[b-hebrew] comparative historical linguistics was Re: Nun-Tav-Vet root

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Tue Nov 28 13:23:58 EST 2006

On 28/11/2006 00:16, Bryant J. Williams III wrote:
> Dear Peter,
> As the voice of moderation where you can see the evidence from both sides,
> let me ask you this question.
> It seems that the disagreement over the "shin," "sin," West Semitic,
> Biblical Hebrew, etc. is on what presuppositions come to the table? For
> example, If I believe that text of the Tanakh (the Law of Moses) was written
> during the period of the Exodus of 1446-45 to 1407-1406 BC, then I believe
> that Biblical Hebrew began at THAT time. If I believe that Tanakh (Law of
> Moses) was not written until sometime later (usually after Rameses II), then
> I will include Biblical Hebrew as part of he West Semitic dialects including
> Ugaritic. Furthermore, whichever view I go with, these presuppositions will
> be reflected in the discussion of the comparative historical linguistics.
Yes, but the difference here is largely one of terminology. I think 
everyone (except presumably those who believe that the Exodus did not 
happen at all) would accept that the early Israelites in Egypt, and 
continuing as they left Egypt and moved to Canaan, spoke a NW Semitic 
language form which developed continuously into the biblical Hebrew of 
the monarchy period. As such it is not unreasonable to call this 
language, as spoken at the time of the Exodus, something like early 
Hebrew. As for whether the Torah was composed in this early Hebrew and 
subsequently unchanged (such that early Hebrew is biblical Hebrew), or 
was composed in early Hebrew and later updated into something more like 
the Hebrew of the monarchy period, or was not composed at all until the 
monarchy period, we really don't know apart from any faith positions we 
might take.

And then there is the separate issue of the writing down of the Torah. 
We really don't know when, in what script, and in precisely what 
language form it was written down - again apart from faith positions. 
Now it seems that Karl's faith position (please correct me if I have got 
this wrong) is that the Torah was written down in the 15th century BCE 
in precisely the consonantal form which is preserved in the Masoretic 
Text, with no changes even in orthography (although apparently he allows 
changes to letter shapes). He is welcome to this position, but I think 
it goes beyond the position held by the majority even of those who take 
a very high view of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. After 
all the verses in Deuteronomy which speak of Moses writing down the law 
do not say what script he used.

There is also the question of whether the 22 letter script was created 
originally for what I have called early Hebrew. Well, there is evidence 
of a similar script being used in Egypt before the time of the Exodus, 
but no proof that the Hebrew script derives at all directly from this. 
All we can say is that the first clear evidence for a 22 letter script 
is from some centuries after the Exodus. Unfortunately Karl's faith 
position about the original orthography of the Torah cannot be taken as 

> It seems that Yitzhak and Karl need to step back and stop the name calling,
> etc. Scholarship must be INTELLECTUALLY HONEST. Using phrases which will
> cause anger, etc., is WRONG! I no horse in this race, but it seems to me
> that unless this horserace sticks to what the texts show, and start using
> phrases like "maybe," "possibly" (not the same as probable or absolute),
> etc., then this thread has gotten out of hand and should be closed for a
> while. What is you take?
I agree with you. Thanks for your voice of moderation here.

Peter Kirk
E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
Website: http://www.qaya.org/

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