Archive for August 2008

Millard, Alan R., “Cognates can be deceptive: some Aramaic distinctives,” Pages 145-149 in: Studia Aramaica. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

August 12, 2008

In this short article, Millard discusses the phenomenon of divergence in the meaning of cognate words in kindred languages. He begins with a modern example from British and American English, warning American visitors to London to always walk on the pavement. In British English, ‘pavement’ refers to the part of the street called the ‘sidewalk’ in American English, while ‘pavement’ in American English refers to the part where cars drive. Millard discusses cases where Aramaic shares cognates with Hebrew and/or Akkadian, but diverges in meaning from one or both languages.

Often Aramaic agrees with Hebrew, against Akkadian. For instance, Hebrew and Aramaic אמר, “to say”, but Akkadian amāru, “to see”. Another example is Hebrew and Aramaic ספר, “writing, book”, but Akkadian šipru, “task, message”. It is interesting to note that Ugaritic sometimes goes with Akkadian, ‘mr, “to see”, but sometimes with Hebrew, spr, “document”.

On the other hand, there are also cases where Aramaic shares meaning with the Akkadian cognate against Hebrew. Note that these are not loan-words, but true cognates (as best as we can tell). For instance, Aramaic סחר and Akkadian saḫāru, “to go around”. Hebrew, however, uses סבב more commonly to express “to go around”, reserving סחר for the more specialized use “to go around on business, to trade”.

There are many cases where Aramaic has its own word while Hebrew and Akkadian share cognates for the similar concept. For instance, Aramaic אתא, “to come”, in contrast to Hebrew בוא and Akkadian bā’u; Aramaic נחת, “to go down”, in contrast to ירד and arādu; Aramaic נפק, “to go out”, in contrast to יצא and aṣû, etc. Some of these Aramaic words have cognates elsewhere, such as nḥt in Ugaritic.

Lastly, there are words where each language goes its own way. For instance, Aramaic מלל, “to speak”, in contrast to Hebrew דבר and Akkadian qabû. In conclusion, Millard points out the importance not only of studying common terms and features between languages, but also the individual peculiarities of each language.

In his דמות and צלם, Part 3.

August 11, 2008

Begin with Part 1 here and then Part 2 here.

To this point we have looked at the distribution of דמות within the Hebrew Bible, as well as the morpheme וּת-, in order to determine whether this could be an Aramaic loan or an ‘Aramaism’, and if so, whether it reflects the late influence of Aramaic. Since Hebrew and Aramaic have a long history of contact, Hurvitz argues that it is not sufficient to merely identify something as an ‘Aramaism’ and conclude that it was borrowed late, but you must also consider its usage within the Aramaic dialects to provide a reasonable path for the borrowing. This is where the study gets a bit more interesting.

Unfortunately, there are actually very few attestations of דמותא in Old or Imperial Aramaic. It only appears once (that I could find) in Imperial Aramaic (the official dialect during the Persian period), but this is in the phrase לדמות ד, “in accordance with”, where it is being used as part of the compound preposition rather than as a substantive. In later dialects it is used quite often as part of a compound preposition as well.

On the other hand, it appears in two Old Aramaic inscriptions where its usage is quite interesting. The first is a broken inscription from the so-called Tell Halaf ‘Altar’ which dates from c.900 BCE. The second, and more important, is the Tell Fakhariyeh Aramaic-Akkaidan bilingual inscription which is also from the 9th Century BCE. דמותא appears twice in this inscription, as does the synonymous term צלם:

