Archive for the ‘Eskhult, Mats’ category

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.