The Latin analogy (was: die Flucht ins Prasens (was Ruth))

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Sat May 22 06:03:42 EDT 1999

Ian Hutchesson wrote:

>Caro Niccacci,
>I have seen the analogy made between the Hebrew of the DSS and Latin many
>times. I have never seen anything other than the analogy itself to make the
>idea work. One states the situation with Latin in the Catholic church as a
>demonstrable fact, then one goes on to impute that it was also the case
>that while most people spoke something else, those who wrote the DSS spoke
>the form of Hebrew found in the scrolls. This is an argument by analogy,
>whereas analogy is used merely for elucidation of something less known by
>parallelling it with something better known. However, the situation with
>DSS Hebrew versus language X (whatever may have been spoken that was not --
>according to the user of the analogy -- DSS Hebrew) is totally unknown:
>there is no elucidation, there is only hypothesis. At the same time the
>parallel is not a good one: Latin was an obvious choice because the church
>was found in numerous countries where there were numerous languages. It was
>in fact a church-based lingua franca, spread through many countries. This
>situation is not analogous with that in Judea. If the religious texts were
>in biblical Hebrew and MMT & the Copper Scroll were in a Hebrew more
>similar to biblical Hebrew, why not use that as a learned language?
>>As far as my knowledge goes, exactly the same verbal system is used
>>throughout the different phases of Hebrew, Mishanic Hebrew excluded. In the
>>last months I have been studying Ben Sira--well, I think that he uses the
>>different forms in the same way as classical Hebrew. Also the Hebrew of
>>Qumran imitates the classical language exactly, as far as I can see. This
>>Hebrew was most likely a learned language used by cultivated people,
>>similar to what was Latin in Christian, esp. Catholic, university
>>tradition. Note that I speak of verbal system only. Clear differences
>>exist, of course, on morphology and lexicography.
>Wouldn't a form of Hebrew similar to Mishnaic H. be more likely to have
>been a learned language -- as it is more similar to the biblical Hebrew --
>whereas that found in the DSS would be the ordinary spoken language? The
>great Isaiah scroll is basically in DSS Hebrew. (Perhaps a DSS targum of
>Isaiah, Jack? Sorry, it's translated into DSS Hebrew, not Aramaic, so it's
>not significant, right?)

Dear Ian,

I support your position regarding the Targums and Aramaic, and agree that
Hebrew was spoken in the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE in
Palestine, although we do not know which groups had Hebrew or Aramaic as
their first language. Further do I agree with Alviero that the same verbal
system is used in all the books of the Bible, in the DSS, and in ben Sira.

However, there is some evidence that the Hebrew that was spoken was
somewhat different from that which was written. James Barr coined the term
"Middle Hebrew" (including proto-Mishnaic Hebrew, Mishnaic Hebrew, and
other dialects). You have correctly argued that all the sectarian documents
at Qumran were written in Hebrew, and that this shows that Hebrew was
spoken by the group. However, there seems to be a difference in the Hebrew
used in the different documents. The Rule of the Community, the Damascus
Document, the War Scroll, the Temple Scroll, the Hodayot, and the Pesharim
are written in Late Biblical Hebrew while the Copper Scroll (3Q15) and
Miqsat Ma'aseh Ha-Torah (4QMMT) seems to have been written in Middle Hebrew
(see Al Wolters, "The Copper Scroll and the vocabulary of Mishnaic Hebrew,"
RQ 14, 1990, pp 483-495, and Discoveries in the Judean Desert X, Qumran
Cave 4 . V,1994, pp 65-108). This may indicate that their language was
somewhat different from the biblical language which they wrote.

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