Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 5 (2004-2005) - Review

Ian Young, ed. Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 369; London/New York: T. & T. Clark, 2003).  Pp. xii + 389.  Cloth, $120.00.  ISBN 0-8264-6841-1.

In the current debate concerning theories of chronology accounting for the varieties of Hebrew within the Bible, Avi Hurvitz’s proposal is representative of one end in the spectrum of views: the language of Samuel-Kings (Standard Biblical Hebrew [SBH]) represents an earlier form of Biblical Hebrew, and the language of Chronicles represents Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH). This proposition stands on a general recognition, based upon factors apart from linguistic matters, that Samuel-Kings (First Temple period) is prior to Chronicles (post-exilic period). Hurvitz proceeds by creating a ‘typology’ of characteristics that defines the language of each corpus, defining the points of change through time. Support for this proposed development of the language is found in linguistic similarities (and, therefore, temporal proximity) between Samuel-Kings and Chronicles, and Old Hebrew inscriptions (pre-exilic) and texts from Qumran (post-exilic) respectively. Recent scholarship, however, has posed a challenge to this proposal. Do the linguistic typologies, by necessity, represent an historical development of the vernacular? Is it possible that social, geographical, dialectal and literary influences could account for the linguistic variety of BH, thus negating the need to resort to explanations of an historical nature? The essays in this volume are divided into two parts. The first part consists of essays working within the chronological paradigm; the essays of the second part point to shortcomings in the paradigm in all or part of their arguments.

Within the first part, Mats Eskhult (“The Importance of Loanwords for Dating Biblical Hebrew Texts”; pp.8-23) explores the significance of loanwords from Egyptian, Akkadian, Aramaic and Persian for the dating of Hebrew texts. By and large, the distribution of such loanwords support the chronological framework expounded by, among others, Hurvitz. Persian words, for example, occur in texts frequently regarded as being ‘late’ (i.e., composed in the Persian period or later).

Hurvitz’s essay (“Hebrew and Aramaic in the Biblical Period: The Problem of ‘Aramaisms’ in Linguistic Research on the Hebrew Bible”; pp. 24-37) understands the flood of Aramaic influence upon BH to have occurred in the Persian period, preceded by sporadic contacts in the pre-exilic period that resulted in a limited knowledge of the language prior to the Persian period (confined to the upper classes; cf. 2 Kings 18:26-27). The presence of ‘Aramaisms’ is significant for the dating of texts (and, by extension, the various strata of BH) on the provision that scholars demonstrate that the feature is a characteristic of texts commonly accepted as being ‘late’, that it deviates from the language of texts accepted as being ‘early’, and that it occurs widely in the Aramaic dialect of its (proposed) origin.

Frank Polak (“Style is More than the Person: Sociolinguistics, Literary Culture, and the Distinction between Written and Oral Narrative”; pp. 38-103) finds a ‘rhythmic-verbal’ style characteristic of speech in texts commonly associated with the pre-exilic period, and a ‘complex-nominal’ style, associated with the scribal profession, in texts associated with the post-exilic period.

The contributions of Gary A. Rendsburg (“Hurvitz Redux: On the Continued Scholarly Inattention to a Simple Principle of Hebrew Philology”; pp. 104-28) and Richard M. Wright (“Further Evidence for North Israelite Contributions to Late Biblical Hebrew”; pp. 129-48) both take up and expand Hurvitz’s broad agenda of refining the typology of LBH, by identifying Aramaic features in BH that may be attributed to Israelian Hebrew. Consequently, the procedure for the definition of an ‘Aramaism’ entering BH in the Persian period receives clarification.

