Archive for October 2008

More on the Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon

October 30, 2008

Jack Sasson’s Agade list notifies of a NY Times article relating to the new Hebrew inscription announced over a month ago. A couple of juicy tidbits:

 
October 30, 2008
Find of Ancient City Could Alter Notions of Biblical David
By ETHAN BRONNER

KHIRBET QEIYAFA, Israel — Overlooking the verdant Valley of Elah, where the Bible says David toppled Goliath, archaeologists are unearthing a 3,000-year-old fortified city that could reshape views of the period when David ruled over the Israelites. Five lines on pottery uncovered here appear to be the oldest Hebrew text ever found and are likely to have a major impact on knowledge about the history of literacy and alphabet development

[...]

What he has found so far has impressed many. Two burned olive pits found at the site have been tested for carbon-14 at Oxford University and were found to date from between 1050 and 970 B.C., exactly when most chronologies place David as king. Two more pits are still to be tested.

A specialist in ancient Semitic languages at Hebrew University, Haggai Misgav, says the writing, on pottery using charcoal and animal fat for ink, is in so-called proto-Canaanite script and appears to be a letter or document in Hebrew, suggesting that literacy may have been more widespread than is generally assumed. That could play a role in the larger dispute over the Bible, since if more writing turns up it suggests a means by which events could have been recorded and passed down several centuries before the Bible was likely to have been written.

[...]

So we have a letter or document written in the linear proto-Canaanite script presumably dating from 1050-970 BCE. Very interesting.

The Study of the Composition of the Pentateuch Part 2 – Challenges to the Consensus

October 29, 2008

1. Introduction. Start with Part 1 – The Documentary Hypothesis. The Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis was the consensus view at the beginning of the 20th century and continued to dominate Biblical Studies until being seriously challenged in the 1970′s. It remains influential primarily among American scholars, especially those of the Albright/Cross-Harvard school. The first challenges came in the development of Tradition and Form Criticism, which shifted the object of study from the written sources themselves to the oral traditions behind them. 

2. Form and Tradition Criticism. Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932) was the first scholar to look beyond the written sources to the origin and purpose of the narratives themselves. He studied the stories of Genesis as individual units and emphasized their pre-written, oral history. Drawing on studies of European folklore, he saw Genesis as a collection of stories, Sagen, that had originated early in Israel’s history and been passed down over time. He noted that many of the stories seemed to have etiological and etymological origins, and their seemed to be common types of stories.

Form criticism seeks to identify these stereotypical patterns or forms within language, and then relate those forms back to a particular life setting, or Sitz im Leben. Tradition criticism studies the history of these oral traditions during their period of transmission. Form critical studies were also done by Hugo Gressman (1877-1927), who studied the Moses stories, and Albrecht Alt (1883-1956), who studied the laws distinguishing between case law and apodictic law.

Gerhard von Rad (1901-1971) built on Gunkel’s work, developing a comprehensive theory for the development of the Pentateuchal traditions. He suggested that there were two sets of traditions. One was the Exodus-Conquest (the entry into Egypt, slavery, Exodus, and taking of the promised land) which became the common heritage for all the tribes and was celebrated at the Feast of Weeks. These elements are represented in Dt 26:5-9. The second tradition was the giving of the law at Sinai. These two traditions were then united to form a unified theology of history, or Heilsgeschichte. He also suggested that the pre-Deuteronomical works dated to the 10th century, during a period of cultural enlightenment at the time of Solomon.

Martin Noth (1902-1968) further refined von Rad’s themes, arguing that there were originally separate traditions belonging to particular tribes or group of tribes. These traditions were pooled once the tribes united as a tribal league or “amphictyony”. He identified five such traditions: 1) The promise to the patriarchs; 2) The exodus from Egypt; 3) The wilderness wandering; 4) The revelation at Sinai; and 5) The entry into the land. This single work was called G for Grundlage or “foundation”. Thus J and E were separate works which drew on the common tradition of G, but also added their own material, and eventually were combined with J dominating. Noth also argued that Deuteronomy is a prelude to the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua-2 Kings), not an addendum to the Tetrateuch (Genesis-Numbers).  

3. Challenges to the Consensus. While Gunkel, von Rad, and Noth attempted to work within the framework of the Documentary Hypothesis, later scholars of the traditio-historical approach came into more tension with it.

