the Red Sea. This may explain why the Beta Israel had Hebrew prayers in Agaw (Martin Flad 19th century).
Could that route arrangement by Moses connected to Moses and ancient Ethiopia connection as stated in the Bible and supported by ancient historians? It goes smoothly in aggreement with other findings. Bernard Leeman…your thoughts can resolve many biblical issues including the idenitity issues of Ethiopian Jews. Pls keep it up!
Maybe just me but I hear משך mashach (pull) in meshitihu
It’s possible, but משך only has two radicals in common (at best) with “mochee.”
Hi, I’m Ethiopian and I really liked your scholarly effort in trying to describe the similarities and differences between Amharic and Hebrew. One thing I want to correct you is that Aksumite weren’t immigrants and their language Geez isn’t the ancestor of Amharic and other Ethio-Semitic languages. Semitic was from it’s inception native to Ethiopia (probably originated around southern Ethiopia and slowly expanded to other parts of Ethiopia and also to Levant and Arabia). Ethiopia has the most diverse and archaic Semitic languages in the world (take how diverse and archaic Gurage languages are for example). It was first though that Semitic entered Ethiopia in 1st millennium BC and later it was thought in 3rd millennium BC but now to originated in Ethiopia. There are some who disagree with the latter (you might also do) but this is more accurate than Levant or Arabia origin.
Hey. Really interesting post. A few thoughts : firstly, could maybe the Hebrew word for black be related to the root שחר meaning ‘early morning’, when things are still dark?
Also you mentioned how Arabic has no related plurals to ‘otch’ and ‘oth’ – but I would have thought the feminine plural ‘at’ e.g. ‘sama’at’ would have shared similar origins
As an Arabic native speaker I may agree with some of the above said, but, I also see the similarities manifest itself as a result of Amharic – being a Cushitic language – is actually functions here as an origin of Arabic.
I searched deeper into this subject to come out with surprising results that nearly all of the religious terms in current day Arabic is just a copy of Ethiopic counterparts.
Please refer to the results here:
I have been doing some research on his topic as well mostly because of my beliefs and I remembered this verse from Genesis. I have quoted it below.
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
I believe that all peoples originated from “Africa” one way or another and there are many examples of Hebrews, Egyptians, Babylonians, Ethiopians corresponding or travelling between each other’s borders. This would have been impossible if their languages were vastly different. I would also like to quote another verse that proves that these nations were very similar to one another in language and culture.
Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the LORD. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?
You have solidified my belief more with what you have discovered. Thanks again for your article and I look forward to hearing from you.
Hi William. I’m glad you found my article useful. It should be noted, as I’ve written elsewhere, that it’s not at all clear that the “Ethiopia” (Kush) mentioned in the Bible is the same place we call Ethiopia today.
Hi, I was going to write a pretty long comment but after reading all these I kinda forgot what I wanted to say so I’ll just point a few things out…
1) The Amharic word for strength or power is not “haile”. It is just hail (the same as the Hebrew word you mentioned) the ‘e’ sound at the end is from the ge’ez which means of (for possession) that makes Haile-Sellassie translate to power/strength of trinity.
2) The Amaric word for mother is not “imma”. It is “inat” which can be shortened to “ima”. (ie it means mom)
3) I don’t know why you would say that the Amharic number 1 isn’t Semitic. It is actually similar to the Ge’ez version which is “ahadu”. Take away the final vowel ‘u’ and you get ahad (which is only a single letter different than the Hebrew number 1 and the Arabic equivalent which I think is wahad) when pronounced it sounds very similar to the Amharic word “and”.
4) You’re right that Amharic is not as Semitic as the other Ethio-Semitic languages and here’s why: During the Axumite dynasty Amharic was a very small language; not spoken much. When the Axumites were eventually overthrown & the Zague dynasty (of the Agew people) was formed, the empire was divided with half being speakers of Ge’ez and the others being Agew speakers. And so, Amharic was chosen to be the official language specifically because it was less Semitic than the others and it was equally close to the Cushitic languages (especially the Agew languages, not Oromo because there were no Oromo speakers in Ethiopia at this time; modern Amharic does have some Oromo influences but those are reletively recent). So, basically they felt that it would have been hard for the Agew people and other Cushites to learn Ge’ez (or even the other minority Semitic languages) and it would not have been fair for the Semites to learn a whole other Cushitic language so they settled on Amharic.
Thanks for the insights. It’s been a few years since I wrote this post, and others have educated me on some points. My previous opinions on “more” or “less” Semitic were rather simplistic.
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