Reliability of Understanding ANE languages

From time to time commentators reference languages spoken by Israel’s ancient neighbors, eg Ugaritic and Akkadian, to help understand a biblical text. There is the possibility of circular logic in that knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic seem to inform the deciphering of the ancient texts.

  1. So how reliable is the understanding of these dead ancient languages? To what level of detail does this reliability extend?
  2. How independent of is the understanding of these languages from Hebrew? Is it independent enough to inform our understanding of Hebrew?
  3. Is there a good reference which explains the issue of reliability?

I found this rather interesting article on Hebrew and Ugaritic. Evidently an AI program that knew Biblical Hebrew came up with a pretty similar translation of Ugarit texts as humans who originally cracked the cuneiform.

The article gives some examples of how Ugaritic is used to help understand the biblical text. I think the benefit is having additional contexts in a closely related language to possibly help out with tricky parts. It’s kind of like having a larger corpus to work with. So it’s not like, “Oh, we know what this word means in Ugaritic, and we don’t know what the word means in Hebrew so we just use the Ugaritic definition.” It’s more like you can compare the contexts of related words and it might give you insight into the semantic range of the word.

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Thank you for the reference. It is encouraging to see that the language deciphering can be done with an algorithm which indicates that the method is objective. The cautionary comment in the Forward article is that ‘scholars were able to determine much of its vocabulary’ which indicates that there are limits to the endeavor. Here I am prepared to believe that the well trained scholars are aware of limits etc but that there is a group of people who use the results without knowing the nuance and I would like to know. when I should accept or reject their comments.

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