4.1. Ivan Engell (1906-1964) and the Uppsala School. Several Scandinavian scholars argued for the predominance of oral tradition in the East (following Nyberg) and a late, exilic or post-exilic, date of composition for the Pentateuch. Most notable is Ivan Engnell (1906-1964), regarded as the founder of the “Uppsala School”. His most significant work was a tradition-history introduction to the Old Testament (1945). He was strongly opposed to the Wellhausen method and described JE and P not as written documents, but rather as strands of tradition. For Engell, the existence of doublets and repetitions reflected the process of oral transmission, not the existence of parallel sources. He also argued that the stylistic and theological characteristics which had been ascribed to the various sources were often arbitrary and artificial. While conceding that some forms were committed to writing early, he argued that the majority of the Old Testament was developed and composed at the oral level. He argued for a Tetrateuch which went through a long process of growth and expansion that was brought to an end by P in the post-exilic period. It should be noted that Engnell’s work was responded to by Mowinckel, who largely attacked his methodology, arguing for the need of both literary criticism and tradition-historical approaches. 

4.2. Rolf Rendtorff (1925-). Rendtorff was a student and then colleague of von Rad. Similar to Engnell, he argued in The Problem of the Process of Transmission in the Pentateuch (1977) that traditional source criticism and the traditio-historical method were incompatible. He saw the Pentateuch as largely a Deuteronomistic composition, while P was not a source but supplementary. He focused on the smallest units of tradition which were built by stages into larger blocks of material, and eventually combined at a late stage (early post-exilic) into a “history” by someone who already had the Deuteronomistic history. Rendtorff’s student, Erhard Blum, developed his thesis further and in more detail. He saw the priestly work as an attempt to correct certain elements of the Deuteronomistic theology. Further, he saw the impetus for the Pentateuch as a Persian demand for an official “Jewish law” within the Persian empire.  

4.3. John Van Seters (1935-). The tradition-history approach represented by Engnell argued for a late date for the written form of the Pentateuch, but also for the general reliability of oral tradition. However, in his study of the patriarchal narratives, Abraham in History and Tradition (1975), Van Seters argued that these stories better fit a date of composition in the late monarchic or early exilic period. His argued that the supposed Nuzi parallels to the social setting of the Patriarchs were forced and selective, while much better parallels exist in 1st millennium cuneiform literature. Similar conclusions were reached by Thomas Thompson in his The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (1974). Van Seters also argued that the analysis of the process of oral tradition is too speculative, since we only have the written form. Instead, he suggested a new Supplementary Hypothesis following a model of historiography rather than theology. It was common for ancient history writers, such as Herodotus, to use folk traditions in order to fill in their works. He sees three main sources which are not parallel, but directly dependent on one another: D, J,  and P. Here, Van Seters turns the traditional dating on its head, suggesting that the Tetrateuch is actually an addition to Deuteronomy, written first by J in the exilic period and then supplemented later by P in the post-exilic period.

4.4. Hans Heinrich Schmid (   ). In 1976 Schmid published Der sogennante Jahwist which also called into question the early date of J. Schmid argued against von Rad’s notion of a ‘Solomonic Enlightenment’ and tried to show that J was actually heavily dependent on prophetic traditions and the Deuteronomic school. Thus he concluded that J should be associated with both. His student, Martin Rose, argued further that D was prior to J, in agreement with Van Seters.  

4.5. R.N Whybray (1923-1997). In his The Making of the Pentateuch (1987), Whybray presented probably the most complete methodological critique of the Documentary Hypothesis. In sum, he argued that its adherents recreate the hypothetical documents by simultaneously relying on the criteria of inconsistency and consistency. Sections are assigned to a specific document  based on the assumption that each document has internal consistency of language, style, and theology. However, the documents are distinguished within the final written form based on the criteria of inconsistency. If the redactors are not concerned with inconsistency in their final product, then how can we assume that the authors/editors of the individual documents were? He argued that consistency is a modern western literary value, not necessarily an ancient Near Eastern one. He tentatively suggests that the Pentateuch was the work of a single author, an antiquarian historian similar to Van Seters, who used many folk tales of his time to create a history, perhaps as a prologue to the Deuteronomistic history.

5. Conclusions. A major methodological flaw of the Documentary Hypothesis was its tendency to multiply sources. Early scholars attempted to escape this by moving beyond the written sources to the oral traditions. This had the interesting side effect of pushing the date of composition later, into the exilic and post-exilic periods. Further, while early scholars had great confidence in the historical reliability of the oral traditions, the studies of Van Seters and Thomas Thompson began to undercut that reliability. Thus, while the Documentary Hypothesis was the consensus view at the beginning of the century, by the end its exact opposite was gaining popularity – late composition by a single author.

