Archive for the ‘Young, Ian’ category

Young, Ian, “What is ‘Late Biblical Hebrew’?” Pages 253-268 in A Palimpsest: Rhetoric, Ideology, Stylistics, and Language Relating to Persian Israel, Edited by Ehud Ben Zvi, Diana Edelman, and Frank Polak. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2009.

November 4, 2010

The third chapter of my dissertation explores the difference in the use of את between SBH and LBH, so I have been wading into some of the recent debate over chronology and typology in biblical Hebrew. In this short article, Young gives a helpful summary of the new approach that he has developed along with Robert Rezetko and Martin Ehrvensärd.

While most students learn Biblical Hebrew (BH) as a monolithic whole, the Hebrew Bible does reflect a certain degree of linguistic diversity. Scholars commonly distinguish three types of Hebrew in the biblical period:

1. Archaic Biblical Hebrew is only represented in older poetry such as Jd 5, Ex 15, etc.

2. Early Biblical Hebrew (EBH, also termed Classical Biblical Hebrew or Standard Biblical Hebrew) is the type normally taught in BH grammars. This is generally considered to be a literary language used during the pre-exilic, monarchic period. The core EBH books include the Pentateuch and Joshua-Kings.

3. Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH) is the post-exilic language found primarily in the books of Esther, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah.

It has generally been assumed that the exile marked a time of social and political upheaval which had linguistic repercussions. The returning exiles would have mainly spoken Aramaic, the high language, while the lower classes who remained in the West would have spoken a vernacular Hebrew which was the ancestor of Rabbinic Hebrew. The new literary language, LBH, therefore, represents the chronological development of EBH under these influences.

Hurvitz (and others) has further argued that post-exilic authors would be unable to write in proper EBH, but that LBH features betray their setting. Therefore, scholars have attempted to use the linguistic typology developed for works whose provenance is relatively certain to establish the chronology of works whose dating is less certain. For instance, Polzin (1976) isolated several features of LBH which he then used to analyze the date of the P source. Hurvitz has also analyzed the date of several Psalms (Hurvitz 1972) and the relationship of P to Ezekiel (Hurvitz 1982).

The relationship between typology and chronology, however, is always troublesome, particularly when there are few independent data points to connect the two. As Kaufman (1986) has argued in regards to script typology, socio-linguistic issues such as dialect geography and diglossia must also be taken into consideration. In this vein, Young, along with Rezetko and Ehrvensärd, has developed the argument that EBH and LBH do not represent the chronological development of a single dialect, but two separate dialects which could have coexisted within the same language community. EBH is a more conservative dialect while LBH is less-so, allowing more variety.

Though Hurvitz argued that the presence of LBH features betrays the hand of post-exilic authors, most of the features isolated as representative of LBH are also found in the core EBH works, just less frequently. Therefore, the presence of a feature itself cannot be an indication of date. Young, Rezetko, and Ehrvensärd illustrated this by counting the number of LBH features in random 500 word samples from various biblical and non-biblical texts. While the accumulation of LBH features is greater in the core LBH books, there were several works which were clearly written in the post-exilic period but which feature a low density of LBH features (e.g. Job 1:1-2:11a, Ben Sira 41:2-44:4, Pesher Habakkuk 5:3-12:13). On the other hand, the pre-exilic Arad Ostraca had more LBH elements than any of the EBH samples considered.

Therefore, if these core EBH texts are in fact pre-exilic, then these LBH features cannot be post-exilic, and Young argues that the choice to use the LBH or its corresponding SBH feature must be stylistic rather than chronological. It is better, therefore, to view LBH not as a ‘deteriorated’ form of SBH, but as a distinct dialect.

In the conclusion to his earlier edited volume (Young 2003), Young suggested that the use of the two dialects could relate to geography. The books written in LBH are also generally considered to have an eastern provenance, while the books written in EBH originated in Judah. While he still likes this theory, he also notes several problems, most notably that Chronicles is generally considered to have a western provenance (though see Person 2010). Here, Young refines this view, suggesting that while LBH features were available to EBH writers, it was only in the eastern diaspora that a new literary style developed which was open to their use. This LBH style may have then migrated to the west where it was used for the last chapters of Daniel and at Qumran.


