Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review

Joosten, Jan and Jean-Sebastien Rey (eds.), Conservatism and Innovation in the Hebrew Language of the Hellenistic Period: Proceedings of a Fourth International Symposium on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Ben Sira (STDJ, 73; Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2008). Pp. xii+250. Hardcover. US$139.00. ISBN 978-90-04-16404-8.

This volume contains reworked versions of papers read at the fourth international symposium on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Ben Sira held in Strasbourg in May, 2006. The earlier symposia were held in Leiden in 1995 and 1997, and in Beer-Sheva in 1999. The studies presented at these symposia investigate the Hebrew language in the time between Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew. The title of this volume highlights two characteristics evident in the Hebrew of this period: the retention of classical Hebrew constructions alongside the emergence of new features, often of unclear origin.

Moshe Bar-Asher's essay “Un groupe de mots en hébreu biblique et qoumranique: étude semantique” opens the volume. Bar-Asher builds on Carol Newsom's and Devorah Dimant's work on 4Q374, concentrating on a lexical point regarding the biblical חָגָּא. Bar-Asher detects echoes of Isa 19:17 (לְחָגָּא) and Ps 107:26–27 (יָחוֹגּוּ and תִתְמוֹגָג). He takes מחיגה as a word taken from the root חו״ג, which has an original meaning of circular, twirling movement. Bar-Asher argues that over time, חו״ג and חג״ג developed a secondary sense of head-twirling: mental confusion, perplexity. This is likely how the expression “they reeled and staggered like drunkards” in Psalm 107 is to be interpreted: the wisdom of the drunk man has vanished. The same goes for the noun חָגָּא in Isaiah 19 (from חג״ג) and מחיגה in 4Q374.

Haim Dihi's essay “Amoraic Hebrew in the Light of Ben Sira's Linguistic Innovations” is next. Dihi focuses on the linguistic innovations common to Ben Sira and Amoraic literature. He finds major innovations reflecting dynamic linguistic processes behind the words השיגה ,ישינה ,דלות and the verb תדאיב. Synonyms for most of these were available in Biblical and Tannaitic Hebrew, so their coinage in Amoraic Hebrew was unnecessary. Minor innovations include גבהנית ,הכאף ,העריך ,נחכם ,טפשת ,התכלכל. The major innovations appear mainly in earlier Amoraic texts, as do some of the minor innovations, but rarely in later texts. On the other hand, most of the minor innovations appear in later texts. Dihi sees in the new coinages evidence that linguistic changes typical of a living language were also occurring in Amoraic Hebrew.

The third essay is Mats Eskhult's “Some Aspects of the Verbal System in Qumran Hebrew.” Categorizing the Qumran texts on the basis of genres and text types, he examines the tense, aspect, and mode (=mood) of Qumran verbs in each of these text types. The historical prose texts show evidence of development of the verbal system in its use of verbal forms and particles. The instructional texts do not use weqatal as the main line of procedural discourse, but rather yiqtol-(we)yiqtol, and sometimes yiqtol-(we)liqtol. The use of weliqtol in procedural discourse corresponds to weqatal in Biblical Hebrew, making the modality of the liqtol evident (like the yiqtol). In the wisdom texts, 4QInstruction uses weʿāz to an unprecedented degree, and while 4Q184 initially follows the pattern of verbs from Proverbs 7, the style changes as the woman's purpose is described using liqtol clauses.

Next is Steven Fassberg's essay entitled “The Infinitive Absolute as Finite Verb and Standard Literary Hebrew of the Second Temple Period.” Fassberg discusses the use of the infinitive absolute with conjunctive waw functioning as finite verb, to address the question, “why did the number of occurrences of the infinitive absolute as a finite verb increase in the late books of the Old Testament at a time when other uses of the infinitive absolute were disappearing?” The books of Jeremiah and Esther in particular exhibit this use frequently. Fassberg is not convinced by arguments that this increased use reflects the spoken Hebrew of that time, since there is no corroborating evidence in contemporaneous literature. Rather, the use of the infinitive absolute with waw as a finite verb can better be explained as part of “Standard Literary Hebrew,” which combines elements of Hebrew from the First Temple period with others from the Second Temple period, and which differs from the colloquial language of the letters, and from the legal language of documentary and Mishnaic texts.