The Study of the Composition of the Pentateuch Part 1: The Documentary Hypothesis

October 29, 2008

1. Introduction. The composition of the Pentateuch is not my main area of study, nor is it the usual subject of this blog. However, it is relevant to the issues of typology and chronology of Biblical Hebrew, and I am interested more generally in how “authorship” worked in the ancient world, how scribes worked with texts, etc. Most importantly though, the topic is on my Hebrew Bible comp. So here is a summary of some of my notes. It is a little long, but perhaps it will help you brush up on your own studies. And please, this being a weaker area of mine, if you feel I have misrepresented a scholar’s view or left a very important scholar out, please add a comment.  

2. Pre-critical Views. The traditional view of Jews and Christians has been that Moses, the prophet par excellence, was the author of the Pentateuch. However, already in the Middle Ages, Abraham ibn Ezra (c. 1092-1167) had delicately asked whether some portions of the Pentateuch were perhaps not authored by Moses. For instance, Genesis 12:6 reads: 

“Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time, the Canaanites were in the land.”

The gloss mentioning that the Canaanites were in the land seems to imply that at the time this phrase was added, the Canaanites were no longer in the land, and thus Moses was unlikely to be the author of these words. During the period of the Reformation, Andreas Carlstadt (1486-1541) noted that it was unlikely that Moses authored the postscript to Deuteronomy narrating his death and burial in the third person, and therefore also unlikely that he actually compiled the five books named after him (De canonicis scripturis, 1520).   

3. The Rise of Science and the Enlightenment. With the advance of scientific enquiry in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, accompanied by the radical skepticism most closely associated with Descartes (1596-1650), these questions were asked anew and pushed farther. Scholars noted a variety of repetitions, apparent contradictions, and general “defects” which suggested that the books as a whole did not come from the hand of Moses, but perhaps some later author had made use of notes from Moses along with other sources. Thus Hobbes (1588-1679) in his Leviathan (1651) suggested that the Pentateuch as a whole is post-Mosaic, except for the portions which are specifically ascribed to him. Spinoza (1632-1677) also held that the Pentateuch was written by someone other than Moses, generations after his death (Theological-Political Treatise, 1670). Spinoza’s view of the Bible as a natural work which should be studied empirically and rationally would become programatic for scholars after him.

4. Source criticism. Spinoza had suggested that understanding the meaning of the Bible included understanding both its historical context and the nature of its transmission. Source criticism arose as a discipline to attempt to establish the sources of the Pentateuch (and other biblical texts). In its early days three main theories arose regarding the nature of the sources: the Fragmentary Hypothesis, the Supplementary Hypothesis, and the Documentary Hypothesis.

4.1. The Documentary Hypothesis. The idea was first proposed by Henning Bernhard Witter in 1711, and then independently and more thoroughly by Jean Astruc in 1753, that the two names used for God, the “generic” Elohim and the proper name YHWH, may be a key to distinguishing the two main sources used by Moses in the book of Genesis (note that Astruc was interested in demonstrating Mosaic authorship). Witter had noticed that Gen 1-2:3 exclusively refers to God as Elohim, while Gen 2:4-3:24 consistently uses YHWH Elohim, and that these two passages appear to be parallel accounts of the creation. Astruc concluded that Moses had two sources of Genesis, one that used the name Elohim and one that used YHWH, along with further fragmentary sources. He imagined that these were originally laid out in four parallel columns, but were later combined into one book producing the uneveness of the text. This laid the foundations for the Documentary Hypothesis, the idea that the Pentateuch was composed by combining and editing several narrative strands, each of which were complete and independent.

Witter and Astruc had only considered the book of Genesis in their studies, but Johann G. Eichhorn (1752-1827) applied their method through Leviticus in his introduction to the Old Testament (Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 1780-83). Then, W. M. L. de Wette (1780-1849) suggested that the writer of Deuteronomy was different from the rest of the Pentateuch based on both style and content. He further suggested, based on 2 Kings 22, that Deuteronomy dated to the days of King Josiah at the end of the seventh century BCE, an important conclusion because it finally anchored one of the sources in Israel’s history. This also expanded the Pentateuchal sources to three: E (for the source that used the name Elohim), J (for the source that used the name YHWH, Y being J in German), and D (for Deuteronomy). Lastly, Hermann Hupfeld (1796-1866) concluded that there were actually two sources that used the name Elohim, dividing them into E1 and E2. The new source would later be named P (for a Priestly writer) and was originally seen as the earliest source.