(1) דמותא זי הדיסעי זי שמ קדמ הדדסכנ

(1) The ‘likeness’ of Had-yiṯ’i which he set up before Hadad of Sikan

(12) …צלמ הדיסעי (13) מלכ גוזנ וזי סכנ וזי אזרנ…

(12)…The ‘image’ of Had-yaṯ’i, (13) king of Gozan, and of Sikan, and of Azran…

(15)…דמותא זאת עבד…

(15)…he made this ‘likeness’…

(16) …צלמה שמ…

(16) …he placed his ‘image’…

The inscription is on a life-sized standing figure of a certain Had-yiṯ’i, and this statue is the referent of both דמותא and צלם, which seem to be used as synonyms. To this point, we have only been discussing דמות, but it should be noted that צלם is a perfectly good Aramaic word as well. In fact, it is a good Akkadian word, ṣalmu, which seems to be perfectly cognate to its Hebrew counterpart (see Randall Garr, In His Own Image and Likeness, Brill, 2003, 137-138). That is, it is used in the same contexts and refers to the same types of objects. And the main referents of ṣalmu are statues, mainly of deities and royal figures.

Such images have a long history in Mesopotamian art, and Garr even suggests that the Assyrian-like statue at Tell Fakhariyeh may indicate an avenue by which the Mesopotamian style and concept of the ‘image’ was moving west. This would be interesting if it provided a background for Genesis 1 since we generally think of the ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ of God in less physical terms than a statue. However, the statues are considered both representations and manifestations of the persons they represent, so this certainly could include the moral and functional roles theologians tend to attribute to the imago dei.

Regardless, we have here the use of דמות as a synonym of צלם in the 9th Century BCE. Unfortunately, we have no other evidence of the use of דמותא as a substantive from Imperial Aramaic to compare its distribution. Still, it seems quite reasonable that דמות could have been borrowed early just as easily as late (if it even was borrowed). The linguistic evidence here is just inconclusive, and the lesson, of course, is that ‘Aramaism’ does not necessarily equal a late date.

Rendsburg, Gary, “Hurvitz Redux: On the Continued Scholarly Inattention to a Simple Principle of Hebrew Philology,” Pages 104-128 in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology Edited by Ian Young. London: T&T Clark, 2003.

August 11, 2008

Gary Rendsburg is best known for his attention to the northern Hebrew dialects within BH, what he terms Israelian Hebrew (IH), by extending Hurvitz’ method of analyzing ‘Aramaisms’ to possible dialectal differences between the northern Israelian dialect and the southern Judean dialect. In this article he summarizes Hurvitz’ method, adds some of his own points, and then interacts with three articles in which scholars have attempted to demonstrate the late date of a text based on linguistic features.

Hurvitz had listed four specific settings where Aramaic-like features tend to appear in pre-exilic texts: 1) Poetry, since poets tend to have larger vocabularies making use of rare and archaic words; 2) Wisdom texts, such as Job and Proverbs, which may have Aramaic roots; 3) Narratives set in northern Israel, whose dialect contains isoglosses with Aramaic; and 4) Stories in which Arameans play a prominent role.

To these Rendsburg adds three more settings: 1) Texts which are not explicitly set in northern Israel, but may have their provenance in the North nonetheless, and thus reflect the IH dialect (he identifies several Psalms in this category); 2) Cases of “addressee-switching” where the author is addressing an audience who speak Aramaic, such as classical prophetic texts addressing Aram, or even Babylon and Assyria; 3) Use of Aramaic words for alliteration, especially in prose texts (to differentiate this from category 1 above), such as the use of מלל in Gen 21:7 in close proximity to מול and גמל.

After briefly discussing the cases of Genesis 24 and 1 Samuel 2:27-36, which he has treated more thoroughly in a previous article, Rendsburg interacts with articles by Michael Barré on Psalm 116, Alexander Rofé on 1 Lings 21, and Michael Waltisberg on Judges 5. In each of these cases he seeks to explain Aramaic-like features not as evidence of Aramaic influence, and hence a late date, but as features of IH. For instance, 3x in Psalm 116 the 3fs suffix כי- is used. Rendsburg points out that this form also appears 4x in the ketib of 2 Kings 4 where it is placed in Elisha’s mouth, who likely hailed from Gilead.

