By Richard Cull, F.S.A.
Read 2nd April, 1872.

[Extracted from Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, vol. 1 (1872), pp. 281-93.]

The recovery of the long lost language of Assyria is one of the remarkable events of our time. The long-continued, cautious and successful labours of Sir Henry Rawlinson on the trilingual inscriptions of Behistun cannot be too highly estimated. His researches proved the language of Babylonia, in the time of Darius, to be Shemite, and to be essentially the same as the Assyrian language of Tiglath Pileser. The late Dr. Hincks most happily termed the Assyrian, from its richness of grammatical forms, "the Sanskrit of the Shemitic family of languages." Although so rich in grammatical forms, competent scholars deem it to be more closely connected with the Hebrew, than with the Arabic. The occurrence of so many words of the same form, or nearly so, and in the same sense as the Hebrew, is a circumstance favourable to the verification of the statements of the early decypherers, as it was favourable to then original researches. Such a word as (aslula) "I spoiled," is obviously a form of the verb ללש, and is identified as the Hebrew verb of the same form and sense. It is not asserted that the Assyrian verb is derived from the Hebrew, nor that the Hebrew is derived from the Assyrian, but that the words come from a common source, just as the Italian Peccare, and the Spanish Pecar have a common source. In the case of the Italian and Spanish, we know that source to be the Latin Peccare. But we do not know the common source of the Hebrew and Assyrian languages.


Many Assyrian verbs consist of the same radicals, and express the same sense as the corresponding verbs in the Hebrew, of which the following may be cited as examples:

Ha-lik, I went.  Heb. הלך
Iz-ku-ru, They remembered. זכר
Az-ni-iq, I advanced. זגק
Ak-vu, I burned. כוה
Al-bi-in, I made bricks. לבן
U-ma-h-ir, I hastened. מהר
Am-nu, I numbered. מגה
E-bir, I crossed over. עבר
Ip-la-hu, Many revered. פלח
I-qa-lu-n, They shall burn. קלה
 U-sal-ma, I completed. שלם
Is-me, He heard. שמע
As-ru-up, He burned. שרף

Some Assyrian verbs differ slightly from the Hebrew forms as—

Ip-ki-du, He watches over. Heb. דקמ

The slight difference of an Assyrian כ for a Hebrew ק presents no difficulty in the identification of the word. In like manner an Assyrian ד for a Hebrew ח an Assyrian צ for a Hebrew ז, an Assyrian ס for a Hebrew צ present no difficulties to students.

There are many Assyrian verbs, however, whose forms are so unlike the Hebrew, that they have not yet been generally identified. I select three examples, and shall state the evidence on which I identify them as variant forms of well-known Hebrew words, and shall begin with the verb Basu, to Be. [p.283] The Assyrian verb Basu is a variant form of the Hebrew verb-substantive הוה to Be.

The current doctrine of Assyrian scholars is that Basu is the verb-substantive, and that it originates in an extra Shemitic source. There is, however, one distinguished writer on Assyrian grammar who denies the existence of the verb-substantive in the Assyrian language. M. Menant says, "L'Assyrien n'exprime pas le verbe substantif, il est toujours sous entendu. Si les inscriptions assyriennes des Achemenides renferment quelques exemples qui peuvent faire crone a l'existence d'un verbe de cette nature, il faut tenir comptede l'influence que la conqucte arienne avait exercee sur les redacteurs de ces textes; car le verbe substantif ne parait pas avoir ete en usage dans les inscriptions de Babylone et de Ninive."1 Dr. Oppert, another distinguished writer on Assyrian grammar, probably agrees with M. Menant. A reference to M. Menant's translation of Assyrian texts will show how he deals with the verb Basu. The second part of the "Grammaire Assyrienne" consists of Babylonian and Assyrian texts arranged for reading, with grammatical analysis to illustrate his rules of grammar. The cuneiform text is accompanied by an interlinear transliteration into Roman letters, and under each line is a Latin version of the text. In addition to this, the text is repeated as a whole in Roman letters; then follows a transliteration of the cuneiform text in unpointed Hebrew letters. A French translation of the text comes next in order, which is followed by a grammatical analysis. Thus there are two transliterations of the text, one into Roman and the other into Hebrew letters. And there are two translations of the text, one into Latin and the other into French.

