[b-hebrew] logograms--an ode to Hebrew

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Thu Dec 23 15:44:00 EST 2004


To answer your final question first, yes.

To expand: from Moses to Josiah, Israel for the most part lived in linguistic isolation from other languages where parents passed on their language little changed to their children. It is possible to trace some changes from Moses to Josiah, some language though most of those that I notice are literary stylistic changes.

>From Josiah to Nehemiah there was the Babylonian Captivity, the Persian takeover, the influence of Aramaic where Jews as a people by the time of Nehemiah probably spoke Aramaic better than Hebrew, and many Farsi as well. From the linguistic and literary clues, one can see that the historical books, at least Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, were written after the Exile. The literarily complex writing of Isaiah, Jeremiah and other late pre-exile writings was replaced by a simple style that indicates that the writers were not as familiar with the language. We can see in Ezra an attempt to preserve the "Jewish" language, but even he wrote about half his book in Aramaic, as he expected his readers to be familiar with that language.

I see this all the time among children of immigrants: even if they live in communities speaking their parents' language, their knowledge of their parents' language is simplified and changed, the pronunciation and grammar more like English, that is if they speak their parents' language at all. For them, the language changed more in one generation than centuries before. And that is the situation many if not most Jews experienced during the Babylonian Captivity.

Another modern example is the Appalation hollows: when ethnographers discovered their inhabitants in the early 20th century, they still spoke an English little changed from Elizabethan. Their linguistic isolation preserved stories, songs, traditions, even speech from changes that had overtaken the rest of the English speaking world. But now, after the hollows were cleared to make the Great Smokey Mountain Park, the grandchildren speak English the same as any other modern person.

As for your first question, I was told that there was a literary style that went out of use in the first half of the second millennium BC, in which the author and subject of a document were appended on the end of a document, instead of at the beginning as is common today. In Hebrew, it was denoted by "These are the bringing forth ..." )LH TWLDWT ... (often mistranslated as "These are the generations..."). While it might be claimed that these were oral traditions, the fact that this was a written literary style, and that with the exception of a few inserted poetic statements, the writing is prose argue against it being oral traditions.

Of course, this is making some assumptions that can neither be proven nor disproven: that Moses basically collated the documents without translating or paraphrasing them.

As far as the anachronisms, how much do we actually _know_ about that period? When scholars are arguing about something as simple as dates, where the disagreement is not years or decades, but centuries, how much other information has been lost? How many of the anachronisms are misunderstandings of the information that we have? Isn't it hubris to make assertions when the data is lacking?

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Heard, Christopher" <Christopher.Heard at pepperdine.edu>

> On 12/22/04 9:47 PM, "Karl Randolph" <kwrandolph at email.com> wrote:
> > I have heard twice, in lectures, not written, that Genesis
> > preserves indications that it is a collection of older writings,
> > including sources that were ante-diluvian. Assuming that this
> > assertion is correct (even if just to play the devil's advocate),
> I would like to hear the _evidence_ for these assertions, especially the
> "antediluvian" part. Of course the entire classical source-critical
> enterprise is founded on the concept that Genesis is indeed a collection of
> older writings, but not by any stretch antediluvian. If anything, the
> presence of anachronisms in the text (e.g., place-names not otherwise
> demonstrably in use until the Iron Age, references to kings of Edom and
> Israel, etc.) indicates that the book of Genesis is much _younger_ than its
> contents and even than Moses.
> > the question is, did Moses translate these documents into the
> > Hebrew of his time, or did he merely collect and edit the documents
> > to make Genesis? If the latter, then Genesis indicates that Hebrew
> > is the oldest language on earth. If the former, then we can't tell
> > which was the original language. (A third option, one which is
> > unhistorical and equally philosophical, says that Genesis was
> > written far later than its claimed authorship.)
> The idea that Genesis was written rather later than Moses' day is based on
> _internal evidence_, that is, data drawn directly from the text itself.
> Also, comparing the Gezer calendar with the text of Samuel-Kings with the
> text of Ezra-Nehemiah with the DSS with the Mishnah demonstrates
> incontrovertibly that Hebrew changed over time like all living languages. If
> Moses "collected" older documents to create Genesis, they were amazingly
> written in Hebrew as written in Iron II. If Moses "updated" older documents
> to "the Hebrew of his day," he overshot the mark and "updated" them to Iron
> II Hebrew. Is it really plausible to believe that Hebrew changed _less_ from
> Moses' day to Josiah's than from Josiah's to Nehemiah's?
> Chris
> --
> R. Christopher Heard
> Assistant Professor of Religion
> Armstrong Fellow in Religion
> Pepperdine University
> http://faculty.pepperdine.edu/cheard
> http://www.iTanakh.org
> http://www.semioticsandexegesis.info
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