Rendsburg concludes by lamenting the lack of attention payed by most minimalist scholars to the linguistic evidence in the attempt to date biblical texts to the Persian and Hellenistic periods. As for his own methodology, he concedes that he assumes Aramaic-like features in the above defined contexts are early, unless other evidence in the text points to a late date, while other scholars may tend to assume that such Aramaisms are late unless there is clear evidence to the contrary.

In his דמות and צלם, Part 2

August 10, 2008

Start with Part 1 here.

How can we determine whether דמות is a rare word, an ‘Aramaism’, or an Aramaic loan? First, let me explain the slight difference I’m making between an Aramaic loanword and an ‘Aramaism’. A loanword is what it sounds like, an entire word borrowed from Aramaic. An ‘Aramaism’, on the other hand, is the influence of Aramaic phonology, morphology, syntax, etc on the Hebrew language.

There are two basic reasons why one language would borrow from another (actually languages don’t borrow, speakers borrow): need and prestige. If there is no existing word for something (whether a concrete object, a concept, or a slight nuance you wish to make) then it is common to borrow a word. Campbell gives the example that in most languages an automobile is called something like ‘automobile’ or ‘auto’ (Lyle Campbell, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, 2nd Ed, MIT Press, 2006). Prestige is when a certain language is, frankly, “cool”. For instance, English has borrowed many ‘cuisine’ words from French, such as ‘beef’ and ‘pork’. It is in the post-exilic period that Aramaic enjoys high status as a prestige language, thus its influence can be seen on other languages during this period.

Usually you can spot a loanword by phonological or morphological clues. A word may break a phonological rule in the borrowing language or betray a sound change that had already occurred. Or a word may be considered as one morpheme in the borrowing language when it was really two in the source language. Campbell gives the example of ‘alligator’ in English from Spanish ‘el lagarto’. This is obviously difficult with Hebrew and Aramaic since the languages are so close. Further, borrowing usually happens in bilingual situations where the speakers are aware enough to accommodate the Aramaic phonological patterns to Hebrew. There is a third semantic clue that can also be used – if a word maintains the same basic semantic range in the borrowing language as it had in the source language, or a certain specialized meaning, etc.

I don’t have Wagner’s Die lexicalischen und grammatikalischen Aramaismen im alttestamentlichen Hebräisch here at home, but looking at HALOT (which seems to list all words Wagner marked as Aramaic loans), it doesn’t appear that Wagner suggested דמות as an Aramaic loan, though Wellhausen may have had a question about it. דמות is formed from the root דמה/י “to be like”, which seems to be a good Hebrew root occurring 44x in the Bible. Though, of course, it is hard to tell if it is an old Hebrew root or if it came into the language later. It is common in Mishnaic Hebrew, but I didn’t find the verb in any Hebrew inscriptions. In fact a quick CAL search suggests that the it doesn’t show up in Old or Imperial Aramaic either. But is this a good representation of the contemporary vocabulary, or merely a function of the haphazard collection of extant texts?

So is it an ‘Aramaism’? I think it is probably the ending ־וּת that suggests Aramaic influence. ־וּת is used to create ‘abstract’ nouns. This is also found in Akkadian (e.g. šību ‘a witness’, šībūtu ‘testimony’ attested in OA and OB) and perhaps Ugaritic (e.g. kst RS 1.119:I:36,47, presumably כְּסוּת ‘covering, clothing’ from כסה). So the morpheme has a wider distribution in Semitic beyond Aramaic and Hebrew. Of course, ־וּת seems to be much more common in later Aramaic, and GKC §86k suggests that ־וּת is a more common Hebrew morpheme in the later books (presumably due to the influence of Aramaic).

