[b-hebrew] Hebrew - dialect of canaanite

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Thu Jun 29 12:56:50 EDT 2006


Concerning linguistic data:

To give a hypothetical situation: let's say I am 
sent an email containing an exact transcription of 
a Dutch document of unknown venue but claimed to 
date from 1543 and asked, on linguistic grounds, to 
verify or falsify its claimed date. The linguistic 
data I am given to compare it against are Beowulf, 
Heimskringle, a few medieval inscriptions and 
letters in Dutch, Prussian court records from 1400 
and newspapers from the last 200 years in German 
and modern Dutch. Based on that linguistic 
evidence, if I were to claim that no, the internal 
date is wrong because the document was actually 
written about 1700, would you believe me?

If, on the other hand, as a scholar in the Dutch 
language utilizing a wealth of Dutch documents 
dating from about 1000 to the present, I could then 
compare it with known patterns of Dutch linguistic 
development and show whether or not its use of the 
Dutch language fits known patterns from about 1550, 
and if not, which patterns does it most resemble.

I am not a scholar of Dutch language. And my 
illustration above only approximates the situation 
we have when trying to chart the development of the 
Hebrew language. But the principle is the same: in 
order to verify the internal date of a document, I 
need to compare it against a wealth of other 
documents in the same language of known provenance.

Similarly, in order to dispute the internal dates 
given in many of the books in Tanakh on linguistic 
grounds, I need to compare them with a wealth of 
documents of known provenance dating from about 
2000 BC to 0 BC/AD. That wealth of documentation 
needs to exceed the size of Tanakh by at least a 
few times, better by a factor of ten or more. Do we 
have that wealth of documents of known provenance? 
Where are they? What patterns of linguistic 
development do they show?

But if that wealth of Biblical Hebrew documentation 
is missing, if all we have are a few inscriptions 
and letters with a total volume of words fewer 
than, let's say, the book of Judges, then we don't 
have enough linguistic data to dispute the internal 
date of a single Biblical book.

As for evidence from cognate languages, the use of 
that data is disputed, at best. For example, from 
the internal date of Torah correlated to the modern 
calendar, it was written before 1400 BC. That date 
makes the study of Ugaritic, whose library dates 
from two to six centuries later, of interest mainly 
to few specialists but, other than helping explain a 
few happax legomai and cultural background for some 
otherwise unexplained statements in Tanakh, largely 
irrelevant to understanding Biblical Hebrew.

If, on the other hand, it could be shown that Torah 
is a pious fraud largely post-Exile and none of the 
other books predate the seventh century BC, then a 
study of Ugaritic gives valuable insights to the 
development of Canaanite languages, of which 
Biblical Hebrew is one.

Upon what basis would such a redating of Torah, or 
any other book of Tanakh, be done? Unless you can 
point to a body of Biblical Hebrew literature of 
known provenance dating from before the Exile that 
exceeds the size of Tanakh that no one that I know 
of has referenced, the linguistic data is lacking. 
Given the absence of other data, Tanakh itself 
becomes the reference point against which all other 
documents are dated.

Given the absence of linguistic data for redating 
Tanakh, we find redating occurring for philosophic 
reasons (philosophic disputes are off limits for 
this forum) then linguistic data manufactured to 
back up those ideologically based dates. For 
example, as a supernaturalist (I believe that 
there's a God who can and has acted into history, 
including telling people about future events) I 
have no problem with Isaiah recording Cyrus' name 
and actions over a century before he lived, but for 
a naturalist (who denies that possibility), Cyrus' 
name and actions are prima facie evidence that at 
least that section of Isaiah was written after the 
events occurred. That is the argument for redating 
Daniel to second century BC. There is no way to 
explain that redating other than as philosophical. 
You did not present facts, as you claim, but 

I have no problem with you posting your minimalist 
interpretation and in return I expect you not to 
take offense when I post a maximalist response. But 
unless you can present to the forum a large body of 
literature in Biblical Hebrew of known provenance 
dating through the second millennium BC, which you 
and every other minimalist has failed to do, then I 
certainly can dispute your claim that you present 
the linguistic facts.

Even in disagreement, let's still be friends.   :-)

Karl W. Randolph.

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Yitzhak Sapir" <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com>
> On 6/28/06, Karl Randolph wrote:
> However, the data I provided is not either minimalistic or
> maximalist.  It is facts.  ...
> Your view is something that I consider to be
> "fundamentalistic."  I write this, like you, not as a
> perjorative term but as a simple description of the
> situation, especially when it applies to linguistic data.
> It is based on both the following two points:
> 1) Acceptance of Biblical claims almost literally (as can
> be seen from this and prior threads of the list)
> 2) Refusal to accept, or even read and become acquainted
> with, modern linguistic data and studies, even when it is
> freely available.
> Specifically, point (2) is not something that can be said of
> Peter or Harold, for example (if those are the people that
> you refer to when you note that "And my position is
> shared by several on this discussion forum").
> > But the historicity of the text is a legitimate
> > linguistic question. While for purposes of this
> > discussion we don't have to agree on historicity,
> > it has a bearing on how we interpret historical
> > data and how Hebrew compares to cognate languages.
> No, it does not.  Hebrew can be compared and
> contrasted to cognate languages irrespective of
> whether one accepts Biblical historical claims or
> one's position on Biblical historicity.   This is
> because the comparison of cognate languages is
> a process that takes into account purely linguistic
> features, and has no place for any historical
> claim of any kind.  Using Biblical historical
> claims as if they have a bearing on such a
> comparison is simply wrong.
> A historian can take the linguistic data once it has
> been analyzed, and fit it together with his own
> historical conclusions to arrive at a synthesis,
> something like Peter did.  However, one cannot
> take "historical conclusions" and use them to
> arrive at new linguistic data.
> ...
> Yitzhak Sapir
> http://toldot.blogspot.com

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