Archive for August 2008

Rezetko, Robert, “Dating biblical Hebrew: Evidence from Samuel-Kings and Chronicles.” Pages 215-250 in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology. Edited by Ian Young. London: T&T Clark, 2003.

August 30, 2008

The primary distinction of Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH) features from Early Biblical Hebrew (EBH) is based on a comparison of the language of Samuel-Kings with that of Chronicles. This assumes that Samuel-Kings was composed in the pre-exilic period, while Chronicles is a product of the post-exilic period so that differences between the two reflect diachronic change. However, Rezetko points out that recent work by Auld has suggested that the Chronicler did not use Samuel-Kings as a source, but rather both works shared a common source. Thus their dates of composition may be closer than assumed. While Auld’s position is far from widely accepted, the disagreement should caution us about concluding automatically that the linguistic differences are diachronic. Rezetko suggests instead that they are explicable by non-chronological means such as stylistic idiosyncracy, dialectal difference, diglossia, or editorial and scribal activity.

He begins by treating 16 features of LBH for which he considers chronological explanations to be inadequate. For instance, the noun afformative וּת- (which I discussed a bit here) has generally been held to be a feature of LBH, the most common example being מַלְכוּת “kingdom”, used in contrast to ממלכה. In the Bible, Rezetko counts 71 unique common nouns formed with וּת- with a total of 380 occurrences. Two-thirds occur only once and very few can be contrasted with a non-וּת noun having a comparable meaning. Further, the number of unique nouns is similar in Samuel (5), Kings (4), Chronicles (4), Nehemiah (3), and Ezra (2). The misjudgment of the feature as late seems to be skewed by distribution of just one word, מַלְכוּת.

Another example is the supposed increase in the use of past tense weqatal forms and corresponding decrease in wayyiqtol forms in LBH, including the replacement of wayyiqtol in Samuel-Kings by simple weqatal in the parallel passages in Chronicles. However, Rezetko disputes these findings, counting 658 occasions in which Samuel-Kings and Chronicles both have wayyiqtol, 17 where Samuel-Kings has wayyiqtol but Chronicles has a qatal form, and 17 where Chronicles has a wayyiqtol and Samuel-Kings has a qatal form. There are only two occasions that Chronicles has a past weqatal that is parallel to a wayyiqtol from Samuel-Kings, but six times Samuel-Kings has a past tense weqatal that is parallel to a wayyiqtol from Chronicles.

Next, Rezetko turns to some issues of method. Here he calls for greater awareness of presuppositions, and more rigorous methodology. For instance, the study of the language “should be liberated from assumptions concerning the literary composition and development of these books.” Scholars have suggested dates for Chronicles from the early Persian period to the late Hellenistic, a span of 400 years. Further, Hurvitz’ method assumes that books like Samuel are not ‘chronologically problematic’ and are indisputably pre-exilic. He also argues that study of the language must take greater account of socio-linguistic factors, such as dialect variation and diglossia, as well as scribal factors such as editorial and scribal revision. Lastly, he argues that the diachronic study of language should be based largely on grammar rather than lexicography. Grammar is much more stable than lexicon. It is quite easy for a language to borrow or create new words and their distribution may have much more to do with regional or ideological differences as diachronic.


Markedness in Canaanite and Hebrew Verbs by Paul Korchin

August 26, 2008

Eisenbrauns announced this new title today, and it looks right up my alley. I don’t have the $50 to order it, but hopefully it will be in the library soon. Here is the summary from the Eisenbrauns website:


Semitic linguistics is arguably involved in its own version of a “maximalist versus minimalist” controversy with respect to verbal morphology. Dissent persists about whether and to what degree the Northwest Semitic verb paradigms underlying languages such as Biblical Hebrew and Amarna Canaanite (yaqtul, yaqtulu, yaqtula) are themselves determinative of tense-aspect-mood values, as opposed to extra-verbal structures ranging from syntax to discourse. To label a verb form as marked or unmarked for such values is to evoke a bountiful yet nebulous complex of theories about how language is built and employed. But Semitists have often unwittingly bleached markedness terms of their full historical and technical significance, reducing them to generic appellations that are invoked in sporadic and nearly random fashions. By applying markedness to Semitic morphology in a consistent and rigorous manner, this innovative book brings to bear a venerable linguistic construct upon a persistent philological crux, in order to achieve deeper clarity into the structures and workings of Canaanite and Hebrew verbs. Korchin’s arguments hold relevance for translating and interpreting nearly every sentence in ancient texts such as the Hebrew Bible and the Amarna Letters.