Another quick Accordance search shows that ־וּת words occur only 14X in Judges – Kings in marked contrast to the obviously post-exilic books (Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles) where they occur 72X. Then again, 62 of those are one word, מלכות, ‘kingdom’. The great mass of ־וּת words are in Isaiah (23 representing 14 different words), Jeremiah (41 representing 13 different words), and Ezekiel (59 representing 9 different words). Now, what can we conclude? Well, certainly these books are later, but I have to wonder if the increase in ־וּת has as much to do with content as chronology. That is, these are all prophetic books, writing poetry, as opposed to the historiographical books.

Another interesting fact is that one of the ־וּת words shows up in the Song of Deborah:

Judg. 5:26 יָדָהּ֙ לַיָּתֵ֣ד תִּשְׁלַ֔חְנָה
וִֽימִינָ֖הּ לְהַלְמ֣וּת עֲמֵלִ֑ים
וְהָלְמָ֤ה סִֽיסְרָא֙ מָחֲקָ֣ה רֹאשׁ֔וֹ
וּמָחֲצָ֥ה וְחָלְפָ֖ה רַקָּתֽוֹ

She stretched out her hand for the peg,
and her right hand for the workman’s hammer.
And she hammered Sisera, she shattered his head,
she smashed and pierced his temple.

Here הַלְמ֣וּת is used right next to the verb from which it is derived, הלם. I found no Aramaic root הלם in the CAL, and this song is generally taken to be some of the oldest poetry in the Bible. Thus this should provide some evidence that ־וּת is productive in early Hebrew, even if its use does increase in later periods.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Great, this is going nowhere. Maybe its a loanword, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s late, maybe its early.” Well, that is kind of the point. It is just difficult to tell since we have such little evidence. However, I promise that it will get a little more interesting in the next post (if not any more certain). Next we will look more closely at some of the extra-biblical textual evidence…

In his דמות and צלם, Part 1

August 9, 2008

After reading the earlier summaries on loanwords by Eskhult and ‘Aramaisms’ by Hurvitz, Charles Halton sent me an e-mail about דמות in Gen 1:26a:

1:26 וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ

And God said let us make man in our image, according to our likeness…

He had been reading a paper on דמות and צלם and wondered if דמות could be an Aramaic loanword or ‘Aramaism’,  and if so how this relates to linguistic dating of texts, etc. What is interesting about דמות is that if you do a quick Accordance search you notice that the distribution of the term is skewed toward the unquestionably later books. Of the 25 occurrences, 18 are in Daniel (1), 2 Chronicles (1), and Ezekiel (16). Three of the other occurrences are in Genesis 1-11 (Gen 1:26, 5:1, and 5:3), leaving 4 other attestations (2 Kg 16:10, Is 13:4; 40:18, and Ps 58:5).

On the other hand, צלם seems to have a broader distribution. Of the 15 occurrences, 5 are in Gen 1-11 (Gen 1:26, 27; 5:3; 9:6), 1 in Nu 33:52, 3 in the story of the golden “hemmorhoids” (1 Sam 6:5, 11); 1 in 2 Kg 11:18, and 1 in Amos 5:26. There are only 4 in the late books – 3 in Ezekiel and 1 in 2 Chronicles. So the knee-jerk reaction from such a search would seem to be that צלם is the good Hebrew word which is being displaced in the later language by דמות, an ‘Aramaism’. Consequently, the use of דמות would point to a later date of composition for the Genesis 1 creation story. This is a great example of the dangers of jumping to conclusions based only on the distribution of a term within the Hebrew Bible

What Hurvitz points out is that, while Hebrew and Aramaic are in much greater contact after the exile, they are always in contact. Thus the post-exilic period is not the only time when Hebrew could have borrowed from Aramaic. Further, Hebrew and Aramaic are closely related languages which share a good amount of vocabulary. In fact, where pairs or groups of synonyms exist, it is not uncommon for Hebrew to use one of the words more commonly while Aramaic uses the other (this is part of what distinguishes them as dialects). But this doesn’t mean that they don’t know the other word. In poetry and high prose these rarer words show up due to the need for synonyms and/or a stylistic preference, etc.

