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.

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.

Explore posts in the same categories: Ehrensvärd, Martin, Language Contact, Text Criticism

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