Naudé, Jacobus A., “The Transitions of Biblical Hebrew in the Perspective of Language Change and Diffusion,” Pages 189-214 in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology. Edited by Ian Young. London: T&T Clark, 2003.

August 26, 2008

In this paper, Naudé argues that the differences between Early Biblical Hebrew (EBH) and Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH) are not entirely explained by a linear chronological model of language change. Rather, he seeks to make a finer distinction between language change and language diffusion.

The notions “language” and “dialect” tend to be described socio-politically, but are ill defined empirically and difficult to study formally. Strictly speaking, it is the individual speaker and their idiolect that can be studied and quantified. Each individual constructs their own grammar (note that Naudé is arguing from a generative framework) during the period of language acquisition. The model of the parent provides some basis, but inevitably the child will end up with a grammar that is not identical to that of the parent. Further, at a certain point when input differs from their accepted grammar they will begin to form additional grammars rather than revise their constructed grammar. Thus most speakers have multiple grammars for different styles, registers, local dialects, etc.

Therefore, in Naudé’s scheme, language change properly occurs at the level of the individual rather than being a function of the language as a whole. Many of these changes will die with the individual, but others will spread to other speakers based on many factors. Naudé labels this process diffusion. Diffusion naturally leads to variation within a population as the old and new features exist side by side. The process seems to be gradual at first until a critical mass of speakers is reached, at which point there is a rapid increase in the spread of the feature.

Thus, the differences between EBH and LBH are not evidence of language change, but of the broader diffusion of features that were already existent within EBH. Several different grammars can be found within LBH: P, Ezekiel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, etc. Using Polzin’s 19 features of LBH (See Robert Polzin, Late Biblical Hebrew: Toward an Historical Typology of Biblical Hebrew Prose, Polzin lists 13 changes not attributable to Aramaic influence, A1-A13, and 6 changes that are attributable to Aramaic influence, B1-B6). Naudé finds that P contains five of these changes (A2, A6, A7, A9, A11). Ezekiel shows the diffusion of three of these five changes (A2, A7, A9 – assuming that P represents the parent language of Ezekiel) and four new changes (A4, A5, B1, B2). Ezra reflect the diffusion of the other two changes in P (A6, A11), three of the changes in Ezekiel (A4, A5, B2), and four new changes (A1, A8, A12, B6). In contrast, Chronicles only has one new change (B3). This suggest that none of these specific grammars should be regarded as the transition between EBH and LBH, but rather the process of diffusion is continuous.

You’re a genius…

August 23, 2008

…if you regularly read my blog and have any idea what I’m talking about. Douglas Mangum’s recent post at Biblia Hebraica on Top Bible Blogs impelled me to re-check my Blog Readability rating and it came out as genius. Last time I checked I was college – graduate level. At first this seems like a good thing, but on the other hand, my goal was to make some of these linguistic concepts and articles more accessible. Hopefully my high rating is because I include so much technical jargon, but I explain enough of it that you know what I’m talking about.

By the way, my Technorati authority rating is 19, which means that 19 different people have linked to my blog at one time or another. I’m so proud.

I love Google books

August 22, 2008

Google books are a wonderful thing. Several times during the past few months I have needed to check something in a book and found it on Google from the comfort of my desk in a matter of minutes (luckily the info I need has usually been part of the limited preview).

For instance, I was just reading the Sefire inscription on Accordance and came to the phrase ‏פקחו עיניכם לחציה עדי בר גאיה in line 13 – “Open your eyes to gaze upon the treaty of Bar-ga’yah”. What struck me from this verse is the infinitive construct לחציה which is translated as ‘to gaze’. Accordance gives the root חצי which is interesting since the normal root for ‘to see’ is חזי. Now, Old Aramaic has close to the full range of proto-Semitic consonants, but it has adopted the 22-letter Phoenician alphabet so some letters have to be polyphonus. Thus ז represents both /z/ and /ḏ/ while צ represents both /ṣ/ and /ẓ/. So if צ here stood for /ẓ/, then could this imply that ḥzy was originally ḥẓy, or perhaps that ḥẓy had split off as a secondary root meaning ‘to gaze’ rather than just ‘to see’? As you can guess I was getting quite intrigued.

