Psalm 2:12 and Proverbs 31 ben/bar

Trevor Peterson 06PETERSON at
Fri Mar 22 06:39:59 EST 2002

>===== Original Message From Peter Kirk <Peter_Kirk at> =====
>How often do English language poets use French words (that are otherwise
>in reasonably common use in English as loan words) to alternate with the
>original English words for artistic variation? That's the situation
>here, not an actual switch of language.
That's exactly what I had in mind. It often turns out that what qualifies as 
poetic language in Hebrew is common vocabulary in other Semitic languages. 
That's not to say that the writer is necessarily switching languages for 
poetic effect, but words of different origin that make their way into a 
language are a common source of synonymy. If you want to vary the words you're 
using, changing linguistic derivation is a good way to do it. I'm reminded too 
of Shakespeare's liberal use of the various English dialects that existed in 
his time. It was a convenient way to create rhymes and other effects, because 
it gave him so much more material to choose from. So, in this instance, I 
don't think we'd be dealing with a complete change of language, but an already 
existing word available in the vocabulary of a Hebrew writer--perhaps an 
Aramaic loan, but who really stops and thinks about where all of our words 
come from? I'm not trying to say that no other explanation is possible or that 
there aren't good reasons to look for another explanation. My point is that I 
don't think it's a serious objection that ben is used in one verse and bar in 
Liz wrote:

>To have "bar" you'd have to consider the poem
>to be late, Persian period probably is when the
>Aramaisms crept into the language. Levine dates
>P Persian primarily by the Aramaisms in P, such
>as degel.  Dahood believes the poem is 10th century.

Dahood also tends to date things earlier in general, partly because he thinks 
he's found philological evidence to get around the usual arguments. I'm not 
trying to say anything about when the poem was written--only to point out that 
I don't think this is a substantive objection to reading bar either. One 
interesting question that I think all of this raises is how Aramaic came to 
have a different singular form from so many other Semitic languages, while 
retaining the same stem in the plural forms. The phenomenon is ubiquitous in 
Aramaic dialects, so it has to go back pretty far in the history of that 
language. Is it something that could have found its way into other languages 
as well? (HALOT notes that there is a questionable appearance of bar in a 
Phoenician inscription, for whatever that's worth.) I'm just guessing here, 
but at the same time I don't think we can rule out the possibility of an 
isolated loanword earlier than the Persian period. I realize so-called 
Aramaisms are commonly used as a criterion for dating, but unless we're going 
to rule out all interaction between Syria and Palestine, I would hesitate to 
date a poem (especially) on the basis of one Aramaic loanword.

Trevor Peterson

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