Morag, Shelomo, “Qumran Hebrew: Some Typological Observations,” Vetus Testamentum 38.2 (1988): 148-164

The discovery of Qumran was obviously quite revolutionary. In particular, the corpus of Qumran texts provided evidence of Hebrew language (QH) from the period between Biblical Hebrew (BH) and Mishnaic Hebrew (MH). But what were the relationships between the three?  Some scholars consider QH a direct continuation of Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH), others an artificial literary language based on an attempt to revive Biblical Hebrew, or perhaps it consists of LBH features mixed with lines of archaization. In this essay, Morag argues that typological features of QH suggest that it is the result of natural changes in a living, spoken language. However it is not simply a continuation of LBH, but reflects earlier dialectal diversity.

The literature composed at Qumran roughly spans the period of the beginning of the first century BCE to the end of the first century CE. Morag does not list which documents he includes in this corpus, which he labels General Qumran Hebrew (GQH), but I assume he follows something similar to Diamant. He does specifically exclude the Copper Scroll and 4QMMT which show features of a dialect closer to MH. For his study he lists the ten most significant features of GQH, finding only one in common with BH (no 1) and two in common with MH (nos 5 and 10a):

1. Preference of ˀašer to š- as relative marker.

2. Contraction of –aw in final position.

3. Dissimilation of CC to nC.

4. wˀqtlh (cohortative) form used for 1cs waw-consecutive

5. Occurance of pausal forms in non-pausal positions, ie yqtwlw for yqtlw.

6. Imperfect pron suff for 3ms: yqwtlhw.

7. Long-form of 3ms/3fs pronoun: hw’h and hy’h.

8. –hw­ and –w as pronominal suffix for word ending with ī.

9. –mh ending for 2mp perfect, 2mp pronoun (‘tmh) and 2mp/3mp suffix (-kmh and –(h)mh)

10. Syntactic features:

            a. Use of composite verbal forms hyh (yhyh / lhywt) + participle

            b. usage of prepositions such as b varies from standard use

He finds that to describe GQH as merely a continuation of LBH does not do it justice. There are several prominent features that are not continuations of LBH, but instead may be a continuation of older dialectal variations. The features shared by both GQH and MH can be divided into two categories:

 a. Features reflecting stress patterns different from those of BH (TH), specifically 5 and 6.

b. Syntactic features such as periphrastic use of the participle (10a).

Thus GQH contains both LBH and non-LBH features, some of which reflect older dialectal variation. Diachronic components such as stress shift and Aramaic influence should also be taken into account. However, most interesting is that many of the features that differ from LBH are phonological, reflections not of a literary tradition but of a living language. Thus GQH must reflect living dialects of Hebrew.


Explore posts in the same categories: Language Contact, Morag, Shelomo, Typology

One Comment on “Morag, Shelomo, “Qumran Hebrew: Some Typological Observations,” Vetus Testamentum 38.2 (1988): 148-164”

  1. Andrew Says:

    I was wondering what he’d do with MMT; good move to leave it out of the mix. I’ll have to give this a read. Thanks for drawing attention to it.

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