The standard version of the Documentary Hypothesis is most commonly associated with Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) and his Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (1883, the updated 2nd Edition, published originally as Geschichte Israels, 1 in 1878). Wellhausen drew heavily upon his predecessors, while adding to their evidence.

Wellhausen also more explicitly connected the composition of the Pentateuch to the development of Israel’s religion. Following K.H. Graf, he suggested that P is actually the last source rather than the first. His argument assumed that the Pentateuch had been composed in a sequence which reflected the evolution of the Israelite religion from primitive beginnings to sophisticated and elaborate central cult, an idea introduced by Wilhelm Vatke (1806-1882). As mentioned earlier, D was connected to the discovery of the law book by Josiah which provided a historical reference point. He argued that P reflected a more developed cultic setting than J and E, which represent a religion similar to the stories found in Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Thus the legislation of P could not have been in effect until after the exile, while J and E were situated in the early monarchy. J was seen as the earliest source, reflecting a southern provenance from the time of David and Solomon (c. 950), which provided the basic story line for Genesis and Exodus. In contrast, E was a northern work from the height of the Northern Kingdom (c. 850). This sequence yields the familiar JEDP. As the P source is last, Wellhausen assumed that the Priestly author or someone from his circle served as final redactor.

4.2. The Fragment Hypothesis. While the Documentary Hypothesis became the standard theory, it was not the only theory of source criticism. The Fragment Hypothesis originated with Alexander Geddes (1737-1802) and was adopted by J. S. Vater (1771-1826). This approach suggested that the Pentateuch was composed from many fragments of varying lengths, rather than whole documents. Rather than begin with Genesis, these scholars began with the law codes. Vater suggested that the process of formation began with the law codes in Deuteronomy which dated to the time of David and Solomon, but were rediscovered in the time of Josiah.

4.3. Supplementary Hypothesis. Heinrich Ewald (1803-1875) was the main critic of the Fragment Hypothesis, arguing that it failed to account for the great unity of Genesis. Ewald is attributed with the origin of the Supplementary Hypothesis. He argued that the core of the Pentateuch is Elohistic, which gives it unity of theme and structure. This was supplemented by material from numerous other sources, which are responsible for the diversity of vocabulary and style.

5. Conclusions. Wellhausen’s presentation of the Documentary Hypothesis became the consensus position at the turn of the century. However, the methodology of source criticism tended to highlight differences over unity. As the sources were themselves subjected to scrutiny they began to multiply (ie E1, E2, E3…), basically devolving into a new Fragmentary Hypothesis. Thus, while there was agreement on the basics of the theory, there was less consensus on the details, leading to the dissatisfaction of some with the usefulness of the method.

Lieberman, Stephen J., “Response (to Blau),” Pages 20-28 in Jewish Languages, Theme and Variations. Edited by Herbert Paper. Cambridge, Mass: Association for Jewish Studies, 1978.

October 28, 2008

Lieberman makes a few salient points in response to Blau’s paper on the historical periods of the Hebrew language. First, he objects to Blau skipping from Middle Hebrew directly to Modern Hebrew, implicitly privileging spoken over written language. While spoken language indeed precedes written, the written can often achieve an independent status that is important in its own right. Thus, for example, it seems that the language of the Responsa of Maimonides should have a place in the development of Hebrew.

Second, he appeals to the use of sociolinguistics to better draw the boundaries between chronological periods, in analogy to dialect geography. Thus dialect boundaries are drawn based on the loose clustering of isoglosses (Lieberman aptly remarks that such boundaries should not be considered walls, but “seives”). These clusters are the result of cultural and historical factors, such as language loyalty. Further, we should be aware that there are a variety of levels of language available to an individual for different social situations. Thus changes in language due to historical factors are often turned into cultural or sociolinguistic differences.

Often languages are differentiated not on linguistic but literary grounds. That is, major written works become the standard for a given period. This is reflected in the standard division of Pre-Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew, Dead Sea Scrolls Hebrew, Mishnaic Hebrew, etc. These works have a great influence on subsequent linguistic development, but they may also mask the greater linguistic diversity of a period.

Lieberman thus suggests a scheme in which Early Hebrew represents pre-Exilic Hebrew (ie pre-6th century, and leaving aside the earliest stages of Hebrew which are not documented directly). Judean or Post-Exilic Hebrew extends from the time of the Babylonian Exile until the time when Hebrew ceased to be spoken (c. 200 CE). Scholastic Hebrew covers the period until the revival of the spoken language in the 19th century, which he labels Israeli Hebrew.

