[b-hebrew] Proto-Semitic, was WAYYIQTOL

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Wed Mar 17 05:31:47 EST 2004

On 16/03/2004 16:34, Karl Randolph wrote:

>Our differences in philosophical outlook 
>affect how we perceive the development of 
>Hebrew as a spoken language.
>To use an 18th century metaphor, the 
>creation of a watch uses different 
>principles (laws of physics) than the 
>operation thereof. ...

Absolutely not. This may be an 18th century metaphor, but I think even 
in the 18th century, at least since Newton and probably since Aristotle, 
the fallacy here was well known.Obviously different things were 
happening during the "creation" of the watch and during its operation, 
but those events are governed by the same laws of physics e.g. gravity, 
elasticity of the spring etc. You need to distinguish between the laws, 
which are considered to be absolute, and the events, which are contingent.

>... The picture that the 
>Bible gives is that when God created the 
>universe, he did something different than 
>what we see going on today. Then after the 
>creation, God acted into creation only to 
>communicate with mankind and to make some 
>actions to advance his goals, in a similar 
>manner as a watch maker, after he has made 
>a watch, touches it only to wind the spring 
>and occasionally to make an adjustment for 
>more accurate operation. Likewise, God?s 
>actions into history are rare. Where there 
>is an alleged action from God into history, 
>the answer to its veracity will be found 
>not in science, but in historical analysis.

Well, I won't dispute the rest of this although I don't think the 
analogy is a perfect one. A better one might be with a plant: God is 
like the gardener who plants the seed of the universe, which has the 
potential from the start to grow into the full plant, and it does grow 
largely on its own although the gardener intervenes occasionally. But we 
aren't supposed to be discussing creation and evolution here, only Hebrew.

>One of God?s actions into history is to 
>tell about things that haven?t occurred 
>yet. He did so to glorify himself, e.g. 
>Isaiah 48:5.
>As a result, I have no problem with Isaiah 
>naming Cyrus a century and a half early, 
>and that Daniel wrote while living and 
>working in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar to 
>As a result, I see linguistic patterns that 
>you can?t see.

You misunderstand me. I have no problem with this either.

>Daniel was a native speaker, having learned 
>his Hebrew before the Galut Babel, yet by 
>the time he sat down to write his memoirs, 
>he was more at home in Aramaic than Hebrew.  
>(A modern example is Chinese who came to 
>the U.S. many years ago as students: they 
>still speak, read and write Chinese, but 
>their work is all in English.)
>Ezra, Nehemiah some of the post exilic 
>prophets remind me of immigrants? children, 
>whose parents speak no English and insisted 
>that their children can read and write the 
>parents? language. The children have also 
>made an effort to keep up the language. 
>Though the children are fluent, their 
>rendition of the parental language is 
>simpler and more bookish.
>Esther is like the children whose immigrant 
>parents speak English and the children have 
>made an effort to maintain their parents? 
>language. They are actually more at home in 
>English. That would describe how my 
>grandparents spoke Norwegian: fluently, but 
>not as well as English.

Interesting speculation. But where is your evidence? Parts of Ezra are 
in Aramaic because Ezra was bilingual and quotes source documents in 
Aramaic. Parts of Daniel are Aramaic because Daniel was also bilingual 
and the events in question took place in an Aramaic-speaking 
environment. Most of Ezra, the last part of Daniel, and the whole of 
Nehemiah and Esther, also the whole of Chronicles although parts of it 
must be post-exilic, are in Hebrew because that was the language in 
which the authors felt most comfortable writing. This Hebrew is a bit 
different from classical Hebrew because of dialect change during the 
exile period. Now this reconstruction is also speculative, I accept. But 
I see no good reason to prefer your speculation to mine.

>Seeing this pattern, and how it worked out 
>through the generations among immigrant 
>children, indicates to me that Hebrew had 
>ceased being the language on the street in 
>all but the most remote farming villages by 
>the time of the Maccabees, if not earlier. 
>Yet because it was the language of 
>religion, government and high literature, 
>it continued to be spoken by an educated 
>elite, much like Latin in Europe.
>But if you believe in naturalism and that 
>the present is the key to the past, you 
>must posit that at least some of Isaiah was 
>written post exile, that Daniel probably 
>was late Hellenistic and so forth, 
>completely messing up the pattern that I 
>outlined above.

This is not my argument. But I do point out that most of the DSS were 
written in Hebrew in the late Hellenistic and Roman periods, and so you 
cannot argue that Hebrew was no longer used after the Exile.

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

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