Now, strictly speaking, Genesis 1 isn’t poetry in that it cannot be scanned as lines and cola, but I would probably call it high or styled prose. It has a very tight structure and it is getting tighter here in verses 26 and 27 with the creation of man. Verse 27 is certainly a poetic triplet, and I think the synonyms דמות and צלם in verse 26 are a nice little poetic touch as well. Thus, this would be a good candidate for a place where a poet pulled in a rare word to find a synonym.

So did he use a rare Hebrew word, an ‘Aramaism’, or borrow an Aramaic word? And if it is one of the latter two, do we have any idea when that would have been? More to come tomorrow…

Eskhult, Mats, “The Importance of Loanwords for Dating Biblical Hebrew Texts.” Pages 8-23 in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology Edited by Ian Young. London: T&T Clark, 2003.

August 5, 2008

Some scholars have argued that Biblical Hebrew was never a fully spoken language, but was an artificial literary language created by post-exilic scribes. For instance, Ullendorff’s paper “Is Biblical Hebrew a Language?” BSOAS 34 (1971): 241-55, Knauf’s “War ‘Biblisch-Hebräisch’ eine Sprache?” ZAH 3 (1990): 11-23, and North’s “Could Hebrew Have Been A Cultic Esperanto?” ZAH 12: 202-17. In this article, Eskhult argues that if BH is an artificial language created only in post-exilic times, then loanwords ought to be fairly equally distributed throughout the various books and genres contained in the Bible. 

The closeness of Hebrew and Aramaic (see my earlier summary of Hurvitz) makes it difficult to estimate when Hebrew picked up a certain Aramaic usage. Certainly Aramaic influence increased in the post-exilic period so that many Aramaisms are indicative of a late date, but they cannot always be so clearly distinguished from earlier influences. However, words borrowed from languages further from Hebrew, such as Akkadian, Persian, and Egyptian, are easier to discern as foreign. Akkadian is so widely attested that it is relatively simple to determine during what period a word was in use, and correspondingly, when it may have passed into Hebrew. Persian words would most likely only have been introduced during the Achaemenid era. Egyptian loanwords are fewer, and it is more difficult to determine when they would have entered.

Esther, Daniel, and Ezra-Nehemiah all overflow with Persian and late-Akkadian loanwords such as: אחשדרפנים (‘satraps’, Esth 3:12; 8:9; 9:3), שרביט (‘sceptre’, Esth 4:11; 5:2; 8:4), and פתבג (‘delicacies’, Dan 1:5, 8, 13, 15, 16; 11:26). While these words may be used to enhance the setting of these books in the Babylonian and Persian court, the Chronicler also uses Persian and Akkadian loanwords (which have entered Hebrew through Aramaic) in places where they are out of place. For instance, 1 Chr 28:11 refers to a treasure chamber as a גנזך (Persian ganza + ending -k) rather than the common Hebrew אוצר. Thus the Chronicler reveals his setting in the Persian period, even when describing the days of David, Solomon, and Hezekiah.    

Eskhult also concludes that Akkadian and Egyptian loanwords tend to occur in appropriate stories (ie with an Egyptian or Akkadian setting). For instance, the Egyptian loanword חרטם (‘magician’, Gen 41:8, 24; Ex 7:11, 22; 8:3, 14, 15; 9:11, < ḥr[y]-tp, ‘chief’) occurs appropriately in Egyptian settings. Thus, the Akkadian, Egyptian, and Persian loanwords seem to follow the pattern of the political history described by the biblical texts. It is difficult to explain such a connection if the language was artificial and late. Further, Perisan loanwords abound within the books that are obviously late, but do not appear at all in the Pentateuch.

