[b-hebrew] The use of the Yiqtol in Isaiah 1:21

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Thu Apr 23 05:47:48 EDT 2009

On Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 4:10 AM, K Randolph wrote:

> Native speakers of which language?
> We’ve already hashed out this question, so there’s no reason to hash it out
> again. But there is evidence that Hebrew had ceased to be a natively spoken
> language during the Babylonian Exile or shortly thereafter, it had been
> replace by Aramaic and in Hellenistic areas by Greek. There is evidence from
> the LXX that at that time certain terms in Hebrew had been forgotten and
> that the translators were merely guessing.
> I merely mention this because the evidence is not enough to be proof. This
> is why some of us rule out the use of translations as being more than just
> advisory.
> I’ve made my point, let’s just agree to disagree.


I don't see why you bring it up if you see no reason to hash it out again in the
first place.  There is no evidence that Hebrew ceased to be a natively spoken
language, and there is evidence it continued to exist until no earlier than the
2nd century CE.  This is evidence you don't accept, and some others on this
list also rule out some of the evidence categorically (for example, anecdotal
evidence in the Talmud is ruled out because the Talmud is a religious
work that should be ignored for these purposes in their opinion).  However,
practically all linguists of Hebrew do accept the evidence, and the relevant
conclusions that Hebrew continued to be spoken until the 2nd century CE.
Specifically as far as your "evidence" quoted above, just because some
communities began to speak Greek or Aramaic and some words were lost
in Hebrew does not mean that Hebrew died out.  It's not even evidence to that
end, and even scholars who think that Hebrew died around the 2nd century
CE accept that this happened in some communities and for some words.

I go further, and I think there is even some evidence it continued to be spoken
until the 10th century CE.  All the conditions are ripe for it.  We
know from the
NT references that Hebrew was spoken in parts of the Galilee, and following
the Bar Kokhba revolt, the all Judean countryside which had maintained
Hebrew was exiled to the Galilee.  So it is just as possible that some
communities could continue to speak Hebrew.  There are reasons to accept
this possibility: the anecdotal evidence in the Talmud relates in general to the
4th century CE, and  there is even a direct reference in the 9th-10th centuries
to the laymen in the market who spoke Hebrew.  The Masoretes used to
name themselves in Hebrew (Ben Asher, etc), Hebrew inscriptions are
attested in Israel at this time, and the Medieval poetic tradition has its roots
in the early Hebrew poetic tradition in Israel in the Byzantine period and
later.  Even the name for these poets -- the Paytanim -- is a totally new
Hebrew word.  Dead languages don't coin words this easily.  Also, Biblical
translators in the Early Islamic period had a kind of preference to live in
the area of Tiberias, and the Tiberian reading tradition became the most
prestigious at this time, when in other areas (such as Jewish law) the
local tradition was not followed.  This could be explained on the
background of a continued living Hebrew tradition in this area.  The local
Hebrew speaking tradition was viewed even by the local Aramaic and Arabic
Rabbis as inferior -- a  mutilated Hebrew whose speakers were not
knowledgeable in its grammar.  But on the other hand, it was viewed as a
source of information that could help commentary on the Bible and the
Rabbinic Hebrew texts.  So really, I think there is good evidence that
deserves a fresh analysis that Hebrew continued to be spoken by the
local layman population until well into Medieval times (essentially, until the
Crusades destroyed these communities around 1100).

However, between these two extremes we have the consensus amongst
all Hebrew linguists that Hebrew remained a living language until the 2nd
century CE.  You may disagree, just like I disagree.  But we both should
have the humility to recognize that our independent positions should not
be presented as fact.  You can say "Practically all Hebrew scholars think
that Hebrew survived until the 2nd century CE, but I don't accept their
evidence."  You can see how I worded my position initially: "the current
vocalization was used by people who at best spoke Late Rabbinic
Hebrew."  I present the consensus view as fact and my own personal
opinion as "at best," even arguing that it makes no difference for the
issue at hand.

Karl, there are various types of ways to present your own opinion
on this list and deal with evidence.   You could ignore it, force it,
contend with it, or learn from it.  I think contending and learning should
be the way to go.  If practically all Hebrew linguists feel that Hebrew
maintained itself as a spoken language until the 2nd century BCE,
don't you think you have at least a duty to figure out -- on your own,
not based on how someone on this list presents the consensus
view -- what that consensus evidence is and to contend with it?
Until then, I think it would be more honest, to just say: "Most Hebrew
scholars feel that Hebrew was spoken until the 2nd century CE.  I
disagree and think it died much earlier based on my own personal
research though I haven't had the chance to explore their evidence
in detail yet."  If you stated your position in this way, I'd have no
problem to agree to disagree.  But when you present your position
as fact, and ignore the consensus position, as if any and all evidence
there is points to your position even if it is not enough to be proof, I
don't agree to anything.  You're just wrong, misleading people on the
list, and ignoring the evidence.

Yitzhak Sapir

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