Philip Davies (“Biblical Hebrew and the History of Ancient Judah: Typology, Chronology and Common Sense”; pp. 150-63) initiates the second part of the volume. In his view, Hurvitz, and those who accept his proposal, overlooks the possibility of linguistic discrepancies between literary applications and vernacular usage, of dialectal variation within a geographical region, and of a gradual transition in the form of the language of speech without uniformity in change across an area. For Davies, linguistic evidence from Qumran and Mesopotamia in the Old Babylonian period exposes such oversights within the premises of the chronological framework. Davies advocates closer attention to literary purpose, the intricacies of dialectal variation, and other socio-linguistic factors and motivations behind linguistic change and the adoption of a linguistic variant in a given text.

The essays of Martin Ehrensvärd (“Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts”: pp. 164-88), Robert Rezetko (“Dating Biblical Hebrew: Evidence from Samuel-Kings and Chronicles”; pp. 215-50) and Ian Young (“Late Biblical Hebrew and Hebrew Inscriptions”; pp. 276-311) demonstrate the unsuitability of strict divisions in BH along historical lines. Ehrensvärd argues for the conformity of SBH to texts displaying the characteristics of LBH. Rezetko’s investigation of synoptic passages in Samuel-Kings and Chronicles reveals the occurrence of LBH features across both corpora. He suggests that the variations between SBH and LBH may be explained best with reference to phonology, dialectal variation and ‘diglossia’ (e.g., variations in genre, shifts from discourse to narrative, from upper to lower class discourse, etc.). Young discourages the premature dismissal of the possibility of SBH being used in the post-exilic period, even as he weakens the links between SBH and the language of Old Hebrew epigraphy by demonstrating the latter’s linguistic distinctions.

Jacobus Naudé (“The Transitions of Biblical Hebrew in the Perspective of Language Change and Diffusion”; pp. 189-214) makes a distinction between linguistic ‘change’ (the initiation of a linguistic variation) and ‘diffusion’ (the spread of the variant feature). When Naudé charts the features of LBH across texts such as Ezekiel, Ezra, Chronicles and others, no one corpus emerges to mark a definitive point of transition from SBH to LBH. The transition, as his evidence reveals, was a continuous process.

David Talshir (“The Habitat and History of Hebrew during the Second Temple Period”; pp. 251-75) proposes that SBH was the language of Yehud until the fifth century B.C.E., when LBH was brought back by the returning exiles. The Hebrew of the Mishna was a development from SBH in the lowlands of Judah, while LBH and Qumran Hebrew remained in use within Yehud proper.

The present volume offers a succinct description of the challenges facing those who would apply linguistic methods to investigating the genesis of the Hebrew Bible. The possibilities of linguistic heterogeneity effected by a host of socio-linguistic factors, and a graded and gradual procedure in linguistic transition complicate the generation of linguistic typologies and chronologies. The exposure of questionable assumptions behind the chronological paradigm–linguistic uniformity in speech and writing in any specified period and the inability to imitate the forms and styles of earlier periods–by Davies heightens awareness of the limits of the theory. However, as Young states in his conclusion to the volume (p. 313), the clear division of the contributors into two opposing factions may obscure certain similarities in approach. For example, the call by Davies to consider factors beyond those of a diachronic nature for linguistic distinctions is heeded in the treatment of Aramaisms by Hurvitz, Rendsburg and Wright. Among other factors, these scholars consider the impact of genre, the rhetorical aims of an author/character and the origins of a source in assessing the occurrence of Aramaisms. At issue is the strength of the support for the Persian period as the watershed of Aramaic influence in Israel (for Hurvitz, information on the extent of knowledge of Aramaic in Israel drawn from the historical books; see pp. 25-27), allowing for the assignment of all Aramaisms not accounted for by the categories identified, by default, to that period. Attention to matters of dialectal variation, genre and other literary features, therefore, bridges both factions despite disagreement over the validity of the chronological paradigm.

Young’s effort to maintain the conversation between different voices on the subject in bringing together the present collection of essays is to be applauded. From the survey of the careful explorations on chronology and typology in BH within this volume, it would seem that a fruitful exchange of ideas has begun already.

Bernon P. Lee
Grace College and Seminary