Within Early Hebrew, he prefers to divide between a prose and a poetry dialect which shows archaic features, rather than distinguish a separate period of Archaic Hebrew. Thus it is a sociolinguistic rather than a historical distinction. Further, he suggests that Early Hebrew should also be divided into a southern Judean dialect, which became prominent, and a northern Ephraimite dialect. 

In the next period, Judean Hebrew, he notes many sources of interference. Some of these are external to Hebrew, such as the influence of Aramaic, Persian, and later Greek and Latin. There also seems to be a situation of diglossia between a vernacular and a literary dialect which is reflected in later biblical books like Chronicles and Esther, as well as some compositions from the Judean Desert. The vernacular dialect is reflected in compositions which were originally oral within the Mishna, the Halakhic Midrashim, and other Tannaitic works.

In the Scholastic Period there were likewise two varieties of Hebrew in use: a dialect influenced by Early Hebrew, and the vernacular dialect as it was known from the Oral Law. Of course, there was again interference between the two, including the tendency to correct the vernacular to the more prestigious dialect.

Blau, Joshua, “The historical periods of the Hebrew language”. Pages 1-13 in Jewish Languages, Theme and Variations. Edited by Herbert Paper. Cambridge, Mass: Association for Jewish Studies, 1978.

October 28, 2008

In this short conference paper, Blau gives a summary of the historical periods of the Hebrew language with special attention to those features which have become the primary constituents of Modern Hebrew.

1. Pre-Biblical Hebrew (roughly 20th – 12th century BCE) is not well understood. Our only evidence is indirect in Akkadian and Egyptian documents. Even then, it is difficult to distinguish true “Hebrew” from “Canaanite”. 

2. Biblical Hebrew is attested predominately in the Bible, but also in some inscriptions and transcriptions (ie the Hexapla). The inscriptional evidence is limited by the use of a consonantal script, but we can make some inferences. For example, the spelling ין (presumably yēn) instead of יין (yayin) for ‘wine’ in northern ostraca suggests that monophthongization of /ay/ was more widespread in northern dialects than in Judea.

2.1. Archaic Biblical Hebrew is preserved mainly in poetry. It is marked by several features:

- long forms of prepositions (אלי elē, עלי alē, עדי adē)

- less frequent use of the definite article and the object marker את

- less frequent use of relative אשר 

- the ending / on nouns in the construct

- the pronominal suffix מו- -mō ‘their/them’

- the use of the construct form before prepositions

- the use of the shortened imperfect (preterite) as in Dt 32:8:

בְּהַנְחֵ֤ל עֶלְיוֹן֙ גּוֹיִ֔ם בְּהַפְרִיד֖וֹ בְּנֵ֣י אָדָ֑ם
יַצֵּב֙ גְּבֻלֹ֣ת עַמִּ֔ים לְמִסְפַּ֖ר בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל

“When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, 
he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.”

2.2. Pre-exilic Classical Hebrew prose is the standard language of Biblical Hebrew.

2.3. Post-exilic prose shares features with Middle Hebrew and Aramaic. 

- preference for אני ‘I’ instead of אנכי.

- the attachment of pronominal suffixes to the object marker את instead of directly to the verb

- more frequent use of the participle in the verbal system

Note, however, that in a broader perspective, the differences in language within the Bible are quite slight. Blau attributes this to two things. First, Biblical Hebrew had a status as a standardized literary language. Second, in the transmission of the text, later hands have leveled out the language.  

The Masoretic text has three levels: the consonantal text, the vowel letters (matres lectionis), and the diacritical marks for vocalization and cantillation. Even the consonantal text underwent updating by the scribes such as the replacement of śīn by samek and the replacement of antiquated forms (for instance, the older תַּחְתֵּ֑נִי in 2 Sam 22:37, 40, 48 but תַחְתָּ֑י in the corresponding verses from Ps 18).

In the vocalization of the text, it seems that the Masoretes have tried to eliminate the older qal passive where possible. For instance, שרף ‘to burn’ normally occurs in the qal. However, when context demands a passive meaning, as a perfect it is vocalized as a pual שֹׂרָ֑ף while as an imperfect it is vocalized as nifal יִשָּׂרֵֽף.

