"Late" Biblical Hebrew

Ken Litwak kdlitwak at concentric.net
Tue Nov 16 19:27:25 EST 1999

    This covers multiple issues.  Let me comment upon an area that I
think is empirically obvious to anyone who cares to llok at the data.   
If you analyze the spelling an dforms of aHebrew words, you can see
clear differences among various books and texts.  For example, as
Francis Andeson argued (I heard him disucss it, but heard from him that
he wasn't able to get it published) that the greatest nmber of defectiv
spellingss, not using Yod, Hey and Waw as vowel syumbols, in Exodus and
Leviticus, which by my traditional reclooning, would have been about the
earliest books.  Certainly the Song of Moses is a very archaic form.  

     At the far other extreme, we have Qumran Hebrew, which,
foreshadowing Msihnaic Hebrew, adds all kinds of extra stuff to the
endings of words in spelling them.  CVarious biblical books fall in
between these two extremes.  What is the best explanation of this
phenomenon?  Surely that over time, the spellings of words became more
full and less defective.  Unloess yo've tried to read a fair amount of
biblical Hebrew and Qumran Hebrew, this won't strike you as starkly as
it did me.  

      As for vocabulary, this is a tricky business.  Why would one use a
given word?  For effect?  For the conext?  For the suitability of the
seting?  That is to say, there are any number of things that drive the
use of specific vocabulary.  My wife and I jokingly use ubiquitous these
days, ever since I had to learn it for taking he GRE.  We define it by
the presence of cat fur in our house.  I dind't use to use that word at
all.  At work, I often talk and in a obok Ijust finished, often us
"instantiate".  I didn't use to ever use taht word.  Infact, ten uyears
agao, I had never heard it.  If you looked at the vocabulary of the
written work I've done in biblical studies since I started my B.A. in
1974, you wouold see a stark change in vocazbulary.  Does that make my
dissertation in progress filled with late English?  I don't tink so. 

     That doens't mean that I am necessarily arguing for a specific
dating of QOheleth on that basis.  I don't think that languag alone,
however, can date the book.  I read an article i JL some years ago that
dated QOhewleth on the basis of Aramaisms.  Since Aramaic was used way
back in he 9th cent BVE, the presence of alleged Aramaisms in a Hebrew
text tells little about its date.  I would think that vocabulary alone
would be a relatively unreliable guide to dating books in any specific
way.  Maybe between 1stand 2nd mllenium BCE, but I'm not sure much

    I look to other factors for dating books.  FOr example, in psite of
arguments by McCarthy and others, it's plainly ovious to me that the
form of Deuteronomy and Joshua 24 much more closely matches the form of
2nd millenium Hittie treatires than they resble 7th cent. Assyrian
treaties.  The latter have significant differences from biblical
covenant form.

Ken Litwak
Univ. of Bristol

Jonathan Bailey wrote:
> I am wondering what people who hold to the traditional datings of the corpus of LBH
> do to support their positions. For instance, how do those who believe that Solomon
> wrote Ecclesiates and Song of Songs look at the unique language of those books?
> The liberal community would call them "late". What to the traditionalists do?
> Is there a certain unity in the language of the "late" books that are agreed upon being
> late, such as Chronicles and Esther which cannot be reconciled with a certain unity
> between the books of Ecclesiates and Song of Songs (if indeed any of these books
> have such a unity).
> I am aware that LBH is hardly a unified language, and that Chronicles and Job are
> quite different. How do the liberals account for such differences in the language of the
> various "late" books if their explanation for everything is that they share a common
> time frame?
> Could a possible explanation be that certain of the OT books were translated from
> other semitic languages into Hebrew at an exilic/post-exilic date? Could Job have
> been translated from the Edomite of the supposed environment of Job or the South
> West Semitic of Jethro into Hebrew at about the same time that Ecclesiastes and
> Song of Solomon were translated from an Aramaic or other North West Semitic
> dialect, say during the reform of Esra, thereby explaining the many differences among
> these books while accounting for the many later features. Of course such an idea
> would have to be supported by a common language of the "late" works of Solomon,
> and Esra, Nehemia, Chronicles, and perhaps Esther would have to be of a very similar
> language.
> Can someone tell me of the Hebrew sections of Daniel? It is claimed to be one of the
> last books of the bible, but to my knowledge, the Hebrew is not too "late" in
> appearance. Am I correct here? Can someone give me a decent overview of Daniel's
> Hebrew in terms of the diachronic scale? Or perhaps other idiosyncracies of it?
> Jonathan Bailey
> MA Kandidat
> Hochschule für Jüdische Studien
> Heidelberg
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