Davies, Philip R, “Biblical Hebrew and the History of Ancient Judah: Typology, Chronology, and Common Sense,” Pages 150-163 in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology Edited by Ian Young. London: T&T Clark, 2003.

Davies’ essay begins the second half of this volume, which is titled “Challenges to the Chronological Model”. As he is one of the scholars who has proposed dating much of the biblical literature composed in Classical Biblical Hebrew (CBH) to the Persian period and beyond, he here defends his position against the typological method of dating texts. His main argument is that typological categories do not necessarily convert to chronological ones. Rather, Hurvitz and his followers have not taken into account the problems of dialect diversity, especially the differences between spoken and literary dialects. Thus, while Classical Biblical Hebrew (CBH) may indeed be closer to the language of the extant Iron Age inscriptions, there is no reason why scribes could not have continued to write texts using this literary dialect after the exile.

For instance, Davies points to several CBH texts which he claims have a terminus a quo in the sixth century: Leviticus 26, 1 Kings 8, and 2 Kings 25. These texts are often dated to the exile, but he sees no reason why they could not be later. If scribes continued to copy, edit, and expand CBH texts up to the time which the Qumran biblical manuscripts were copied, then why could Judean scribes not write CBH texts? The phenomenon of a literary language outliving its spoken counterpart is attested from Akkadian, Greek, Latin, and Arabic. Often there is a gradual change in this literary language over time, but the process of the language becoming totally dead is much longer than a century. For example, the literary dialect ‘Standard Babylonian’ was used for literary works beginning in the middle of the second millennium, and remained unchanged for about a thousand years before being succeeded by a type of archaizing Akkadian. Thus, while a ‘classical’ language may be typologically older than its ‘post-classical’ replacement, it is not true that one displaces the other suddenly or that the two cannot coexist.

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2 Comments on “Davies, Philip R, “Biblical Hebrew and the History of Ancient Judah: Typology, Chronology, and Common Sense,” Pages 150-163 in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology Edited by Ian Young. London: T&T Clark, 2003.”

  1. James Pate Says:

    Hi Peter,

    I have a question about archaicizing. We know that it happens, for Davies in one of his books (I think it was Search for Ancient Israel) talks about how the Qumran community sometimes wrote new stuff in biblical Hebrew. In some Bible classes I’ve taken, when the Hebrew in a Bible passage is especially hard to decipher or make sense of, the professor says that’s a sign of it being an old text. In archaicizing, does the text flow a lot more smoothly?

  2. Peter Bekins Says:

    James, it sounds like you are proposing an analogy to lectio dificilior for detecting truly archaic texts from archaisms. I think the reason earlier Hebrew features are more difficult to read is more that we tend to only study the grammar of standard classical Hebrew, therefore we are not used to them (and we don’t have as many such texts so we are forced to go to comparative material more). In principle, if a scribe is archaizing, it may be possible to detect interference from their vernacular dialect. Of course, we would have to know something about their vernacular to detect it. Another clue may be hyper-correction (see Dr Kaufman’s article on paragogic nun).

    Also, strictly speaking, I don’t think Davies is arguing that the biblical texts were written in classical Hebrew to be archaizing, ie to give them an appearance of age. Rather, he is suggesting that classical Biblical Hebrew had prestige as a literary language and thus could have continued to be used to compose new texts through the Persian period and beyond. The admitted weakness of his argument is of course that we have no indisputable examples of such a text. Even at Qumran what we have is bits and pieces of classical Hebrew, usually in proximity to biblical texts if I remember correctly.


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