Pierre Van Hecke's essay, “Constituent Order in Existential Clauses” examines the order of the noun phrase and prepositional phrase in Qumran Hebrew existential clauses that contain these two elements. Van Hecke finds that generally if the prepositional phrase is nominal, it follows the noun phrase, but if the prepositional phrase is pronominal, it precedes the noun phrase. He identifies four exceptions to this rule: (1) when the clause is long or complex, (2) under certain semantic conditions following Dik's “Principle of Iconic Ordering” (e.g., with לאין ,כ ,זולתי ,מבלעדי), (3) if the referentiality of the constituents is low, and most importantly, (4) when pragmatic functions such as Contrastive Focus or New Topic are required.

Bo Isaksson writes next, with “Circumstantial Qualifiers in Qumran Hebrew: Reflections on Adjunct Expressions in The Manual of Discipline (1QS).” By “circumstantial qualifiers,” Isaksson means “any word, phrase or sentence which is not an obligatory constituent of the main sentence or main sentences” (p. 79). After noting some examples in 1QS of yiqtols used as circumstantial qualifiers to a main clause, he argues that the liqtol is the more frequent circumstantial qualifier in 1QS, and that this function is not an innovation in Late Biblical Hebrew, since it is already attested in Judges.

Jan Joosten's contribution is entitled “L'excédent massorétique du livre de Jérémie et l'hébreu post-classique.” Joosten finds many commonalities between Late Biblical Hebrew and the Hebrew of Qumran and Ben Sira. He finds the same patterns in certain parts of Jeremiah, specifically in the parts that are missing in the Septuagint of Jeremiah and are considered additions to an older text. The post-classical features include the use of the adverb יומם as a noun, the preposition ל for movement toward a place, the expressions רבי המלך and חרי יהודה , and the feminine demonstrative זאתה . Joosten then examines a passage absent from the Septuagint, Jer 39:11–13, and suggests that the passage was added to harmonize 39:1–4+14 with 40:1–6, and to depict Nebuchadnezzar as the one personally responsible for liberating Jeremiah. The post-classical features indicate that the additions are likely from a much later time than the first generation of Jeremiah's disciples, and may in fact come from the Hellenistic period.

André Lemaire contributes “Remarques sur le vocabulaire hébreu de l'enseignement et de l'étude à Qumrân et dans Ben Sira,” in which he examines the lexical options for education in the Hebrew of Qumran and Ben Sira. The roots he discusses are LMD, YRH, ŚKL, BYN, DRŠ, ḤQR, BQŠ, HGH/Y, YSR, and PŠR. Lemaire finds that although some of the words are taken from biblical Hebrew, especially Late Biblical Hebrew, certain innovations also appear. Some of these innovations are new vocabulary (e.g., talmûd, mbynh), and some are phrases (spr hhgy, rz nhyh, dwrš htwrh, byt htwrh, mdrš htwrh). Lemaire suggests the abundance of these roots in the form of present participles used as nouns indicates the importance of educational activity at Qumran.

In “The Morphosyntax of the Construct Phrase in Qumran Hebrew,” Takamitsu Muraoka investigates the fact that “the logico-semantic relationship is expressed by this dependence structure in which one nominal is logico-semantically dependent on the immediately following nominal” (p. 125). Muraoka classifies the relationships expressed in 1QpHab, 1QS i–iii, and 1QHa ix–x into the following categories: Origin, Quality, Possessive, Partitive, Topical, Relational, Locational, Objective, Membership, Representation, Purpose or benefit, Appositional, Action, Condition, Material, Instrument, Time-span, Experience, Content, Pertinence, and Property, concluding with a few unexplained problem cases.

Wido van Peursen next writes on “The Word תחליף in Ben Sira,” a new word initially understood as “successor.” Van Peursen sees the notion of substitution in other words derived from the root חלף , and from cognates in Aramaic. He cautions against concluding anything about the meaning of תחליף based on its noun pattern, which most likely is the Piel. The word תחליף occurs in Ben Sira in 48:8; 44:17; and 46:12. In 48:8, the notion of successor fits the context, the biblical parallels, and the Septuagint's διάδοχος. In 44:17, Noah is not so much the “successor” as a “shoot” that comes up from the stump of humanity, a sense based on the use of חלף in the Bible. In 46:12, either meaning (“shoot, offspring” or “substitute”) is possible, with the former supported by parallels with other blessing formulae.

