[b-hebrew] Language, migration and Jewish identity

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Thu Nov 8 15:46:53 EST 2007

On Nov 8, 2007 5:52 PM, K Randolph wrote:
> On 11/5/07, Yitzhak Sapir <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com> wrote:
> > On Nov 2, 2007 11:15 PM, ג'ייסון הייר wrote:
> > > ... I'm curious to know if there is
> > > anyone who makes a good point of this in the scholarly community, and also
> > > if there has been an opposing argument put forward.
> >
> > Karl's response reminded me that I wanted to get to answer this for some time
> > now.
> >
> > In the scholarly community,
> The question here is: who is a scholar and what defines scholarship?

I quoted all the above to make it clear what is going on.  A scholar
is a rather
general term.  But a scholarly community is a specific phrase that refers to a
specific institution.  And in that institution, scholars are a defined group of
people -- what you appear to call "a very tiny subset."  Nevertheless, the
question by Jason was regarding the "scholarly community."  Breaking it up
into "scholar" (or even "scholarly") and "community" seems like the
fallacy again.  It's perfectly fine to offer other points, and Jason may want to
hear them out -- and I tried to be general in my post about different
But his primary question related to the scholarly community and I needed to
explain why the answers cannot be found there.

> If we include anyone who has done extensive study of the Hebrew
> language to the point that he/she can make material advances to the
> study of Biblical Hebrew, then the number of "scholars" is much
> larger, including many teaching in small private schools, yeshivot and
> seminaries. It could even include some who are largely self-taught
> with little formal training. While this is still a small subset of
> those who have studied Biblical Hebrew, it can be a few times larger
> than the very restrictive definition above.

Already in the Mishnah, we have, "Who is wise?  He who learns from
everyone else."  (Modern Hebrew has the much more wittier "Mikol
melamdai hiskalti" which can mean either "I learned from everyone who
taught me" or "I was smarter than all those who tried to teach me.")
In a way I view all my interactions as learning, and I think even those
who posit (for examples, on list) some positions that are simply asking
about those things that have been dealt with and explained a long time
ago, and hold hard-headed positions on those issues, -- even they
cause me to learn, because I end up looking up those basic resources
that normally don't get looked up.  However, this applies also to back
to the scholar.  For me, for a person to be a scholar, he has to learn
from everyone else.  A person is not a scholar if he limits himself to
only reading and reviewing a select group of positions.  He must
actively search all out the positions on the subjects he studies, and
most importantly, the current positions (which, if written by scholars
as I see scholars, would also have actively searched out all positions
on those subjects).

> > .... the great majority of scholars understand the
> > evidence to suggest that the Exodus or Patriarchal narratives do not represent
> > anything more than possible and if so, garbled, historical memories.
> First of all, this is not a linguistic determination.

This list is not just linguistics.  It is also literature.  Also, although you
sort of broke up the phrase here, the phrase said that "In the scholarly
community, the great majority of scholars ..." Indeed, in what is defined
as the scholarly community (when not broken up into "scholar" and
"community"), this is the position of the great majority of scholars.  I
didn't even say unanimous.  This is a true objective statement of the
current reality.  You may disagree with their position -- it appears you
do.  But Jason asked about their position, and therefore it is reasonable
to state that for him.  (In fact, it would be reasonable to state that for
him in any case, of course, but more so when he asked for just that!)

> Secondly,
> according to historical research, it is based primarily on ideological
> presuppositions (religious faith). Thirdly, there is no historical
> documentation to back it up.

Let's not get into that again.  From the point of view of the scholarly
community, and the definitions of "evidence", "ideological", and
"religious" as accepted by the scholarly community, the above
"secondly" and "thirdly" are wrong.  You have your own opinions
about research, theories, science, etc. that are inconsistent with
what is commonly held by the scholarly community.  But you
should recognize that these definitions you hold are not all out
objective definitions, but are definitions that you hold and are
consistent with the rest of your conclusions, just like the
definitions that those in the scholarly community hold are
consistent with their conclusions, and specifically here, that their
conclusions about the Patriarchs etc, are the results of a view to
the evidence, historical documentation, etc, according to the way
they understand these definitions.

> > The general
> > consensus would be that later Judeans and Israelites represent descendants of
> > Canaanites and their language is consequently an evolved form of one of the
> > Canaanite dialects.
> What historical evidence is there to back this up?

I believe this is the position of Dever based on an archaeological study of the
Canaanite periods and the following periods that show continuity.  There are
also Biblical verses that may be construed in that sense -- for example,
Ezekiel 16:3.  Again, you may disagree with the position of the scholarly
community, but this paragraph is not about disagreement or debate with
the scholarly community -- it is explaining to Jason what is the position in
the scholarly community because that is what he asked.

> > If the assumption of the Exodus and the Egyptian slavery is taken to be
> > historical, however, one may suppose that Hebrew would have borrowed
> > many words from Egyptian.  This hardly appears to be the case.  This
> > would suggest that after any adoption of Hebrew (or Canaanite) by the
> > ancestors of later Judeans took place, no Egyptian exile took place
> > either.
> >
> If we take the records as they were written, there would have been
> little communication between the Egyptians and the Hebrews. The
> Egyptian pharaoh had the Hebrews do a job that was an abomination for
> the Egyptians to do, namely that of herding. In other words, they were
> the "untouchables" (to use an Indian caste word) of Egyptian society.

This position by both you and Bryant somewhat surprised me.  In general,
because I widely understood such verses as Ex 11:2-3 as implying a close
connection which requires mutual understanding between the Israelites and
the Egyptians, according to the Biblical account.  It is more reasonable to
assume that the slave would adopt the language of his master in such a
case, even if only for intercommunication.  Anyway, this is how I understood
the Biblical view of Egyptian-Hebrew level of communication.

> Secondly, if we take the records as written, most of the communication
> between "Egyptians" and Hebrews would have taken place between a new
> set of "Egyptians", namely the Hyksos, and the Hebrews. Seeing as the
> Hyksos spoke a Semitic language, would that have left any noticeable
> traces in the Hebrew language?

I don't know what the Hyksos spoke.  My guess is they spoke Egyptian.
We have archaeological remains from their period -- and I don't think any
Egyptologist suggests they spoke Semitic or Canaanite.  In contrast,
the lingua franca of the Amarna scribes appears to have been Canaanite!
But we are talking about Egyptian slaves in earlier centuries, not between
Canaanite governors in Canaanite provinces under Egyptian rule. The view
that it was the Hyksos is your view, and perhaps held by a few others, but
I don't think it is even the more commonly held view amongst conservatives.
It definitely contrasts with the traditional Jewish chronology.  (I note that
most of those who accept the Exodus as historical in light of archaeology,
believe it took place around the time of the Amarna correspondence.  Of
course, Jim Stinehart here views the Amarna correspondence as dating
to the time of the Patriarchs -- this would also generally rule out Hyksos
periods as the time of the Exodus).

Yitzhak Sapir

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