And while my comparison of Igbo and Ivrit is still in infancy I must reveal that I have observed that both languages share quite an uncommon resemblance; from idiomatic expressions, to similar words having similar meanings in both, etc. An Igbo who compared Igbo and Hebrew as part of her graduate work reached the conclusion that both languages are genetically related. Below is part of the work that I have started to do in the studying of both languages:
It is interesting that the Igbo word for house or home is be, and the Hebrew word for house is bes or beth. That an Igbo type of light is urimmu, and six of the lights on the breast-plate of the Israelite chief priest is urim. That the meaning of Israel’s Name for God in Hebrew Yawe, is ‘I am’, and in Igbo Yawu means ‘He is’. That wine in Hebrew is yayin and mmanya in Igbo. Abraham to the Igbo is Abiama. We must admit that Abraham and Abiama are close in spelling and pronunciation. The Creator of the universe to the Igbos is Chukwu Abiama (Great God of Abraham). Omenana is the phrase for the Igbos religion and culture, and Emuna is the Hebrew word for faith. And adam (Hebrew) and madu (Igbo) both mean man (humans).
G.T. Basden devoted a large portion of his work to a comparison of Igbo and Israelite traditions, and he started the comparison thus:
‘There are one or two peculiarities of idiom in Ibo similar to some found in Hebrew. The chief parallel is found in the repetition of words to express a single idea and, perhaps to add emphasis. The practice of reduplicating verbs or adding their cognate nouns is characteristic of Ibo- e.g. ‘O galu aga’ = he passed; ‘o jelu ije’ = he went. As a rule, the addition makes little or no appreciable difference to the meaning. There are many verbs which are rarely used without reduplication or with their derived noun either attached or in close proximity, e.g., we have such terms as “murmur a murmur” = “o natamu atamu”, or, as we have in the litany, “those who have erred”= “ndi jefielu ejefie”, and “those who are deceived” = “ndi alaputalu alaputa.”5
My exploratory work on the idioms, expressions, usages, etc, is set out hereafter.
Moses’ call on ‘heaven and earth’ to be his witness that he gave Israel sufficient warning to stay away from idolatry and evil made profound impact on me the first time I read it scholastically (in Deuteronomy 4:26), because it is our (Igbo) fashion when we want to really lay emphasis on a matter in discussion. When the Igbo man says ‘enu igwe na ana nukwa onu m’ (‘may heaven and earth hear my voice’) he is really serious, and does not want to play with the matter that made him to utter those words. An Igbo writer; S.C. Onwuka mentioned that Igbos call upon ‘heaven and earth to witness’ while they are praying.6 I submit that it is not just coincidental that both languages have such an identical expression, and use it in similar circumstances.
Also Dr. J. H. Hertz, a Jewish scholar; had while explaining the nuance in Numbers 14:22, “these ten times” stated that it could stand for a ‘large number of times’. He further explained it to mean: “They had now filled up the measure of their iniquities, and punishment must inevitably come upon them.”7 Dr. Hertz used expressions very close to the Igbo idiom—‘iko ya ejuna’, which means that he has exhausted all his chances, but which can be translated literally to mean ‘his cup or measure is filled up.’ Igbos use this phrase or idiom when an evil doer gets caught and is awaiting punishment. From Hertz’s explanation it is easy to see that the same idea lies behind both the Igbo usage of the expression, and the Israelite usage, as explained by Hertz.
Hertz also explains, ‘for they are bread for us’ which is in Numbers 14:9 as meaning that:
‘We shall easily destroy them.’8
His explanation is very similar to an Igbo expression nni nracha ka ha wu which literally means (‘they are easy food’), which if employed during a quarrel or fight signifies that the opponent can be defeated easily.
Also very interesting is the nearness of words that Jacob and his sons deployed when they were talking about Joseph’s supposed loss, to a wild beast, to the words that Igbos would have used in similar circumstances.
The sons reported that an ‘evil beast’ might have devoured their brother. Jacob also referred to the beast as an ‘evil beast.’ Genesis 37:35.9 Ordinarily a beast is either a wild one or a domestic one. But I understand what Jacob and his sons said and why because as an Igbo I know that Igbos will refer to a ferocious or wild beast as ajo anu (evil beast), even though the beast could have equally been tagged anu ofia (wild beast) by the Igbos.
One comes across the phrase ‘the anger of the Lord was kindled’,—Numbers 12:9, ‘My wrath shall wax hot’,-Exodus 22:23. If the phrases are translated into Igbo language we will have iwe oku which means hot anger.
The Igbos call their anger iwe oku (hot anger) when they are very angry. As I was pointing out in the section that dealt with “evil beast,” is anger supposed to be “hot” or cold? Applying such adjectives in certain cases makes sense to me only when I consider that every language has its own idioms and characteristics.
I will make a preliminary conclusion of this section with the words of Basden: “The language (Igbo) also bears several interesting parallels with the Hebrew idiom.”10
But before making my final comment on this subject which I am just beginning to look at I want to bring up more strikingly similar Igbo and Hebrew words which have identical or near meanings.
It is not mere coincidence that makes may- im- hayy-iym “waters of life, living waters,” in Hebrew similar to iyi which is “stream, river” in Igbo language.
Also the belt that was part of the Israelite priest’s garment—the ephod or ‘efowd, which is comparable with the Igbo word mfiedo = girdle or belt.
In addition the Hebrew nasas /nasah which are “be clear, be pure /shinning”, can be related to the Igbo nso and which can be used for holiness. Aso can also be used for holiness, and in Igbo thought what is nso or aso (holy) is pure.
And I also observed that many Igbo words like unyahu, ebe ahu, and nke ahu (yesterday, that place, and that thing) definitely excites one to think of Hebrew names like Eliyahu, Netanyahu, Yeshayahu, etc., because of the ahu endings. It also occurred to me that Igbos would include an u when pronouncing a name like John giving out something like Johnu. I was moved by the following prayer: Barukh atah Adonai….shehekhyanu vekiymanu vehigianu lazman hazeh, because of the nu endings. I find it my favorite prayer in Hebrew. Researchers would find this area very interesting to explore I predict.
As I am only beginning an exploration of this section I will not go too far. I will not make definitive assertions on the relationship between the Igbo and Hebrew languages at this stage. However I must say that my observation is that the Igbo spoken fifty years ago was not very dissimilar in aspects like sound, pronunciation, etc, with ancient Ivrit. Shortly I will resume a comparison of both languages with Avraham Phil van Riper; an American Jewish scholar.