Thus it is interesting that in morphology and phonology, Biblical Hebrew represents a late stage of the language (when compared to corresponding structures in Modern Arabic dialects in reference to Classical Arabic), but in syntax Biblical Hebrew is quite archaic (for instance, Blau points to the comparatively rare use of subordinated clauses). The implication is that the phonology and morphology were able to develop while the syntax was tied to the consonantal text.

3. Middle Hebrew (or Mishnaic Hebrew) seems to have developed from the vernacular of Judea after it was resettled in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. In the rest of Erets Israel it seems that Aramaic was the vernacular at this time. After the Bar Kokheba revolt (132-135 CE), the rabbis moved to Galilee, bringing MH with them. However, as a spoken language it died out within one to two generations. Thus, the language of the Tannaim was based on spoken language, while that of the Amoraim is from a period when MH is no longer living and influenced more by Aramaic and Biblical Hebrew.

4. Modern Hebrew draws on both Middle Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew. Most of the phonological deviations in Middle Hebrew from Biblical Hebrew were leveled by copyists and printers in the Middle Ages so that they had little influence on Modern Hebrew. However, Middle Hebrew has influenced the morphology and syntax of Modern Hebrew such as in the lack of so-called waw-consecutive forms, the lack of the infinitive absolute and use of the infinitive construct only with prepositions, predominately -ל. Some Middle Hebrew features seem to prevail in Modern Hebrew because they are simpler, such as the use of של for the genitive which reduces the number of special construct forms that must be remembered. Both Middle and Biblical Hebrew vocabulary is used, sometimes with synonyms split for more specialized meanings. For instance, Biblical Hebrew יֶלֶד is maintained for ‘child’ and Middle Hebrew תינוק tīnōq, originally ‘child’ as well, is used for ‘baby’. 

This also highlights an interesting feature of Modern Hebrew. As a spoken language develops ‘naturally’, the various layers of the literary dialect become stratified chronologically. There is no reaching back into the older strata to derive new forms. However, because there is an almost eighteen hundred year gap between Modern and Ancient Hebrew as a spoken language, the older layers are stratified side-by-side and are all available for derivation. Thus none of the old forms are ever really dead. Of course, they are fused into a new unity and extended by new derivational patterns.

Resources for Gilgamesh

October 21, 2008

I suddenly realized that I haven’t posted in three weeks. I have been busy studying and taking care of my boys lately, and my wife has been using the laptop to prepare presentations of her own. One of the things I am currently working on is the flood story from Gilgamesh. I have found two good resources I would like to pass along, both from Andrew George. First, he has contributed his English translation of the tablet to eTACT (electronic Translations of Akkadian Cuneiform Texts). Also, a PDF of his score transliteration is available from the SOAS website (it is Tablet XI). Now if I could just find a normalized version to check some of these length marks…

New book on qatal/yiqtol in Ugaritic and Ancient Hebrew Poetry

October 2, 2008

From Gorgias Press: Silviu Tatu, The Qatal//Yiqtol (Yiqtol//Qatal) Verbal Sequence in Semitic Couplets: A Case Study in Systemic Functional Grammar with Applications on the Hebrew Psalter and Ugaritic Poetry. Gorgias Ugaritic Studies, Volume 3.

Excerpts from the blurb:

(The study) offers a survey of the most representative scholars who engaged
with the qatal//yiqtol verbal sequence in Hebrew poetry, and proposes a
verse-line delimitation method. The investigation that follows assesses the
utility of the Systemic Functional Grammar of English as proposed by M.A.K.
Halliday, for our enterprise, only to involve it next in creating a grammar
of this type for classical Hebrew…

Hebrew poetry is described by a multitude of features, of which parallelism
(at various levels), rhythm, conciseness and ellipsis, inter alia, are
particularly important. More recently, the qatal//yiqtol verbal sequence
entered the gallery of poetic devices as well. This research defends the
idea that the qatal//yiqtol verbal sequence is a poetic device in its own
right, used successfully by ancient poets in the Hebrew poetry of the
Psaltire and the alphabetic cuneiform tradition of Ugaritic poetry…

This study argues that qatal and yiqtol verbal forms, when part of the
qatal//yiqtol verbal sequence in Psalms’ poetic couplets, can be used
primarily for aesthetic reasons, with no individual reference to time or
aspect…

This work attempts to apply the principles of systemic functionalism for the
first time to a corpus of Standard Hebrew prose texts, producing a tentative
Systemic Functional Grammar of Hebrew lexicogrammar.


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