The Role of Non-Linguistic Criteria in Identifying Aramaic Names in the Cuneiform Text Corpus: A Re-evaluation

Brandon Simonson, Boston University

Most of the Aramaic onomasticon from the first millennium BCE is preserved in extant cuneiform sources. Distinguishing an authentic Aramaic name from other West Semitic names is a particularly difficult task, requiring the consultation of different sets of linguistic and conceptual criteria. Whereas the term ‘linguistic criteria’ includes phonological, morphological, structural, and lexical criteria, the term ‘conceptual criteria’ includes cultural, theological, genealogical, historical, and geographical criteria. Though both types of criteria must be used to determine the authenticity of a name, conceptual criteria serve a secondary function to linguistic criteria. This raises a question: when linguistic criteria do not provide a definitive answer, what role should conceptual criteria have in determining the authenticity of an Aramaic name in the cuneiform text corpus?

Using data from my ongoing project, ‘An Aramaic Onomasticon of Syro-Mesopotamian Texts and Inscriptions’, this paper re-evaluates the role of non-linguistic criteria in determining the Aramean origin of names, focusing on the potential impact that cultural, theological, genealogical, historical, and geographical criteria can have on this process. The resulting data illustrate how linguistically undefined or otherwise common names can be considered Aramean in origin. It is also determined that the effective use of conceptual criteria depends on many contextual factors and cannot be applied uniformly across all extant names. Ultimately, the cuneiform text corpus continues to serve as a crucial source of Aramaic names otherwise unavailable in alphabetic sources, and these names demonstrate the reach of Aramean cultural influence on life in greater Mesopotamia.