Colloquium on Linguistic Dating of Texts

August 4, 2008

In anticipation of the release of their new 2 volume work, Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts (which I mentioned in my last post), the Biblical-Studies Yahoo! group has been hosting a colloquium with Ian Young, Robert Rezetko, and Martin Ehrensvärd. Jim West has opened up the archive to be viewed by non-members if you are interested in reading through some of the discussions.

Typology and Chronology

August 3, 2008

Reading through my comprehensive exam bibliography, I have come to Ian Young’s (editor) volume on chronology and typology in Biblical Hebrew (BH). I have already posted a summary of one article by Avi Hurvitz, but I realize that my “readership” (if you can call it that) is broadening, so perhaps I should give some context explaining the importance of the book.

Although we tend to learn it as such at first, BH, defined loosely as all the Hebrew found in the Bible :), is not a uniform language. Across the books there are differences in the lexicon used, morphological features, syntax, etc. For instance, we often encounter archaic language in biblical poetry (such as the use of the yiqtol preterite or in prepositions such as לָֽמוֹ instead of לוֹ).  Differences can also be seen in prose, most obviously comparing the language of Chronicles to Samuel-Kings.

Languages are always changing, however the exile is just the type of event that could accelerate such change by dispersing a people group and shifting them from majority to minority status (and then bringing some of them back together in the restoration period). Thus the exile seems to be an important turning point in the description of the development of Hebrew. Books such as Chronicles, Esther, and Ezra-Nehemiah bear internal witness to the fact that they were written in the post-exilic period. In contrast, books like Samuel-Kings generally had been taken to be pre-exilic (more on this later). Thus scholars attempted to isolate linguistic features of the late books from those that were earlier in order to describe the changes that had occurred. Hebrew inscriptions also provided control data for the earlier language. Further, this linguistic typology was then used in the attempt to date problematic passages, such as Pentateuchal sources.

Scholars generally divide Hebrew into three stages following Kutscher (see Young’s introdution): Archaic Biblical Hebrew (ABH), Standard Biblical Hebrew (SBH), and Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH). ABH is represented in early poetry and the early prophets. SBH is also called ‘classical Hebrew’ and is considered to reflect the language of the monarchic period. SBH covers the main historiographical books from Genesis to 2 Kings as well as some Psalms and pre-exilic prophets. LBH is also called ‘post-classical Hebrew’, and is represented by the above-mentioned books as well as Daniel, Qohelet, and some Psalms. The book of Ezekiel seems to represent a transition period between SBH and LBH (see Rooker, Biblical Hebrew in transition: the language of the book of Ezekiel. JSOTSup 90).

However, in more recent scholarship there has been a trend toward pushing the composition of books later and later, to the extent that some scholars consider all the Bible to be a product of the Persian and/or Hellenistic Period. This has had the effect of flipping the purpose of linguistic typology. No longer is it descriptive of the contrasts between later and earlier works, but instead it has become a point of contention in establishing the chronology of the biblical texts. This has raised the question, “To what extent can linguistic typology be used as evidence for the date of a text?”

Here is where establishing precise methodology is important. Typology in itself is a-historical. That is, it merely describes sets of features that are similar or different without implying any cause for those similarities or differences. Only in the case where the thing being studied is undergoing consistent irreversible change do typology and chronology line up naturally. Of course, language is not such a thing. It is neither consistent nor irreversible, and to add another dimension, differences in language are not only dependent on time but also geography, social class, etc.  The problem is that multiple dialect groups can exist for any given language at any given time. For instance, it is quite common for more formal, higher register language to be typologically older than the less formal spoken language. There also tend to be cultural centers of language diffusion (trendsetters so to speak). The farther you wander from their influence, the ‘older’ the language.

In a sense, it seems that the deck is stacked against those arguing typologically for an earlier date of composition since it is always possible for typologically older language to be used by a more recent author. What these scholars need to establish are external, historical controls that tie certain linguistic features to one (and only one) period. On the other hand, there is also a limit on how archaic of language an author can (and will) use. Scholars arguing for a late date for the biblical texts must demonstrate to some extent how such archaic language was preserved (ie what type of dialect does it represent, are late authors using it without interference from their standard dialect? How?), and why it was used. Why would a contemporary author write in King James or Shakespearian English? Is it only to create an appearance of age and/or hyper-formality?

