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

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Wed Nov 29 18:35:33 EST 2006


On 11/29/06, Peter Kirk <peter at qaya.org> wrote:
> >
> Thanks for the clarification. I realised that you were not rejecting
> copyists' errors, and I accept that you now allow changes of
> orthographic convention.
The only book in Tanakh that systematically used a lot of materes
lectionis is Chronicles, which is post-Exile. In the pre-Exile books,
the materes lectionis are not systematically applied, actually often
missing, even in cases like the medial yod in hiphil verbs, and this
is the case even in the consonantal text as preserved by the
Masoretes. I don't see a change of orthographic convention, just the
possibility of additional materes lectionis being inserted as copyist
errors because of the orthographic conventions that existed while the
copies were being made.

> I am glad that you admit to "given my presuppositions" here. For your
> idea is based on some clear presuppositions

That is only honest to be clear on the presuppositions. Not to be up
front and honest on the presuppositions used I think is intellectually

> ... about the nature of the
> Torah and how it was revered, which may be accurate for 2000 years later
> in the Rabbinic and Masoretic period but which may well be totally
> untrue of the period immediately after the Exodus.

We also have the historical record as preserved in Judges (which
actually starts during Joshua's lifetime) of where the majority of the
people did not just not revere Torah, but actively turned to worship
idols. So of course they did not revere Torah as did the later rabbis.

As for those who did not turn to idols, the evidence points to the
fact that the Torah as written by Moses was considered the ultimate
standard of life and faith, starting with Joshua. There are 23 verses
that specifically mention Moses as the author of the Torah being
cited, and well over a hundred just mentioning Torah with the written
Torah as being understood. With that being the case, it is unlikely
that the copyists took liberties with the text.

> .... As you say, "we have
> to play with the hand we're dealt", and the hand we're dealt includes no
> evidence for the 22 letter alphabet until several centuries after your
> Exodus date.

This can neither be proven nor disproven. The only records we have of
writing in Tanakh indicates that the writing material was perishable,
starting with Torah. With that being the case, we can't look at stone
monuments for the record, rather we have to trust the historical
records. Or not trust them, if that fits your presuppositions
(religious faith, theology).

> .... There is a real possibility that Moses wrote down the Torah
> (assuming for now that he did write it down) in a script quite different
> from this, possibly an Egyptian script or perhaps something more like
> "proto-Sinaitic" with more than 22 letters; but then later, perhaps in
> the monarchy period, the Israelites adopted the 22 letter script which
> was by now the regional standard, and new copies of the Torah were
> written in this script.
This goes back to what I said before, "as a historian, we have to play
with the hand we're dealt." Your paragraph above is pure speculation.
We can neither prove nor disprove it. The surviving evidence that we
have indicates that Torah was written with a 22 letter alphabet. And
the surviving evidence states that Moses wrote Torah in the 15th
century BC. Unless and until we can find evidence that contradicts
that evidence, that's the hand that has been dealt us.

There are some who dispute what my paragraph above states, but because
they have no evidence other than their presuppositions (theology,
religious faith), if we are not careful, this can become a spitting
match between religions.

> I note that these kinds of script changes have been common through
> history, and especially over the last century in various countries,
> largely for wider political reasons; and while religious establishments
> have sometimes initially rejected the script changes they have soon come
> to realise the necessity of republishing even the holiest of books in
> the newly accepted script.

Here's where we have to distinguish between alphabet and font face.

For example, when I was a kid, I had to learn Fraktur font face
because the hymnals and liturgy were printed in Fraktur while the
secular society had almost totally gone over to standard serif and
non-serif fonts (Yes, I lived in Germany for a while). Today all of
that is printed in standard serif and non-serif fonts, like Times and
Arial. The reason the change could go so smoothly is because only the
font face was changed, the underlying alphabet remained untouched.

> ... In the history of the Hebrew Bible, this is
> known to happened with the change from palaeo-Hebrew type script to
> Aramaic square script. Why should it have not happened also at an
> earlier time? So, while we have no direct evidence of such a change, we
> have no reason to reject it as a possibility. Still less can we assume
> that this did not happen and so that the existence of later copies of
> the Torah in the 22 letter script is evidence with any significant value
> that it was initially written in this script.
Just as in the example above of German switching from Fraktur to
standard fonts was merely the change of font faces, so the switch from
paleo-Hebrew to Aramaic square font was a change from one font face to
another, one that left the underlying alphabet unchanged. It is
possible that there was a previous change of font faces, but as long
as the font face changes don't change the alphabet, the message is
unchanged. Further, such a change does not change the surviving
evidence that Torah was originally written in a 22 letter alphabet.

> --
> Peter Kirk
> E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
> Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
> Website: http://www.qaya.org/
With the historical record claiming that Hebrew writing was almost
only on perishable materials, we can neither verify nor disprove that
Moses was the author of Torah, using a 22 letter alphabet. All we have
are copies in a 22 letter alphabet which, given the nature of the text
and how the historical record indicates it was revered by those who
followed it, even in Biblical times, making that evidence, not proof,
that the original was also written in a 22 letter alphabet.

If the historical records are correct (and I see no reason to doubt
them), then Torah was written in Hebrew before any of the cognate
languages (e.g. Ugaritic, Phoenician, Aramaic) were written using a 22
letter alphabet (in the case of Ugaritic, before it was written at
all). That makes those languages interesting in that they can
sometimes clarify difficult passages and terms in Tanakh and their
literature provide background material left out of Tanakh, but they
are not ancestral to Hebrew, nor is a study of those languages
necessary for an understanding of Hebrew.

"As a historian, we have to play with the hand we're dealt" means that
we are to deal with hard evidence, not religious belief. Hard evidence
includes written records, even copies of such, unless there is other
hard evidence (written records) that contradict those written records.
The only evidence that contradicts the historical records in Tanakh
are those based on religious belief, speculation, and reconstructions
of fragmentary data, not something I can take to the bank. That is why
I reject them as counter evidence.

That other people have difficulty with some of the claims found in
Tanakh based on their presuppositions is no surprise, and as long as
they are up front and honest that it is their presuppositions that
lead to their conclusions, I have no problem with that. I disagree
with their conclusions, but that is a different story. Those who push
those alternate theories need to understand that when I and people
like me reject their theories, that it is based on historical records
which we view as more trustworthy than their theories.

(Notice, even here, we have come back to functional, activist,
historical ("Hebrew") thought verses formal, repose, ahistorical
("Greek") thought.)

Karl W. Randolph.

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