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

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Tue Nov 28 18:15:38 EST 2006


On 11/28/06, Peter Kirk <peter at qaya.org> wrote:
> 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.
This goes beyond what I say.

However, as a historian, we have to play with the hand we're dealt.
With few exceptions, all we know of Torah is what is contained in the
consonantal text of the Masoretic text. Anything else is speculation.

Any copy made by hand contains some copyist errors, thus it is a
certainty that the text is not 100% as written by Moses' hand. But
what is the probability that a different alphabet was used? Given the
nature of the books, very slight. What about the orthography, in other
words the spelling? Given that the pre-Masoretes tended to add materes
lectiones to aid in pronunciation, it is possible that more of those
are in the text than as it left Moses' hand. Some difficult passages
may be blamed on copyist errors. But in general, unless you have a
paper trail to show otherwise, we have to assume, given my
presuppositions, that what we have is close to what Moses wrote.

> 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
> evidence.
Here's where I disagree with you. It is evidence. It is not proof.
Sometimes we have to choose options based on less than proof, but
which make the best rational sense of the data that we do have within
the context of our theological positions. Further, I am willing to
change, and have changed my position, based on solid evidence (e.g.
when I was a student first learning Hebrew, I was taught that the
Masoretes had preserved the pronunciation of Hebrew as it was spoken
in Biblical times: but later I found obvious errors and
transliterations that did not agree with the Masoretic pronunciations,
so I no longer hold to that position.)
> --
> Peter Kirk
> E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
> Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
> Website: http://www.qaya.org/
Karl W. Randolph.

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