Monthly Archives: July 2018

כתנת – Cotton?

Is the word כתנת related to cotton?

In his article about Joseph’s כתנת פסים, Ari Zivotofsky writes

Olam HaTanach ([1993] p. 208) notes that the word “ketonet” appears many times in Tanach and is a word with many parallels in other languages, such as the Akkadian words kitu (linen), kitinnu(fabric, cloth) and katanu (clothing from linen or wool). In explaining the ketonet worn by the Kohanim, Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews vol. III, 7:2) writes, “it is called chethone, and denotes linen, for we call linen by the name of chethone.”

Is this connection between linen and cotton and the similar words, כתנת and cotton, indicative of a relationship between the words?

The OED traces the word cotton to the Arabic qutn or qutun.  The quf vs. kaf might imply that the words are not related, though over time quf can change to kaf.  Tawil traces כתנת to the Akkadian kutanu, “shirt like tunic”.

In a 1980 article, John Pairman Brown (The Sacrificial Cult and Its Critique In Greek and Hebrew (II), Journal of Semitic Studies, Vol. 25 No. 1, Spring 1980) wrote:


Three groups of words are involved.
(Ia) “Tunic” (both masc. and fern.). Attic ο χιτων Doric and
Ionic κιθων, Aeolic κιθων, non-literary papyri κιθων and χιτων.
Lat. tunica may be a deformation, perhaps via Etruscan. Bib.
Hebr. fem, kuttonet and ketonet (LXX mostly χιτων). Ug. ktn is
fem. (cf. dual tt ktnm, UT 1110.6), pl. ktnt. Masc. are Eg. Aram.
ktwnh “his tunic” and Targumic kytwn’, ktwn’. Fern, are Syriac
<     > ketana (native ?) and <   > kutina (from the Greek ?). Akkad.
kitinnu may be a loan from W. Sem. or a deriv. from kitu
“garment”; kitu in turn is probably the source of the other
words, itself derived from Sumer. GADA which serves as its
(Ib) “Linen, flax” (masc). Talm. Aram, kytn “flax”. Eg.
Aram, ktn “linen”, e.g. lbsy qmr wktn “wearing wool (Bib.
Aram, `amar Dan. vii. 9) and linen”, Cowley 20.5. Phoen. ktn
(Kilamuwa) prob. is “linen”, not “tunic”. When Josephus
(A.J. III. 153) says “we call linen chethon“, κεθων γαρ το λινον
ημεις καλουμεν, he probably means Aramaic, not Hebrew. Arabic
qut(u)n = English “cotton” may also be related.

All of this leaves it unclear whether there is more than an incidental relationship between the two words.