Elisha Qimron contributes an essay entitled “The Type וָאֶבְנֶה in the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” addressing the question why the forms of the conversive imperfect differ in length between the first person and the second/third persons. Qimron notes the prevalence of apocopated forms in the Pentateuch, but of non-apocopated forms in the early historical books and the late biblical books of the Bible (Isaiah to Job exhibit no preference for one form over the other). The Dead Sea Scrolls and Samaritan Pentateuch use only the non-apocopated forms, confirming Bergsträsser's suggestion that the distinction is by analogy to the modal system. Qimron argues that the forms in Qumran Hebrew represent not an imitation of Biblical Hebrew but rather the last stage in this analogical development. Because of the similarity with Samaritan Hebrew, Qimron insists that these forms are not artificial but were a progressing phenomenon.

Jean-Sebastien Rey compares 4QInstruction to Ben Sira, in “Quelques particularités linguistiques communes à 4QInstruction et à Ben Sira.” He discusses three constructions in both that are similar to but unparalleled in Late Biblical Hebrew. The first is the formula אל תקטול, which in both authors appears much more frequently than לא תקטול, with no difference in meaning, often in clause non-initial position, but often followed by פן, although פן is rare in Late Biblical Hebrew. The second common construction is the rare use of למה for פן. The third is the use of the suffixed pronoun to express a reflexive sense. Rey argues that although the similarities do not demonstrate a common author, they indicate the two writings may come from a similar sapiential school, but the evidence is not sufficiently conclusive; the similarities may simply be due to a common literary genre.

Stefan Schorch's essay is on “Spoken Hebrew of the Late Second Temple Period according to Oral and Written Samaritan Tradition.” Schorch argues on the basis of the use of the internal passive, dual, and the article, that Samaritan Hebrew should be considered not a later form of the Hebrew preserved in the Masoretic text, but should be considered a Hebrew dialect of its own. Differences in the generic use of the article and the inflection of לילה cannot be explained as a chronological development of the same dialect, but they reflect a different dialect from Tiberian Hebrew and from Mishnaic Hebrew. Schorch further argues that the consonants of the Samaritan Pentateuch are from the 2nd century BCE, and that the oral and written tradition are one linguistic corpus, although the oral tradition has since then assimilated [t] in the hitpael and nasalized long vowels in final syllables.

David Talshir and Zipora Talshir contribute an article entitled
כן נאמן לן עם בתולה (Ben Sira 20,4; 30,20) Meaning and Transmission,” questioning text critics' tendency to relocate this line from 30:20 of Ms B to chapter 20, privileging the versions over the Hebrew manuscripts. Rather, they demonstrate that the long Hebrew version accounts for the text of the Greek and Syriac versions. They argue that נאמן means not a eunuch but a trustworthy person appointed to guard the bride, according to an ancient practice in which “the best-man shared the bridal room as a witness to the bride's claim of virginity” (p. 223). In two appendices, they also question whether the “right of the first night” was ever practiced, and argue that duplicated verses in Ben Sira are not from the translators but from the sage using similar wording for the benefit of various contexts.

Finally, Alexey (Eliyahu) Yuditsky's essay, “The Weak Consonants in the Language of the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the Hexapla Transliterations” concludes the collection. Yudutsky compares the glides and gutturals in the Dead Sea Scrolls with those in the transliteration of the Hexapla. The glides weaken in the two traditions similarly, but the absence of anaptycic vowels (except after [e]) indicates the gutturals were weakened in the Scrolls but stable in the Hexapla.

In a collection of this type, one can expect some disparity in topics. Yet some of the articles, such as those by Fassberg and Joosten complement each other well. Fassberg found that the book with the most infinitive absolutes used as a finite verb is Jeremiah. In light of Joosten's dating of the secondary additions to Jeremiah, it would be interesting to see how many of those infinitive absolutes occurred in the additions from the second century.

The volume concludes with three helpful indices: an “Index of Texts,” “Index of Semitic Words and Phrases,” and an “Index of Modern Authors.” Although a few typographical errors escaped the careful eyes of the editors of this technical volume, this collection represents the best of current scholarship on the Hebrew language between the Bible and the Mishnah. None of these essays will disappoint those who share a passion for the Hebrew language and for the Second Temple period.

Ken M. Penner, St. Francis Xavier University