M. Menant enables his readers, by these means, to apprehend both his reading and rendering of these cuneiform texts, and that without much risk of error. The paragraph col. I, lines 26-53, from the Assyrian Inscription of Shamas Phul, quoted from Rawlinson's Inscriptions, vol. 1, pp. 29-34,contains two examples of the verb Basu, the forms being [p.284] Basa and Usabsi. Basa, line 33, he leaves blank in his Latin version, and translates it "qui ouvre" (who opens) in his French version. Usabsi, line 41, he translates peccare fecit in his Latin version, but appears to have overlooked the word in his French version.2 Thus Basa is not translated into Latin, and Usabsi is not translated into French. In the grammatical analysis of the Assyrian text, where an accurate statement of the grammatical form and lexicographical value of each word ought to be made, he ignores the existence of the word Basa. Now, whatever the sense of the root Basu may be, the grammatical form forbids us to translate Basa, qui ouvre. And M. Menant does not justify his translation in his grammatical analysis of the text.

As to the word Usabsi, M. Menant is correct in stating it to be a Shaphel form, but in error in stating it to be the Shaphel of פשה peccare. The context does not require caused to sin, but caused to be. M. Menant does not connect Basa with Usabsi. He does not connect his root פשה with any Hebrew root. There is, however, a rarely used root פשע to Separate, and hence to Rebel. But the third radical ע is exchanged for ק in the Aramaean form of the word, which is evidence that it was the harsh guttural sound equivalent to the Arabic "Ghain," which was pronounced in Hebrew, so that the ע so pronounced is not likely to be represented in Assyrian by ה. Usabsi is a Shaphel form of Basu, to Be.

Mr. Norris remarks,—"The verb-substantive has been misunderstood generally, and has only been explained recently by Dr. Hincks."3

I now proceed to examine the phonetic structure of the substantive verb in the Hebrew, and such allied dialects, as are necessary for the inquiry.

The Hebrew היה to Be, of which the ancient form is הוה, is רמלע that is to say, is accented on the last syllable. The verb is intransitive, although its second radical is pointed with kametz. The stem חוה to Live, [p.285] hence to Be, is identical with הוה, the fundamental signification, according to Furst, lying in the Talmudic הבא "to Breathe."4 There is a large group of cognate words in the Hebrew, either expressive of, or connected with, the act of breathing, some of which are transitive in sense.

היה olim הוה to Breathe, to Be.
פעה to Breathe.
פאה    "
אפע    "
פה    "
גפח    "
גפש to Breathe, Respire, hence to Live.
גפש Breath of life, Vital power.
גפחה גפשה she breathed out the breath of life.—Jer. XV, 9.
פוה to Breathe.
פוה    "
רוח    "
רוח Breath.
יפח to Breathe.

In this group of words, the organic root of the stems begin with the labials Beth, Vau, or Pe, each of which is interchangeable with the others.

The Syriac to Be, is written with Olaph for the third radical, while He is the third radical in the Hebrew. This is a well known Aramaean characteristic. The linea occultans under the first radical shows, that although the letter is written, it is not pronounced, so that the word becomes a monosyllable, which is pronounced vo, or wo. In both dialects of the Aramaean, the eastern known as Biblical Chaldee, and the western as Syriac, the same weakened value of the first syllable is found in words cognate with the Hebrew מלרע words, thus the Hebrew קטל is קטל, both in Chaldee and in Syriac. To point the first radical with sh'wa, where the Hebrew points with a vowel is a well known charac- [p.286] teristic of the Aramaean. This weakening of the first syllable has been carried so far in some cases, as to have occasioned its entire loss, especially in those instances where the first radical is a weak letter, as the Hebrew אחד which is חד in both the dialects of Aram. The triliteral character of the numeral stem is lost, as well as its pronunciation, but in the verb substantive, the triliteral form continues to exist, although the first radical may have been mute for perhaps two thousand years. Thus the toneless syllable of the Aramaean cognate of the Hebrew may be weak, or even dropped, and no trace of its existence remain, as in חד but the tone syllable lives in sense and phonetic power to attest that the Hebrew and Aramaean come from a common source. It will be observed, that in the comparison of the first numeral in these dialects, the first radical of the Aramaean is compared with the second radical of the Hebrew; and a similar course, so far as the pronounced Syriac word vo is concerned, is adopted in comparing the verb substantive in Syriac and Hebrew. It is therefore possible, that a similar course may be required to compare Assyrian and Hebrew stems. I am justified, therefore, in assuming that the first syllable, the weak one, of the Hebrew root הו "he is," may be non-existent in Assyrian, and that therefore the first radical of the Assyrian Basu, which is ב, must be compared with the second radical of the Hebrew הוה. And I proceed to make this comparison.

