Adam and Eve are not Jews. They are the first men in the world and belong to a people of unknown language. The first known attempt to ascertain the most ancient nation is told by Herodotus (5th century B.C.), who speaks of a linguistic experiment wanted by Psamtik I (664–610 B.C.). The pharaoh gets to the conclusion that the Phrygians would be that first people, and this way the historian born in Carian Halicarnassus gives credit to a story that had been circulating for a while. From his description of the experiment, we can grasp that he meant the historical Phrygians, because a true Phrygian word is mentioned, namely bekos, the first word uttered by the children who underwent the strange test. As far as I know, the analogy between the Egyptian experiment and what Adam did, as soon as he was afforded the privilege of giving the animals a name, has been completely overlooked. Unnoticed as well that he allowed himself to call his companion ʾišša, the common name for "woman" in Hebrew, which sounds like the Hittite išḫa- "a woman master". It should not be discounted that the first man invents the name and that his creative action has something divine (Büsing 1994 ; Zampato 2014 ), because he is awarded a complete autonomy in that naming: "whatever name the man would give to each one of the living creatures that would be its name". God is waiting to "to see what he would call each one" (Gn 2:19), because He "brought [them] to the man", to stress the anticipation of a real experiment, whose symbolical value is rightly underlined by Cassuto in his commentary: "The naming of something or someone is a token of lordship […] He had given him dominion" (130). Given the due relevance to this Adam’s first duty, it would be foolish either to ignore it or to suppose that what will come next should be all read as "nothing-but-Hebrew". The language of Adam was not Hebrew, simply because the Hebrew nation will take its physiognomy only later, when it is timidly mentioned with "Shem, the father of all the sons of Eber" (Gn 10:21). Of course, Genesis had to be written in the Hebrew language, to be understood by a Hebrew audience, nevertheless, between the lines of Adam’s naming experiment, we may read an allusion to the idiom spoken by the ancestors, that of an ancient people, the Hittites, whose empire ends around 1200 B.C., to give way to several Luwian speaking states, the so-called Neo-Hittite kingdoms. Is it pure coincidence that Adam devises for his woman a name (ḥawwāh) that is not easy to reconcile with the Hebrew language (HALOT 296), while it makes perfect sense as a Luwian word, ḫāwa/ī- "sheep" (DLL 66)? As Eve was called with a name meaning "sheep", "because she was the mother of all living" (Gn 3:20), so Rachel’s name would have had to be "sheep" (raḥel, HALOT 1216) in Hebrew, because she gave birth to all the tribes of Israel. Even though we know that the reverse is true, this awareness should work as invitation to explore further.
Originally Published: April 27, 2021
Last Updated: April 28, 2021
2. Zampato, L., Imposizione e cambiamento di nome nella Bibbia ebraica. 2014, Università Ca' Foscari: Venezia.