[b-hebrew] GDD (was not: Self-mutilation)

Harold R. Holmyard III hholmyard at ont.com
Sat Oct 9 14:27:31 EDT 2004


Dear Dave,

>On Saturday 09 October 2004 08:14, Harold R. Holmyard III wrote:
>>  Dear Karl,
>>
>>  >We don't know when the Damascus Document was authored, but from the
>>  >sounds of it, it was centuries after the last of the Hebrew canon.
>>
>>  HH: The date attributed to it is about the first century B.C.
>
>We're not sure if this date refers to the copies we have preserved or to the
>composition of the actual document.
>
>>  >  In other words, at a time when the people on the street spoke
>>  >Aramaic and only the scholars spoke Hebrew more or less fluently
>>  >(much like the medieval monks spoke Latin). Thus it is very likely
>>  >that GDD in the Damascus Document is either an Aramaic loan word or
>>  >a late development of GDWD into a verb.
>>
>>  HH> These ideas that GDD in the Damascus Document is an Aramaic
>>  loanword or a back development from a noun are arbitrary assumptions.
>>  The Damascus Document is a Hebrew document, and GDD is a biblical
>>  word.  We don't know that the authors didn't know Hebrew. Quite a lot
>>  of the Dead Sea Scrolls, even the non-biblical material such as
>>  letters, are in Hebrew. Here is a quote about the Dead Sea Scroll
>>  period from _Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation_, by Michael Wise,
>>  Martin Abegg, and Edward Cook:
>>
>>  Hebrew was manifestly the principal literary language for the Jews of
>>  this period. The new discoveries underlined the still living,
>>  breathing, even supple character of that language. A few texts
>>  pointed to the use of Hebrew for speech as well as writing. . . .
>>  Rabbinic Hebrew was shown to be no invention, but simply a
>>  development from the ordinary spoken Hebrew of biblical times.
>
>Um, you have a problem here, HH, because there are no letters in the DSS.  All
>of the non-biblical material is religious in nature, which to me only
>strengthens Karl's statement about Hebrew in that time period.  I still
>haven't figured out how scholars such as Tov and the three cited above use
>material that is exclusively religious (DSS, ossuaries, etc.) to claim that
>Hebrew was not an exclusively religious language!  Its structure, vocabulary,
>etc. was somewhat fluid, yes, I'll give them that.  But we have no evidence
>whatsoever to show that Hebrew was used "on the street" as it were, or that
>there really was such a thing as "ordinary spoken Hebrew" in the
>intertestamental period.


HH: I was including the Bar Kochba letters among the Dead Sea Scrolls:
http://articles.jerusalemperspective.com/articles/DisplayArticle.aspx?ArticleID=1606

The Letters

However, the most significant discoveries fell to 
Prof. Yigael Yadin. On the northern side of the 
Hever Canyon, he found a cave that had been 
occupied by supporters of Bar-Kochva seeking 
refuge from the advancing Roman armies. 
Apparently among those hiding in the cave - now 
known as the Cave of Letters - were the two 
military commanders of nearby Ein-Gedi. A batch 
of eighteen letters, most of which were from 
Bar-Kochva's headquarters to these officers 
before they took refuge in the cave, were found 
hidden in a water skin. Composed in Aramaic and 
Hebrew (and in two cases in Greek), all but one 
of the letters were written on papyrus. The 
single exception was inscribed on four narrow 
slats of wood.

The letters, which were written towards the close 
of the revolt, provide an indispensable insight 
into the way the country was governed during its 
three years of independence, and reveal that 
Bar-Kochva ran an orderly administration with the 
help of scribes trained in the Hellenistic 
official procedure. Most of the documents found 
deal with mobilization orders and supplies.

A number of the letters show Bar-Kochva to be 
concerned with fulfillment of the commandments, 
despite the difficult wartime conditions. In an 
Aramaic letter he orders the commander of a town 
near Bethlehem to supply the troops in Beitar 
with the "four species" (date palm frond, myrtle 
branch, citron and willow branch) needed to 
celebrate Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. In 
another communiqué, written in Hebrew, Bar-Kochva 
reproaches the commanders of Ein-Gedi for not 
sending supplies to the front fast enough: "In 
comfort you sit, eat and drink from the property 
of the House of Israel, and care nothing for your 
brothers." The portrait of Bar-Kochva that 
emerges from Yadin's finds is that of a stern 
leader who did not tolerate the slightest 
opposition from his subordinates.

In 1961 Yadin returned to the Cave of Letters for 
another search. His team once again hit pay dirt, 
finding five small, tightly rolled papyri. 
Examination showed the documents to be deeds, 
three in Hebrew and two in Aramaic. The Hebrew 
documents clearly were written by an expert 
scribe, with the script being similar to printed 
Hebrew used today.

Even though the deeds were drawn up by a 
professional scribe, they contain a number of 
colloquialisms causing some scholars to suggest 
that contrary to popular assumption, Hebrew at 
the time was a living and developing language. 
This is also reflected in the economic and 
military documents found in the Judean Desert. 
Yadin suggests that Bar-Kochva may have gone as 
far as making Hebrew the official language of the 
newly-established Jewish state (Bar-Kokhba, p. 
124). The widespread use of Hebrew in the period 
is confirmed by coins minted during the revolt. 
All fifty-one different types of coin found from 
that period have Hebrew inscriptions.

				Yours,
				Harold Holmyard



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