Young, Ian, “Late Biblical Hebrew and Hebrew Inscriptions” Pages 276-311 in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology. Edited by Ian Young. London: T&T Clark, 2003.

September 8, 2008

The extra-biblical evidence for the typology and chronology of biblical Hebrew comes largely from two sources – the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hebrew inscriptions. Hurvitz and others have argued that the Dead Sea Scrolls show numerous features in common with Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH), while the inscriptions share much in common with Standard Biblical Hebrew (SBH), supporting the chronological distinction between the two and establishing the pre-exilic date of composition for Genesis-2 Kings. Young, however, argues that the fact that SBH has a closer relationship to the Hebrew inscriptions than LBH does not prove that it could not have continued to be written into the post-exilic period. Further, he argues that the links between SBH and the Hebrew inscriptions are not as strong as sometimes suggested.

First, the corpus of inscriptions is limited in several ways. The amount of linguistic material represented is less than one percent of the size of the Hebrew Bible, and the focus of the inscriptions  are altogether different than the biblical material. Thus for the great majority of features contrasted between SBH and LBH, the inscriptions provide no evidence at all. Further, the majority of inscriptions of significant length come from the last half century of the kingdom of Judah (c. 652-586). This would place them during the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Jeremiah is generally considered SBH, but there are early signs of LBH. Ezekiel is generally considered to reflect the transition period between SBH and LBH. Thus we should expect these inscriptions to exhibit a mix of SBH and LBH features. Lastly, Young wonders to what degree the inscriptions, which presumably reflect the administrative language, are relevant to the discussion of biblical Hebrew, a literary language?     

The relevance of the inscriptions is further complicated by the fact that rarely does a feature X occur exclusively in SBH, only to be replaced entirely by another feature Y in LBH. Rooker’s work on Ezekiel identified 37 items that were characteristic of LBH, and only two are complete replacements of the SBH feature. In 10 cases the feature X in SBH is carried into LBH, but augmented by a synonymous feature Y. In the remaining 25 cases, both features X and Y are attested in SBH texts, but in LBH Y becomes proportionately more significant. Thus with such a small corpus, the appearance of X in the inscriptions may not necessarily be an indicator of a link to SBH, nor Y to LBH.

In the bulk of the paper, Young treats 23 features that seem to link the inscriptions to SBH as well as 27 features that may be characteristic of LBH. In the former case, he concludes that the links between the inscriptions and SBH are weak at best. The three strongest are the use of the infinitive absolute as imperative (Arad 1.2; 2.1; 7.2; 11.2), the locative use of זה in מזה (“from this place” = “from there”, Lachish 3.18), and the use of בעוד for “while still” (Siloam Tunnel 2).   However, these are not strong enough to suggest a “self-evident identity between the two corpora  (ie inscriptional Hebrew and SBH).  

As for the links with LBH, Young divides these into two categories – those which have oppositions in SBH and those which do not. Scholars have always admitted that individual LBH features may be found in SBH works, it is the accumulation of such features that marks the language as LBH. No such concentration of LBH features appears in any given inscription. 

Young also devotes a considerable amount of time to features in the inscriptional corpus which are rare or absent from biblical Hebrew. Here there is a significant amount of material which calls into question the simple equation of SBH with the inscriptions. Instead, Young suggests that the inscriptions should be seen as an independent corpus of Hebrew that sometimes shares features with SBH, sometimes with LBH, and sometimes with other types of Hebrew such as Ancient Biblical Hebrew (ABH) and Mishnaic Hebrew (MH).

In conclusion, while it is plausible that the language during the monarchic period was something similar to SBH, it does not prove that SBH could not also have been written in the post-exilic period. Indeed, the orthography of the extant biblical manuscripts implies that no manuscript exists unchanged from before the Persian period. This does not imply that they were composed during the Persian period, but it does raise the question of whether scribal intervention was limited to orthography, or if all features were subject to revision during the Second Temple period. Young notes that features such as whether מן is attached to or separate from a following noun with the definite article is just the sort of thing to be changed during scribal transmission.