The Talmud and Ancient Egyptian:
Linguistic Correspondence in the Mishnah

Charles William Johnson

River Ridge, Louisiana (22 September 2005). This essay was written over six years ago.
It has not been made public until now. I consider its relevancy to be significant in relation
to my book, The Sound of Meaning, a comparison of linguistic correspondences
among ancient Egyptian, the Maya language system and Nahuatl.
Linguistic correspondence between ancient Egyptian and Hebrew
isreadily accepted, whereas any linguistic correspondences
suggested between ancient Egyptian and the Mesoamerican
languages are readily overlooked or ignored.


We shall compare some of the words listed in the Mishnah regarding headings of the Sedarim (Orders) and the Massichtoth (Tractates).

"The great achievement of [Judah's] life was the compilation of the corpus of Jewish law, called the Mishnah. The name is derived from a root shanah, 'to repeat', and indicates oral teaching, what is learnt by repetition. The noun is the opposite of Mikra, 'the text (of scripture) for reading.' It therefore signifies the codification of the Oral Torah in contradistinction to the Written Torah of the Pentateuch. He succeeded in preparing a code which was adopted throughout the Schools of Palestine and Babylon, and it resulted in the disuse of all other collections of laws made by individual Rabbis for their own academies. He established the uniform textbook for future study and discussion.

"The language in which it is composed is a vernacular form of Hebrew, distinguished from Biblical Hebrew by a less strict conformity to grammatical rules and the infiltration of Latin and Greek words. It is characterized by extreme terseness of expression and the absence of literary flourishes. The language admirably suits the subject-matter.

"Since the Middle Ages the question has been debated whether Judah committed his Mishnah to writing or whether it remained for some time a verbal arrangement. Scholars are still in disagreement, but the weight of opinion is gradually accumulating in favour of the view that it was issued in the form of a written code. It is arranged in six sections called Sedarim (Orders); each Order consists of a number of Massichtoth (Tractates), the total being sixty-three; and each tractate is divided into chapters and subdivided into paragraphs. There are 523 chapters in all." [COHEN, Abraham, Everyman's Talmud, Schocken Books, New York, 1995 edition, 405pp.]

Our reason for reviewing the linguistic correspondence between Hebrew and ancient Egyptian is quite simple. In this case, we have an historically documented encounter between these peoples and some of the resulting similarities of language. The Hebrews were slaves during some of their stay in ancient Egypt. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that the word for "slave" in both languages is quite similar: abadim in Hebrew, abata or aabt in ancient Egyptian. Such an obvious example of linguistic correspondence is easy to accept because we know that historically contact existed between these peoples. Many scholars consider the earliest expression of the word for Hebrew to have been Apiru, and later Habiru. Such interpretations of linguistic correspondence are quite frequently proposed.

However, whenever we find similar cases of linguistic correspondence between ancient Egyptian and the maya system or, between ancient Egyptian and the nahuatl language, these are rejected as representing mere coincidences of speech, since in these cases no contact is historically documented. To observe the word tlacohtli in nahuatl to be the word for "slave", and the word auai-t for a "company of slaves" in ancient Egyptian must be interpreted as a mere coincidence of terms. In nahuatl, one feature of the nahuatl language is to add the prefixes tl-, tla-, tlaco-, etc., to words. Many times the meanings are the same with or without the prefix. The linguistic coincidences between ancient Egyptian and nahuatl are many. One can only question the reason why these correspondences have not been researched in more depth by linguists of either language. In nahuatl, the word tlatia means "to burn"; in ancient Egyptian this may be said by ta, tchar, tchatu, etc. In nahuatl, the word tzontzon(a) means "to beat"; in ancient Egyptian, this may be said by the word tchatcha, tata, etc. In nahuatl, the word for "widow/widower" is cahualli; in ancient Egyptian "widower" is khari, and "widow" is khart. However, such cases of linguistic correspondence are deemed quirks of history. .....


