May 12, 2004

Hannibal / Haniba`al

I have been looking for information about the origin of the Semitic root-and-pattern system without much luck so far. I hope to share my findings with you in a future post. In the meantime, I did find this nice chart of the Semitic family tree. You can see how closely related Hebrew is to Phoenician – they are practically the same language, both being practically the same as Canaanite, their immediate ancestor. I vividly recall when the movie Hannibal reached Israel – I saw posters for it all over. Hannibal in Hebrew (which I assume is the same as the original Punic, a dialect of Phoenician) is Haniba`al – Spear of the Master – a very evocative name, given the accompanying picture. Ba`al (the Master) was one of the Canaanite (and I presume Punic) gods. The Canaanites, and the Carthaginians, practiced child sacrifice (among other horrors) as part of their religious worship.

While we’re on the subject, The World’s Major Languages has the Punic name for Carthage (the real Hannibal’s city): Qart Hadasht. In Hebrew this would be Qiryah Hadashah (final t > h, but is still seen in construct form such as Qiryat Gat). Qiryah is “city”, hadashah is “new” so Qart Hadasht means New City. A large number of Israeli cities have the word Qiryah in them. In addition to Qiryat Gat, we have Qiryat Ono, Qiryat Sefer, Qiryat Malakhi, and many more.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at May 12, 2004 03:28 PM
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I had always thought that "Hanniba`al" was "Baal is gracious", parallel to the Hebrew names "Hananya" or "Hananel". Do you have any evidence one way or the other that it might be "spear" rather than "gracious"? Unfortunately, a native speaker isn't available, but I wonder if modern Maltese would be able to shed any light on the matter.

Posted by: Adam at May 13, 2004 02:29 AM Permalink

Adam, thank you for your comments. You're likely right about Hannibal. Hen is "grace", hanina is "mercy". Spear is hanit. I probably latched on to hanit rather than hen or hanina because of the context in which I saw the word.

(I’m using italics instead of underline because for some reason Movable Type is stripping out the underline markup.)

Adam, are you a professional like Amritas or an amateur like me?

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at May 13, 2004 09:36 AM Permalink

No, I'm an amateur like you, and also a fellow inhabitant of Israel.

Posted by: Adam at May 14, 2004 06:46 AM Permalink

In the word hanit, there is no dagesh in the nun (so there's only one nun in the root, Isaiah 2:4). The root for grace/mercy/clemency is h.n.n., as in hanina and hanun. Judging by the English spelling (probably derived from the Latin spelling, etc.) I would guess that the n in Hannibal was doubled in Phoenician/Punic, thus suggesting that the root is indeed h.n.n. and not h.n.t/y. I don't remember where I first read that Hannibal is "Baal is gracious" or otherwise got the idea, but that's what I've thought. A Google search for "hannibal baal" turns up the possibilities of "joy of Baal", "favorite of Baal", or "grace of Baal".

Sorry for the nitpicking, I guess I got carried away. Hope you're not too "holistic" in your thinking. ;-)

Posted by: Adam at May 14, 2004 07:06 AM Permalink

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