These (and more) are the questions taken up in the volume from both sides of the issue. I also anxiously await Young, et al’s forthcoming Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts which looks to delve more deeply into these methodological issues.

Hurvitz, Avi, “Hebrew and Aramaic in the Biblical Period: The Problem of ‘Aramaisms’ in Linguistic Research on the Hebrew Bible.” Pages 24-37 in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology Edited by Ian Young. London: T&T Clark, 2003.

August 2, 2008

Nineteenth and early-twentieth century research devoted much time to the discovery of ‘Aramaisms’ in Biblical Hebrew (BH). However, newer discoveries and advances in methodology have overturned the assumption that such ‘Aramaisms’ are necessarily indicators of a late date. The discovery of Aramaic inscriptions dating as early as the beginning of the first millennium BCE demonstrates the vitality of Aramaic in the early biblical period and has provided important evidence for understanding the early history of the Aramaic dialects. Hurvitz thus makes a distinction between ‘Aramaisms’ which are chronologically neutral and those which are indeed late.

While Hebrew and Aramaic are in contact throughout the biblical period, the sixth century BCE seems to mark the turning point in the development of BH. Many changes in lexicon, grammar, and syntax are introduced into the language due to the Babylonian deportation and subsequent return. These ‘neologisms’ are absent from earlier Hebrew sources, but are common in the Aramaic dialects of the post-exilic period. Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles especially abound with these linguistic innovations which are usually attributed to extensive contact with Aramaic. 

How can these late influences of Aramaic be distinguished from earlier contact? Here Hurvitz adopts methodology from Kutscher:  a feature must be characteristic of distinctively late biblical texts, it must deviate from a feature of earlier BH, and it must be shown to have existed in the contemporary Aramaic dialect from which it is presumed to have originated. For example, in Esther, Nehemiah, and Chronicles the term אגרת (“letter”) appears 10x, instead of the expected term ספר. As אגרתא/אגרתה is a very common term for letter in Imperial Aramaic, it is clearly an ‘Aramaism’.

However, not all ‘Aramaisms’ clearly reflect a late date as there are other explanations for the influence of Aramaic on earlier texts. For instance, in poetry which is typologically early (based on  strong comparisons to Ugaritic poetry), ‘Aramaisms’ may actually be ‘Archaisms’ – that is older features which survived in Aramaic, but were displaced in Hebrew. One such example is the use of the root רמה in Ex 15:1. This root is common in Aramaic, but rare in BH. However, it also appears in Arabic and Akkadian suggesting it is of an older lexical stock. 

Another explanation for ‘Aramaisms’ in earlier texts is dialectal variation. From the epigraphic data, it seems that Standard Biblical Hebrew (SBH) reflects the dialect of Jerusalem and Judah, but not the Northern Kingdom. Due to the geographic proximity of the northern tribes to the Arameans, it is to be expected that the northern dialect shares linguistic features with Aramaic (such as the use of שת instead of שנת, “year”). Thus ‘Aramaism’ in texts originating in northern Israel do not necessarily reflect the late influence of Aramaic.    

“Dialectal” variation may also occur when a biblical  author uses ‘Aramaisms’ in an attempt to render the dialogue of a foreign character – what Dr Kaufman has termed ‘style-switching’. For example, in 2 Kgs 6:8-19 several ‘Aramaisms’ are clustered in a story dealing with the king of Aram. 

Lastly, Hurvitz suggests that the northern Transjordan is a source of Wisdom Literature (cf Num 23:7). Therefore, it is not surprising to see the influence of Aramaic on biblical Wisdom Literature (especially Job and Proverbs) without necessarily indicating a late date.


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