[b-hebrew] Hebrew as a spoken language

dwashbur at nyx.net dwashbur at nyx.net
Fri Oct 26 14:15:14 EDT 2007

On 26 Oct 2007 at 11:50, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:

> 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.  

Hold on.  You said in an earlier posting that, even after Latin ceased to be the common 
language and was restricted to the religious environment, it continued to change and 
develop.  But Hebrew couldn't have done the same thing?  That sounds like special 
pleading, and it doesn't work.  Once again, I never said that Hebrew didn't continue to be 
spoken.  I said it became the RELIGIOUS language, much analogous to Latin in the Middle 
Ages.  The question is not whether this happened, but when.  The suggestion is that it 
happened either shortly after or during the Exile.   You differ.  What non-religious texts can 
you offer to back up this claim?  All we have in Hebrew from the post-exilic period to the 
destruction of the Temple are religious texts.  That hardly demonstrates that it was "spoken 
in day to day life."  What the DSS *do* show is that, even as a religious language, it 
continued to develop over time until it was more or less solidified in the Mishnaic form.  But I 
still haven't seen any non-religious documents to indicate that it was "spoken in day to day 

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
> evidence.

I never said it was a language "dead hundreds of years at the time."   What I have said over 
and over, and I believe Karl did as well, is that it ceased to be the common language around 
the time of the Exile.  Pot and kettle, my friend.
> 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.

Already answered.

> >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:
> http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-hebrew/2004-November/021371.html

This is getting tiresome.  Please stop misrepresenting my words.
> It was suggested that Hebrew was a language of trade, legal documents,
> and high society.  

Suggested by whom?  Not by me.  Citations, please.

> 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
> for?

Latin is useful for comparison because it moved from being a common language to a 
restricted usage, specifically religious, which I suggest also happened to Hebrew after th 
Exile.  This clearly did not happen to Aramaic, so it really isn't relevant.

As for the town image, suppose the town's entire population were displaced and forced to a 
new location where the original tongue wasn't spoken, and had to stay there for a few 
generations?  That's precisely what happened to Judah.  Would they come back and just 
"magically" switch back?  Not likely, especially since there was nobody left in their land to 
induce it to happen.  At the risk of belaboring the point, because certain people either don't 
seem to be getting it or are choosing to dodge it, the question is not if.  The question is 
> 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
> evidence?

Already answered.
Dave Washburn
Why do it right when you can do it again?

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list