From time-to-time, I teach a course in historical linguistics, which is among my favorite subjects. One of the topics we spend a fair amount of time discussing is what’s called “Sound Shift,” which describes how similar vowel and consonant sounds move around over long stretches of time. For those of you familiar with Germanic languages (including English), this is what lies behind “Grimm’s Law” (also called “Rask’s Rule”).
Historically, consonant sounds tend to move around in these groups: /g/, /k/, /h/; /d/, /t/, /th/; and /b/, /p/, /f/. This is why dent- becomes “tooth” in English (/d/ becomes /t/ and /t/ becomes /th/; the /n/ dropped out for some reason) and gen- becomes “kin” (/g/ becomes /k/), and so forth. (Apologies in advance to the specialists among our readers: I am glossing over loads of subtleties for a general audience). Some linguists call these tendencies the “secret decoder ring” for cross-language vocabulary building.
As I watched the news this weekend, a particular report on the current situation in Israel caught my eye. The reporter was based in Ashkelon. I looked at my wife and asked what century it is, remembering Judges 14:18 ff’s description of Samson’s actions in Philistine territory.
The roots of the Middle East’s conflicts are millennia deep. This is even more apparent when we realize that the biblical Philistia / Philistines have been sound-shifted over the centuries to Palestine / Palestinian. Scholars and partisans may argue about whether the term is geographical or genetic, but the reality is that the history of the region is long and complicated. What is easy is this: we should pray for peace in a region that knows little of it.