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

Harold R. Holmyard III hholmyard at ont.com
Sun Oct 10 19:41:29 EDT 2004

Dear Dave,

I'm sorry that i sent that last post to you 
instead of b-hebrew. Thanks for relaying it to 
b-hebrew in your reply.

>  > >  > HH: My first guess would be that there were three languages in use. A
>>  >>
>>  >>  good number of scholars say that.
>>  >
>>  >Definitely they were.  The question is, which was used for what purposes?
>>  >That's where we differ.
>>  HH: Here's an interesting quote from apparent experts in the Hebrew
>>  language and linguistics, Bernard Spolsky and Elana Shohamy:
>>  http://www.biu.ac.il/hu/lprc/Hebrew_after_a_century_of_RLS_efforts.htm
>>    The process of shifting from the use of Hebrew as a spoken
>>  vernacular may have started as early as the sixth century BCE, and
>>  certainly was well along for many living in ancient Israel by the
>>  beginning of the common era (Chomsky 1957; Rabin 1973).  How long
>>  Hebrew continued to be spoken among Jews is a matter of some debate
>>  but it is now generally believed that there were still monolingual
>>  speakers of Hebrew in villages of Judaea at the time of the Bar
>>  Kochba Revolt,  in the second century of the Common Era, and native
>>  speakers even later.
>It's a tantalizing quote, to be sure, but upon reading the article I don't see
>any evidence given, and statements like "it is now generally believed" really
>don't do anything for me.  What does "generally" mean?  "Believed" by whom? 
>They don't say, and give no backing for such a statement.  Simply citing
>"apparent experts" isn't going to get us very far.

HH: Here's a quote from David Steinberg with 
names. I give some introductory material to show 
your side of things, too. The second to last 
paragraph makes my point:

With the destruction of the First Temple (587 
BCE) the scribal schools and royal patronage of 
writers ended, Jerusalem was depopulated, the 
country was ruined and much of the population was 
exiled to Babylonia where the common language was 
Aramaic.  Later, a small number of Babylonian 
Jews, probably mainly Aramaic speaking, returned 
to Judah where they provided the leadership, 
under Persian imperial patronage, for a slow 
restoration of Jerusalem and a much reduced Judah 
known as the province of Yahud.

When written sources again give us a look in, the 
linguistic situation of the country was:

·                       Greek was widely spoken 
in (see map of Hellenistic and Herodian Cities):
o       Coastal plain;
o       Decapolis (Jordan Valley north of the 
main Jewish area in Trans-Jordan);
o       Greek cities within Jewish areas in Galilee;
o       Greek cities within Samaritan populated 
areas of central and northern Samaria;
o       Greek cities within Idumean areas in the 
northern Negev i.e. what was formerly the 
southern section of the territory of the tribe of 

·                       Aramaic was the majority 
language of the country.  Probably it was the 
only language, other than Greek, spoken 
throughout the country except for some areas of 
Judea between Lod and Jericho.  It seems to have 
been the language of the upper classes in 
Jerusalem; and,

·                       A proto-Mishnaic form of 
Hebrew was probably spoken, along with Aramaic in 
some areas of Judea between Lod and Jericho;, and

·                       Late Biblical Hebrew 
which was a literary language, along side Greek 
and Aramaic for the Jewish population.  There 
were no speakers of this artificial tongue.  This 
is not dissimilar to the situation of Modern 
Literary Arabic today or Church Latin in the 
middle ages.

Spoken Hebrew underwent great changes of three kinds:

·                       Natural developments 
internal to the language (see Segal, Kutscher, 

·                       A mixing of dialects due 
to the political upheavals, exile etc.; and

·                       The profound influence of 
Aramaic in vocabulary, semantics and grammar 
including inflection.

Christian scholars have, at times, claimed that 
Hebrew was completely replaced by Aramaic during 
this period.  However, Segal,  Greenfield and 
Levine have demonstrated that this was not the 
case.  Modern linguistic study, research on 
contemporary sources, the Bar Kochba letters in a 
popular spoken Hebrew all show that Hebrew was a 
spoken language of southern Palestine until at 
least 135 CE when, in the wake of the Bar Kochba 
rebellion,  the Romans evicted or killed the 
Jewish population in the areas in which Hebrew 
was still spoken.  At that point, Aramaic and 
Greek became virtually the only spoken languages 
of the whole of what is now Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, 
Jordan and Israel.  An early form of Arabic was 
already spoken on the desert fringes of this area.

T he Roman suppression of the first Jewish revolt 
against Rome (67-70 CE), including the 
destruction of Jerusalem led to a 
social-cultural-religious collapse.  This 
included the disappearance of the priestly 
aristocracy and Jewish groups such as the 
Sadducees and Essenes.  The earliest Rabbinic 
literature dates from the period 70-200 CE and it 
is written in the spoken Hebrew of the time, 
called, after the most famous literary product of 
the time, Mishnaic Hebrew.

HH: Here are the sources he gives:

Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew by M. H. Segal, Oxford 1958, Paperback 1980

The Languages of Palestine, 200 B.C.E.-200 C.E. 
by Jonas C. Greenfield in Al Kanfei Yonah: 
Collected Studies of Jonas C. Greenfield on 
Semitic Philology, ed. Shalom M.

Languages of Jerusalem in Levine, Lee I. Judaism 
and Hellenism in antiquity : conflict or 
confluence?, Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. Paul, 
Michael E. Stone, and Avital Pinnick. Jerusalem: 
Magnes Press, 2001.

				Harold Holmyard

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