The letter changes in the Hebrew language are chiefly amongst those of the same organ, thus the labials ב, ו, מ , פ interchange; and ב and ו are conspicuous for such interchange. The familiar example גב and גו the Back, is known to every student of Hebrew. This interchange is not confined to the final radicals of a syllable, but occurs in stems middle ו as in the words—

אוה and


אול and


These are merely variant forms of the same words. Such examples are sufficiently numerous, and the above are quoted as mere specimens, but not to exhaust the instances. [p.287] If the view be now extended to embrace other Shemitic languages, as well as the Hebrew, in order to obtain a wider induction of facts, the same interchange of ו and ב will be found.

Hebrew גבל and

Aramaean גבל

Hebrew עבט and Arabic .

The ו of the Hebrew הוה has given place to a ב in the Talmudic הבא to Breathe. And besides the general evidence of the interchange of ו and ב in the Shemitic dialects, there is the special evidence supplied by the large group of Hebrew stems, all signifying to Breathe, in which the middle ו of הוה, to Be, has given place to פ, as in the examples—


to Breathe,  hence to Be.
אפע "


גפח "         "
יפח "         "

The evidence of the interchange of ו with ב, and also with פ in this verb, in Hebrew and in the dialects is sufficient to justify the inference that the Assyrian B of Basu, to Be, is the representative of the Hebrew ו of הוה to Be.

I proceed to consider the third radical ה of the Hebrew הוה, in order to compare the S of the Assyrian Basu with it. A question, however, arises as to the radical ה. Is it a substitute for ו or for י, or is it an original part of the groundform? הוה is a לה verb, but it is not conjugated like ordinary לה verbs, for the ה is retained, as if it were inscribed with mappik, although it is not so inscribed. Hebrew grammarians state, that לה verbs were originally לו, or לי verbs, that the ה was substituted for the ו or the י as the case might be, and that the ו or the י reappear in the conjugation. This inferential history may or may not be the actual history of such verbs, but the fact remains of the non-persistence of the ה in ordinary לה verbs, and the fact also remains of its persistence in the verb-substantive הוה to Be. The ה then is not a substitute for another letter, but is an original element of the stem.


In comparing the differentia of cognate words in the Hebrew and Assyrian languages, an Assyrian ש is occasionally found to correspond with a Hebrew ה. This was pointed out many years ago by Sir Henry Rawlinson in his elaborate memoir on the Babylonian version of the Behistun Inscription in the case of the separate pronouns of the third person singular. And every Assyrian scholar admits, that su is the cognate of the Hebrew הוא, and si of the Hebrew הוא. With a knowledge of this established fact, we are not unprepared for the announcement, that the S of the Assyrian Basu may represent the ה of the Hebrew הוה.

The words גפח and גפש to Breathe, appear in the above list of Hebrew verbs on p. 285. The verb גפש to Breathe, whence comes גפש Breath, is obviously a variant form of גפח, as is proved by its usage in the Bible. The evidence of the existence of ש as the third radical in a variant form of הוה, in the verb גפש to Breathe, is amply sufficient to justify the inference, that the S of Basu, to Be, is the representative of ה in the Hebrew verb הוה to Be.

Abundant evidence of letter changes in the Hebrew itself, and in its allied languages, has been adduced to account for variations of form in well-known cognate words, and special evidence of such changes as produce the variant Hebrew forms of the verb הוה to Breathe, which, applied by a careful analysis of the word הוח, shows, that the Assyrian Basu is one of its variant forms.

I proceed to the verb Qabah to Say.