But I also had a sneaking suspicion that some grad student had screwed up when he entered this text. So I first checked the CAL lemma search, but it knew no root חצי. Now I was really suspicious, if only I could find a picture or drawing of the inscription. Lo and behold, Google books had Fitzmeyer’s The Aramaic Inscriptions from Sefire and the plate for the first part of the inscription was included in the preview. And wouldn’t you know it, right there in line 13 is drawn a perfectly good ז (it looks like a Roman capital I) with no hint of damage, though the preceding ח looks a little rough. 

So the lesson is that technology is great but technology is dangerous. I love the convenience of having these databases, but be careful about blindly trusting your Bible programs to do all the work for you.

Ehrensvärd, Martin, “Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts,” Pages 164-188 in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology. Edited by Ian Young. London: T&T Clark, 2003.

August 22, 2008

In this essay, Ehrensvärd questions the notion that Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH) is merely a deteriorated and Aramaized version of Early Biblical Hebrew (EBH), due to the fact that post-exilic authors no longer knew how to write EBH. Rather, he argues that use of EBH may have continued into the post-exilic period, as suggested by its use in some of the post-exilic prophetic books, and that LBH may thus represent a stylistic choice by post-exilic authors. Thus, LBH should be treated as a separate dialect from, and that coexists with, EBH rather than a development from EBH.

He begins by summarizing some of the distinctions that scholars have noted between EBH and LBH. There are small but consistent differences between the two which indeed distinguish them as dialects. Further, Ehrensvärd concedes that the distinguishing features of EBH are comparable to the language of the pre-exilic inscriptions, while those of LBH have much in common with post-biblical texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, he also points out that there are also many differences between EBH and the pre-exilic inscriptions, as well as between LBH and Qumran Hebrew (QH).

The vocabulary of LBH is marked by the presence of a great number of Aramaic loanwords. Further, while such loans also occur in EBH, about 15 of the loans in LBH have come from Persian through Aramaic. None of these words of Persian origin are found in EBH. The morphology of LBH is also distinguished by the presence of some Aramaic-like forms.

It is the same also with syntax, LBH shows similarities to Aramaic such as the occurrence of the double plural construction in the construct chain, גבורי חילים ‘valiant men’, and the quivis construction (the repetition of a nominal as a distributed plural ‘all, each and every’) preceded by כל as in כל יום ויום ‘every day’. There are also differences in the verbal system: the temporal construction ב + inf const + PS is found much more often without ויהי, the past use of yiqtol is less frequent, qatal is used more commonly for the past tense and less commonly in its other functions, and periprhrastic use of היה + participle for cursivity is more common.

However, Ehrensvärd points out that in all these features, the difference between EBH and LBH is one of frequency. Each distinctive feature of LBH already exists in EBH and vice-versa, just to a lesser degree. The two possible exceptions are the use of the participle as a narrative tense only in LBH, as suggested by Mark S. Smith, and the use of the infinitive absolute as a command form only in EBH. Ehrensvärd disputes the first, suggesting that in these cases the participle is being used in a cursive sense (cursive aspect expresses a universal truth or an ongoing event or action). Thus he concludes that EBH is a typologically earlier form of the language than LBH, but that they are two separate dialects of the language. That is, LBH is not a failed attempt by post-exilic scribes to write in EBH.

Finally, Ehrensvärd points to Isaiah 40-66, Joel, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi as examples of possible post-exilic works that are written in EBH (though only in Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 is there a scholarly consensus as to a post-exilic date). The frequency of LBH-like features in these texts is small and comparable to what can be expected from a normal EBH text, and there are no indisputably LBH features. Since these are all prophetic books the use of EBH may be seen as a continuation of the classical prophetic style, but even so he suggests that it demonstrates that post-exilic writers could produce EBH texts.

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.

August 20, 2008

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.