[b-hebrew] Hebrew as a spoken language

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Fri Oct 26 07:50:59 EDT 2007

On 10/26/07, Dave Washburn wrote:
> Sorry for the double posting, my mail program hiccuped.
> Dave Washburn
> Why do it right when you can do it again?

I can forgive you for the double posting.  But as far as the content,
it seems you are intent on not reading what I say.  Perhaps you don't
have explicit evidence to support your position, and seeing various
evidence adduced for the contrary position, you feel a need to say
something.  Well, your accusation of a "straw man argument," is
now apparently clearly a misreading of what I wrote.  But it made it
seem as if I was stating things widely agreed upon ("I don't know of
anyone who claims that...") because I was adducing evidence that
is consistent with the position you were supporting.  The fact remains
that Latin did die out, and was used the liturgy and religious literature,
but this happens because prior to its dying out, the common
language was (Vulgar) Latin, and this was the incentive to write the
literature in this language.  Since Mishnaic Hebrew, not any older form
of Hebrew, was used as the language of religious literature, the
comparison with Latin would show that Mishnaic Hebrew was also
spoken prior to its dying out.  Spoken in day to day life, not just in
religious settings.  Do you have a contrary example?  Do you have
evidence for other religious literature that when written in a language
not previously used for that literature was chosen to be written in
a language dead hundreds of years at the time?  It would help you
make your point, because up to now, your position remains without

All that your position has going for it is assertions.  Assertions like
"I have seen plenty of claims that the DSS, BK documents, etc.
PROVE that it was still a commonly-spoken language at the time of
Jesus and such, and my point is that they prove no such thing." But
why?  How do you explain the Hebrew as it is found in those
documents?  An assertion that has no evidence behind it is no good.
>From my point of view, the Bar Kokhba letters are also significant
because of a letter explaining why the letter itself was not written
in Hebrew, because no one nearby the author knew Hebrew.  The very
statement suggests that elsewhere where letters were in Hebrew,
Hebrew was a spoken language.  See here:

It was suggested that Hebrew was a language of trade, legal documents,
and high society.  But the fact that Judah Hanasi's slave ("maid" is a
nice way to put it) spoke Hebrew shows that it was not.  It is explicit
evidence that Hebrew was not limited to high society but was spoken
by the common people as well.  That it was the language of legal
documents and trade is also without evidence.  Thus Mishnah Ketubot
4:11(12), in quoting a marriage contract stipulation, quotes it in Aramaic
for Jerusalem and the Galilee but quotes in Hebrew for Judea proper.

Yes, we are discussing Hebrew, not Aramaic.  But I could have said
the same thing for Latin.  Of course, other languages which died or did
not die out are useful for comparison in the case of Hebrew.  In the days
before internet, mass communication, and even the printing press,
language death was much much slower.   A town would not magically
switch over to a new language when the official documents began to
be spoken in the new language.  The elite would actually learn the
new language.  But the common farmer who had to go to the public
market to sell his stuff?  What did he need the language of the empire

You can claim that the DSS and BK and Mishnaic statements and
language, among other things do not prove that Hebrew was a living
language.  But it is just a claim?  Why don't they prove.  Where is the

Further evidence to that effect can be found here (although I haven't
checked out all the examples adduced there):

Yitzhak Sapir

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