The changes which Aryan roots have suffered in the utterance of the several members of the family have been classified, and the letter changes, which record the forms of the same roots, are accurately known, and have become science. The history of our knowledge of these changes shows that the most obvious, such as υπερ and super, with those which attract the attention of boys in learning Latin and Greek, were first observed, and that these were the bases on which was reared the doctrine of such letter changes as marks the present state of Aryan philology. But Shemitic philology, in this respect, is as yet in its infancy. The likeness [p.289] of the Hebrew שלג, the Chaldee תלג the Syriac and the Assyrian Salgu, Snow, is so close as to force the conclusion, that they are merely four forms of the same word. A science of Shemitic philology based upon such obvious likenesses, but which shall also comprehend those likenesses, which are concealed by letter changes, which await to be studied and can be revealed only by such study, has yet to be constructed.

The Babylonian verb Gabah to Say is of frequent occurrence in the historical inscriptions of Babylonia. There can be no doubt of the signification of the word, as that is proved by the trilingual inscription of Behistun; and none of its general form. Sir Henry Rawlinson considers Gabah to be a verb לה, but doubts if any such root existed in the Hebrew language.5 M. Menant deems the root to be peculiar to the Assyrian language, "essentiellement assyrienne."6 The third radical is stated by both to be ה.

The verb also occurs in the Assyrian historical inscriptions, but in the form Qabah, the variant form being produced by the substitution of ק for ג as the first radical. All students of Assyrian and Babylonian agree that Gabah and Qabah are merely two forms of the same word.

The ancient Hebrew root הוה to Live, is a variant form of the root הוה to Breathe. Now this root הוה to Live is also adopted in the sense of to Say, to Relate, especially in the Piel form of the verb, as in Job xxxii, 6, 10: xxxvi, 2; Psalm xix, 3, where it is adopted in the sense of to show by Statement, to Declare. The Chaldee cognate is חוא to Say, as in Daniel ii, 24; v, 7, in the sense to Say, Relate, show by Statement, to Declare. If we may judge from its more frequent occurrence in the Chaldee, than in an equal length of Hebrew text in the Holy Scriptures, we shall agree with Professor Lee, that the usage of the word is more Chaldee than Hebrew.7 If we now turn to Syriac texts, we find the root to Say, in its Pael form to show by Statement, to Declare, is in common use, as in the Chronicles of Bar [p.290] Hebreaus. It has been noticed by Bernstein,8 and also by Furst,9 that in the Arabic, the first and second radicals of the root are transposed. This transposition, however, is not peculiar to the root חוה to Say, but uniformly takes place in the Arabic in all middle ו roots, which are common to the Hebrew, Aramaean, and Arabic languages.

The Hebrew verb הוה is מלרע that is, is accented on the last syllable. The first radical ח, although a guttural, is too strong to fall away, and is moved by a vowel in the Aramaean, as well as in the Hebrew.

I now proceed to show by means of some of the ordinary letter changes, which are familiar to Hebrew scholars, that the Assyrian Qabah to Say and its Babylonian equivalent Gabah to Say are variant forms of the Hebrew הוה  to Say and hence the word is Shemitic. The first radical is ח, which interchanges with certain other letters, both in primitive and in derived words, and amongst them with ק, of which the following are examples:

חטף and


חשד and


חשש and


The following examples illustrate the interchange of ג with ח:

חבל and


חדר and


חול and


The facts of these interchanges in Hebrew, prepare us for similar interchanges in Assyrian and Hebrew, and hence the first radical ח of the Hebrew word חוה to Say, may be represented in Assyrian by ק and in Babylonian by ג as I infer it to be.

Prof. Furst finds the root חוה to Say in the Aryan family of languages. "חוא  (Peal not used) Aram. intr. to Say, to Relate, dicere, narrare, identical with Heb. חוה, Sanskrit k ja (חו = k'j) Lat. qua (in inquam)."10 The identification of this root in Sanskrit and Latin enables us to identify it also [p.291] in the Teutonic and Celtic branches of the Aryan family, as in the Maeso-Gothic Qvithan or Kvithan to Say, Anglo-Saxon Cwethan to Say, English Quoth, Welsh Qwed, and Irish Ceadach. The guttural aspirate ח has become a hardened guttural k-sound in the Aryan family of languages, as represented by a Q, and the same hardening has taken place in the Assyrian, where it is represented by ק. The close likeness of ק and Q, if they be not precisely alike, is familiarly known.

I proceed to consider the second radical of the Hebrew חוה to Say. Abundant evidence is stated on p. 287 to prove that the Hebrew ו may be represented by an Assyrian B, as it is in the Samaritan חבה to Say.

