Did the Lilliputians REALLY speak HEBREW?

woman in historical costume reading book

Before we answer this question (in the affirmative!) let’s recap:

Who were the Lilliputians?*

You might remember them from the children’s story you read, years and years ago, supposedly written by one Jonathan Swift, about a sea-traveler who was stranded on Lilliput, a little island, where everything was twelve times as small as in our world.

Well, this is part of the truth. Next month a new book will be published, in which the whole truth will be revealed.

You see, a 300 years-old manuscript was recently discovered, and it is the actual memoir of Mary Burton-Gulliver, the wife he left behind. Apparently, he told her all the secrets that were not fit to print, and she wrote them all down, in the long nights of his absence.

What you will NOT read in this upcoming publication of ‘Oh, Gulliver!’ is the answer to the question: “Did the Lilliputians really speak Hebrew”.

A good inside laugh

The answer to that question will only appear here, at De Vrijdagavond, and for good reason: I think that the readers of De Vrijdagavond might be interested in the answer, and would appreciate a good inside laugh, too.

The theory was first hatched by Professor Irving N. Rothman of the Houston University, and it soon called for the famous cry: “Houston, we have a problem!” since the assertion that the Lilliputians spoke Hebrew raised an academic alarm, which is chronicled all over the Internet, if you care to Google it.

I, on the other hand, am sure that Professor Irving N. Rothman was right. The Lilliputians not only spoke Hebrew, but I can – and I will – explain to you here how it all came about.

Ten Lost Tribes

You might have already heard about the Ten Lost Tribes of the Hebrew people, who were exiled from the Promised Land, the Kingdom of Israel, back in 722 BCE.

The ten lost tribes consisted of Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Manasseh and Ephraim. 

The other two tribes, Judah, and Benjamin (as well as the Levi tribe, who never had any territory) were not lost, but found their way into the Diaspora, where we know what has sadly happened to them.

We know all about the lost ten tribes thanks to the famous historian Josephus Flavius (37-100 AD) who wrote: “There are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers” (Translated by William Whiston)

The Naphtali

So, let’s focus our attention on one of those tribes, the Naphtali.

On his deathbed, their father, Jacob, blessed the Naftali tribe thus: “Naphtali is a doe set free that bears wise words.”

And in the original Hebrew: “נַפְתָּלִי אַיָּלָה שְׁלֻחָה הַנֹּתֵן אִמְרֵי שָׁפֶר”

So this is the solid ground on which we assert that the tribe of Naftali, being likened to ‘a doe set free’ ended up stranded on a little island, soon after the expulsion of 722 BCE.

Being a tribe that prides itself on its ‘bearing wise words,’ the people of Naftali cling dearly to their Hebrew language, but, as we all know and see around us, local, colloquial, slang language takes over and from one generation to the other language deteriorates (in the eyes of the older speakers of it) or evolves (in the mouths and ears of younger generations).

And thus, the name of the tribe declined from the proud Naftali, via Naftalilliput, to the currently known, humble Lilliput.

In a similar way, the clear, beautiful Hebrew language of Naftali, which was described by Jacob as ‘Wise Words’, had declined by the time Gulliver learned their language and was hardly recognized as Hebrew at all.

Doesn’t promise anything

Well, luckily here comes Prof. Irving N. Rothman of the Houston University, and with a little help from our friends, we can now offer you a glimpse into the immense Lilliputian-Hebrew dictionary:

LilliputianMeaning in HebrewHebrew origin
(the name of their Holly Book)
Doesn’t promise anythingבלי נדר כלל
BurglumEmpty wellבור כלום
HekinahPrepare, Raiseהכינו
KelminAll the species togetherכל מין
Rog A kissרוק

kaft boek Oh Gulliver!

*please note, Politically Correct people, that in this context the word ‘Lilliputians’ is used to describe the dwellers of Lilliput and is in no way meant to ridicule short people!

Want to know more?

The first novel in the series of ‘Oh, Gulliver!’ will come out in print in May 2023, but, if you order the book by January 15th you will be able to hold your own copy of Mrs. Gulliver and the Secret of Size already in February 2023.

cover foto: Ole Steen Hansen

Over Erga Netz 19 Artikelen
Erga Netz is a cultural entrepreneur, producer, actress and author. Her debut novel, published in 2023, ‘Oh, Gulliver!’ is an historical, satirical, feminist, and at times, erotic novel, revealing what REALLY happened to Gulliver in his travel to Lilliput, and what did his loyal wife do in the meanwhile. https://www.mrsgulliversecret.com/the-book Erga netz is also part of the board of Stichting Rainbow, along Nir Geva and Sarah Whitlau, with Gilad Nezer as director and producer. In recent years we focused our activities on Israeli cultural and societal activities for the Israeli, Dutch Jews, and the general Dutch public.

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