In Search of Lost Tribes: Native American Languages and Hebrew

In Search of Lost Tribes:
Native American Languages and Hebrew
By
James Scott Trimm



From the 17th thru the early 19th Centuries, it was a commonly held belief that the Native Americans were descended from the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.  This view was held not only by many Christians (including Thomas Jefferson), but by many Jewish writers (such as Mordecai Noah) as well, but fell out of favor by the late 19th Century.

One of the many reasons that many scholars came to this conclusion was that it was quickly recognized that there was an apparent influence of Hebrew on Native American languages.  It was noted that Native American languages often followed the Hebrew pattern of making prepositions into prefixes, and that Native American languages were similarly used prefixes and suffixes in much the same was as Hebrew.

More importantly it was noted that Native American languages had many cognates to Hebrew words.  Some of these (as given by Ethan Smith in his 1825 book “View of the Hebrews”) are as follows:
(I have made some occasional improvements on the below table, especially in transliteration of some Hebrew words):

EnglishIndianHebrew or Chaldaic
JehovahYohewahYahuweh
GodAleEl
JahYahYah
ShilohShiluShiloh
HeavensChemimShamayim
FatherAbbaAv, Abba
ManIsh, IshteIsh
WomanIshtoIsha
Wife/EveAwahChavah
YouKeahKa
His WifeLianiLihene
This man (he)UwohHu
NoseNiehiriNeheri
Roof of a houseTraubana-oraDebonaour
WinterKoraKorah
CanaanCannaiCanaan
To prayPhalePhalac
NowNaNa
Hind partKeshKish
DoJennaisYannon
To blowPhaubacPhaubac
Rushing windRowahRuach
Ararat or high mountainAraratArarat

There are many other possible Hebrew linguistic influences on Indian languages.  For example the Mayan word for “real” or “true” is halach.  Could this have been derived from the Hebrew term halacha meaning “the way to go” and commonly used to refer to Jewish customs and laws.

The ancient Hebrews called false gods Baalim (“lords”) while the Mayans worshiped the jaguar as a god and their word for “jaguar” was “Balam”.

There are also connections between Hebrew and the Uto-Aztecan dialects which were spoken across the western portion on North America and down into Mexico.  My old friend and mentor the late Dr. Cyrus Gordon pointed out  that in the Native American Teletzinco Nahuatl language (a Uto-Atzecan dialect), wa means ‘and’ just as in Semitic languages (such as Hebrew and Aramaic)  (Before Columbus; Cyrus Gordon; Crown Publishers; N.Y. 1971 p. 136)

In Uto-Aztecan the plural suffix is –ima while in Hebrew the masculine plural suffix is –im.  In UA the reciprocal passive reflexive prefix is na- while in Hebrew it is ni-. 

In 1998 linguist Brian Stubbs published a revolutionary paper which demonstrated a distinct Hebrew influence on the Uto-Aztecan languages .

Stubbs points out that cognate words in Hebrew and Uto-Aztecan which share the same ambiguity are especially compelling. Among the more compelling examples cited by Stubbs is the Uto-Aztecan word yesipa meaning “sit” or “dwell” which appears related to the Hebrew root yashav (Strong’s 3427) meaning “sit” or “dwell”.  Stubbs gives many more examples to numerous to list here.  (ESOP (Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers) 23; “A Curious Element in Uto-Aztecan”; Brian Darrel Stubbs; pp. 109-140; 1998)

The following are just some of the examples given by Stubbs in his detailed analysis of the relationship:

EnglishUto-AtecanHebrew
plural suffix-ima-im
psv/rfl/rcp prefixna-ni-
Sit, DwellYasipaYashav
LightningBerokBarak
KidneyKaliKilya
Water, oceanMemet (ocean)Mayim, Mem (water)
ShoulderKotpaKatep
ShoulderSika/SikuSekem
Man, PersonOtamAdam
Prudent, WiseIskaliaHiskal
Shave, Scrape, SmoothSipaSippa
SquirrelSikkuSikkov
TwinConoCinw
BirdCipu(ri)Cippur
interrogative prefixHa-Ha-
keep locked, lock
lizard
cakwa
cakwa
cabba
cabb
ArrowHukHek

Why would Native American languages have such commonalities with Hebrew?  There is evidence that there was some transoceanic contact between ancient Hebrews and the New World (as I have shown in a previous blog).  But these linguistic connections seem to show much more than just transoceanic contact, and occur throughout North America (Smith’s examples of 1825 were largely from the Indian languages of the North East United States, while Stubb’s Uto-Aztecan examples are from the West and Southwest.) 

The question of the origins of Native Americans was one that received considerable attention in the first few centuries after Europeans re-discovered the New World.  One answer can be found in the Bible itself.  In Genesis we are told that at the scattering of mankind following the fall of the Tower of Babel that “from there, did YHWH scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth” (Gen. 11:9) and the first century Jewish Roman historian Josephus writes of this event “There were some also who passed over the sea in ships…” (Ant. 1:5:1).  Certainly we know today that ancestors of the Native Americans crossed over the land bridge from Asia into Alaska.  But is it possible there is more to the story?

Certainly portions of the Lost Tribes migrated into Europe and even Asia, but is it possible that some portion of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel also migrated to the New World and become a part of the ancestry of at least some Native American groups?  Could this be part if a bigger puzzle?  In a future article I will present more of the evidence that suggests that such a thing may well have occurred, and that some of the Lost Tribes did indeed migrate to the American Continents and did indeed become part of the ancestry of at least some Native American groups.

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One thought on “In Search of Lost Tribes: Native American Languages and Hebrew”

  1. Great article. I have never seen the similarities between native American language and Hebrew before. I know looking at the similarities between the building structures of North America before Europeans and the pyrimidines of Egypt give us a picture of a connection of both worlds. The Natives also had things in common with ancient Japan, such as some of their symbols and drum ceremonies.

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