The third radical of the Hebrew verb חוה to Say is ה, and the third of the Assyrian Qabah to Say, also of the Babylonian are described to be ה, but in both Aramaean dialects it is א. The Hebrew ה is not inscribed with mappik, and is therefore probably a Hebrew development of a more ancient ו or י; and the Aramaean א is probably a still softer development of an ancient form, both developments taking place in the respective languages after the divergence of the peoples from a common centre. The third radical of the Assyrian may, in like manner, be an Assyrian development from an older form. But whatever may be the origin of the Hebrew ה, of the Aramaean א, and the Assyrian ה the identity of the Assyrian Qabah to Say, of the Babylonian Gabah to Say, and Samaritan חבה to Say, with the Hebrew חוה to Say is now established.

I proceed to the verb Isu to Have.

The Assyrian verb Isu to Have is of frequent occurrence in the historical inscriptions of Assyria and Babylonia. The signification of the verb was determined by Dr. Hincks. A collection of the several forms of the word found in the inscriptions is still insufficient to enable the grammarian to complete its conjugation from actual examples. But this is the case with many Assyrian verbs, both imperfect and perfect. The object of this paper is not the discussion of verbal forms with a view to their conjugation, but simply to ascertain their cognates. The inquiry is not grammatical but lexicographical.


The proposition which I now submit to Assyrian scholars is, that Isu is cognate with the Hebrew יש.

"יש a very old noun from a verb-stem ישה which has lost, however, the final sound in pronunciation, the same thing taking place also in other nouns from לה, as in the case with בן מת אל של before Makkeph יש with suff. ישף. m. Being, Existence."11 Buxtorf12 also derives יש from the stem ישה. Both Furst and Buxtorf take איש to be a form of יש and most lexicographers admit them to be variant forms of the same word. It is familiarly known that many verbs פי have variants פא. In both the Aramaean dialects ת stands for the ש, the form being אית with א in place of י. The Hebrew lexicons refer to examples of both Hebrew forms of the word, and also to the Aramaic forms in the Bible, so that neither the forms, nor usage of the word, present any difficulty to be deemed insuperable. Possession is often expressed by the word יש with the addition of the particle ל (often called the dative) as in the phrase תקלי יש, I have hope. Ruth i, 12, i.e. there is to me hope, as in the Latin est mihi, tibi, &c., for Habeo. Furst agrees with other Hebrew lexicographers that "יש is equivalent to תושיה (which is from the same verb) essential, i.e. enduring possession, Prov. viii, 2, as Ibn Esra already translates; the LXX having υπαρξίς, Gr. Venet. όυσία."13 Thus from the earliest translators and lexicographers down to those of the present day, the words יש and תושיה are connected, and derived from a root ישה; and יש signifies true existence, actual being. Professor Lee directs attention to the Arabic cognates, as expressive of wealth, property, possession,14 and the secondary senses of the Hebrew יש are substance, wealth, firmness. The phrase יש אהבי Lovers of substance, [p.293] i.e. real wealth, Prov. viii. 21, exemplifies one of these secondary values.

The groundform ישה, or rather, as pointed out by Professor Lee, ושה, is adequate to supply all the forms of the word in the Shemitic languages. The sense of the verb ושה must have been to Possess or have actual wealth. The verb ירש to Possess is probably an enlarged stem, by the insertion of ר in the ground form ישה. But however this may be, the idea of possessing, having wealth and substance, is the fundamental idea of the verb. And hence the Assyrian verb Isu to Have, to Possess, is a cognate of the verb.


1 Grammaire Assyrienne, p. 290.

2 Grammaire Assyrienne, p. 360, et seq.

3 Assyrian Dictionary, by Edwin Norris, sub voce, p. 130.

4 Furst's Heb. Lex., by Davidson, sub voce הוה.

5 Analysis of the Babylonian Text at Behistun, p. iv.

6 Grammaire Assyrienne, p. 203.

7 Heb. Lex. by Prof. Lee, sub voce.

8 Lex. Syriacum, sub voce.

9 Heb. Lex., sub voce.

10 Furst's Heb. Lex. חוא.

11 Furst's Heb. Lex. by Davidson, sub voce.

12 Buxtorf's Heb. and Chaldee Lex., sub voce.

13 Furst's Heb. Lex., vide יש and תושיה.

14 Lee's Heb. Lex. יש.