Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 6 (2006) - 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 US$120.00. ISBN 0-8264-6841-1.

Given the diversity of its origins and the long process of its composition, the Hebrew Bible inevitably exhibits a wide range of diversity. Even a quick look at the parallel stories in Samuel-Kings and Chronicles will reveal that their language is not altogether the same. It is commonly assumed that the former represents an older stage of the Hebrew language. This assumption has become the working hypothesis for practically all discussions of the variety within Hebrew. Thanks to the works of Avi Hurvitz, scholars now know more about the nuts and bolts of this hypothesis. In his numerous essays he describes various grammatical and lexical traits occurring in Chronicles that are not found in Samuel-Kings. These traits, in turn, serve as basis for a typology of the Hebrew language. In order to account for the typological variation, Hurvitz finds it necessary to have recourse to externally datable evidence, in this case, Hebrew inscriptions. Comparison with them provides further ground for characterizing the language of the Hebrew Bible in the diachronic axis. The language of Samuel-Kings shows more similarities with that of pre-exilic inscriptions than with the much later compositions like the Qumran scrolls. Consequently Samuel-Kings can be considered to represent the “typologically older” Hebrew. The language of Chronicles, on the other hand, bears resemblances to the later texts mentioned above. Besides Chronicles, there are other books which represent this stage of Hebrew, i.e., Esther, Ezra, Daniel, Qohelet, some Psalms and parts of Ezekiel. Their language, as Hurvitz suggests, exhibits features of Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH), a terminology that has in the meantime become current. His views have stimulated a number of scholars to take a closer look at the issues, whether continuing in the same direction or pursuing other paths of explanation. Both are represented in this volume.

The editor's introduction (pp. 1-7) situates the essays within the discussion outlined above. The first five stand within the chronological framework while attempting to refine it with more findings (Part I, pp. 8-148). The other six provide challenges to the chronological model (Part II, pp. 150-317). The bibliography is given collectively (pp. 318-366). There are also indexes of biblical & other texts as well as modern authors.

The discussions in Part I proceed within the chronological framework, i.e., older versus later stages. Matt Ekshult, (‘The Importance of Loanwords for Dating Biblical Hebrew Texts’, pp. 8-23) finds that the textual distribution of loanwords from different languages confirms the standard dating of Hebrew. Persian loanwords are not found in texts generally considered as coming from before the Persian era. Avi Hurvitz's contribution (‘Hebrew and Aramaic in the Biblical Period: The Problem of “Aramaisms” in Linguistic Research on the Hebrew Bible’, pp. 24-37) shows how during the 7th century BCE, Aramaic started to exercise an influence on Hebrew and eventually changed it. For his part, Frank H. Polak (‘Style is More than the Person-Sociolinguistics, Literary Culture and the Distinction between Written and Oral Narrative’, pp. 38-103) suggests that the post-exilic variety of Hebrew was brought about by literacy becoming gradually more widespread in the Hebrew-speaking society of the period. This growing literacy also diminished the use of oral style that is still reflected in the older period of Hebrew. Gary A. Rendsburg (‘Hurvitz Redux: On the Continued Scholarly Inattention to a Simple Principle of Hebrew Philology’, 104-128) points out the need to consider Aramaisms already found in Israelian Hebrew (i.e., Northern Hebrew) besides those occurring in LBH, as this will refine the traditional distinction of “pre- and post-exilic” Hebrew. This direction is exploited further by Richard M. Wright (‘Further Evidence for North Israelite Contributions to Late Biblical Hebrew’, pp. 129-148). A number of lexical traits identified by Hurvitz in LBH also occur in Northern Hebrew texts from an earlier period: plural of עולמים of (1Kgs 8.13); construction X-ו X כל‘every X’ (Ps. 45.18); root כנס(Is. 28.20); piel of קבל ‘to receive’ (Prov. 19.20); מערב ‘west’ (Ps. 75.7);בהל with the meaning ‘to hasten, hurry’ (Ps. 48.6). These are traces of an early influence of Northern Hebrew in the development of LBH. The essays in Part I put more weight on lexical, rather than grammatical matters, with some sensitivity to sociolinguistic and geographical-dialectal perspectives.

While the articles in Part I generally stand in the chronological framework, those in Part II challenge that framework and offer other ways to account for the linguistic variation. Thus for Philip R. Davies (‘Biblical Hebrew and the History of Ancient Judah: Typology, Chronology and Common Sense’, pp. 150-163), Standard Biblical Hebrew (SBH; another term for Classical Hebrew) can be shown as originating from the Persian Period, while Hurvitz's excludes such a possibility. According to Martin Ehrensvärd (‘Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts’, pp. 164-188), EBH's (EBH is another term for Classical Hebrew) difference from LBH is only a matter of degree and consequently it is possible to date also to the post-exilic period. LBH, in David Talshir's view (‘The Habitat and History of Hebrew during the Second Temple Period’, pp. 251-275), had already developed among the Babylonian exiles under Aramaic influence and was introduced into Israel when they returned. Ian Young (‘Late Biblical Hebrew and Hebrew Inscriptions’, pp. 276-317) re-examines the Hebrew inscriptions and concludes that they form an independent corpus that bears resemblances to, but is not identical with SBH. Hence these inscriptions cannot provide a sure basis for dating the Hebrew of Samuel-Kings. This methodological issue is also dealt with by Jacobus A. Naudé (‘The Transition of Biblical Hebrew in the Perspective of Language Change and Diffusion’, pp. 189-214) and Robert Rezetko (‘Dating Biblical Hebrew: Evidence from Samuel-Kings and Chronicles’, pp. 215-250). The former stresses the importance of distinguishing “change” from “diffusion” in the study of linguistic development, the latter shows the inadequacies of a diachronic perspective to account for the variation in Hebrew. What is still needed is probably a more rigorous historical linguistic investigation which also leaves ample room for sociolinguistic factors.

Agustinus Gianto, Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome