[b-hebrew] Proto-Semitic, was WAYYIQTOL

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Mon Mar 15 17:33:03 EST 2004

On 15/03/2004 14:08, Karl Randolph wrote:

>What we need to keep in mind is the 
>influence of the logical positivists on 
>western intellectual thought, particularly 
>among scientists.
>The logical positivists were illogical in 
>certain, crucial areas. They were blinded 
>by their presuppositions (which they denied 
>they had) and thought methodology so that 
>they could not recognize their cognitive 

Thanks for this interesting perspective.

>In particular, I refer to their 
>presupposition that all knowledge is either 
>scientific, or “nonsense” (which they 
>defined in various ways). The problem with 
>this presupposition is that there are 
>different types of knowledge. The rules 
>regarding historical evidence are different 
>from those governing scientific evidence. 
>Does that make a study of history 
>“nonsense”? Even they recognized that 
>history is not nonsense, ...

No, that was just Henry "History is more or less bunk" Ford!

>... but in their 
>effort to assert the validity of historical 
>studies, they went by the proposition that 
>the present is the key to the past, i.e. 
>the present day phenomena and processes 
>that can be observed and repeatedly so, 
>hence scientific, are the only ones that 
>have acted throughout the history of the 
>universe (not scientific). “Scientific 
>cosmology” is an oxymoran.

I accept that I am working by this principle. I hypothesise, with the 
positivists, that the laws of physics have held ever since the Big Bang 
(although I don't rule out certain phenomena not entirely according to 
the laws as we now understand them i.e. miracles); and the cosmic 
background radiation is good evidence for the general truth of this 
hypothesis. I hypothesise also that the laws of human nature, in 
general, and so of human language have remained unchanged at least for 
the whole of the historical period. Ancient texts showing how little our 
human character has changed in millennia are good evidence for this 

>While the logical positivists have largely 
>passed from the scene, their belief that 
>the present is the key to the past is still 
>a factor. Historical artifacts are listed 
>as “fake” based on this belief. Historical 
>records are “myths”. Which is more 
>trustworthy: modern theories concerning the 
>past, or the actual observations of the 
>past that were recorded in art or written 

Observations, certainly, although we need to be careful here.

>Which is a more trustworthy indicator of an 
>ancient language: modern theories about 
>what moderns think the language should have 
>been like, or surviving documents written 
>in that language? Which is a better 
>indicator of Biblical Hebrew: the 
>postulated proto-Semitic, or the surviving 
>documents written in Biblical Hebrew?

Incontrovertibly, the surviving documents. But they don't tell us all 
that we need to know.

>You wrote:
>>you had better conclude that it is impossible to say anything about 
>>Hebrew except what is immediately deducible from the surviving texts.
>I think what is deducible from 
>surviving texts is more accurate 
>than that based on a theory 
>derived from a proposition, 
>especially a proposition that 
>I believe is invalid.

I'm not sure what proposition you believe is invalid, but I agree with 
your general principle - although with the caveat that you need to 
consider surviving texts in all Semitic languages, not just in Hebrew, 
if you want to conclude anything beyond the bounds of Hebrew itself.

>Karl W. Randolph.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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