The Hebrew are historically identified as having lived within Egypt under the Pharaohs for over 450 to 500 years (ca. 1720 - 1250 B.C.). This datum alone helps explain some of the reasons why these languages are similar to one another. However, given the fact that there exists no historically documented information about a possible contact between the ancient Egyptians and the Mesoamerican peoples, the perceived linguistic correspondences are more a case of a linguistic miracle. Professor T.S. Denison commented on the nature of such a linguistic miracle in "A Mexican-Aryan Comparative Vocabulary", (Chicago, 1909).

"In the year 1907, I announced in my 'Mexican in Aryan Phonology' that Nahuatl or Mexican is an Aryan language closely akin to Sanskrit and Avestan but more primitive that either, in fact Aryan of the proethnic period." [p.5]. Furthermore, "Philological proofs rest in the aggregate, and the equivalence of two entire vocabularies could not happen as a coincidence unless we are willing to concede that a linguistic miracle has been wrought on the American continent." [p.6]

In past works, we have presented comparative vocabularies like the present one of words from ancient Egyptian and the maya system, along with ancient Egyptian and the nahuatl language (Cfr., Earth/matriX #113). The degree of linguistic correspondence observed in those lists is similar to that witnessed between Hebrew and ancient Egyptian. In the latter case, scholars concede to the concept of linguistic correspondence, while in the former cases no admission is forthcoming. Ninety years ago, professor Denison had the following to say.

"Philologists, Ethnologists, Archaeologists, Encyclopedists, have been telling us for many years that the Indians are sui generis, indigenous, and could not in measurable time have come from Asia, that their languages are wholly unlike those of the Old World and are governed by different laws of sound genesis and growth. ... "Subsequent writers have copied these statements, believing them to be truth and science, whereas they are neither the one nor the other. Hence, the 'unwritten law' that America is forbidden ground to the Comparative Philologist". [p.8]

Fortunately, since then, many studies in comparative philology have been carried out. But, the indigenous languages are mainly being compared to themselves, among themselves. The most recent break-through studies of the maya system of languages appear to be limited to that same system. No study of significance seems to have gone outside of the maya system to study the relationship of maya with languages from other groups. However, from our studies, by comparing ancient Egyptian with the maya system, a comprehensive understanding of both languages becomes evident. An understanding of one language assists in comprehending the other language.

The Mishnah and Ancient Egyptian

Now, let us compare some of the main words listed in the Mishnah along with their possible equivalencies in ancient Egyptian. Not all of the words chosen from ancient Egyptian are considered matches with the words from the Mishnah. At times, we simply present words that help understand the original word-concept, related aspects of the morphemes.

Words from the Mishnah
Words from Ancient Egyptian





Even when the words are nearly synonymous, there always seems to be a reason to reject the idea of linguistic correspondence. In nahuatl, the word for "reed" is acatl; in ancient Egyptian the same word is akhah-t. In maya, the word-concept ah puh means "people of the reed"; in ancient Egyptian a word for "papyrus", a kind of reed, is apu. And, as we have observed elsewhere, there are any number of these linguistic correspondences among these languages. No matter, there shall always be a reason to deny any relationship among them until proof is offered regarding an historically documented contact among these peoples.

©3 April 1999-2011 Copyrighted by Charles William Johnson. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction prohibited.



In the book Sounds, Symbols, and Meaning: Ancient Egyptian, Nahuatl and Maya, we examine the possible linguistic correspondences among these languages. Interestingly enough, one can identify ancient Egyptian in innumerable words of the Nahuatl language simply by dropping the letter "l" in the latter. Or, one may add the letter "l" to many ancient Egyptian words, and the similarity with Nahuatl becomes striking. Many words between ancient Egyptian and these Mesoamerican languages share a linguistic correspondence on three levels: phonemes, morphemes and even the symbolic or graphic (glyphs and hieroglyphs) level. We discuss the possibility of there having existed a Mesoamerican-Kemi proto-lingua possibly in the past, before these language groups were formed.

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Sound of Meaning: Ancient Egyptian, Maya and Nahuatl
Author: Charles William Johnson
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