[b-hebrew] Complexity and Dating of Hebrew Texts

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Thu Apr 23 21:37:37 EDT 2009

This is why dating is so contentious and the reason it is pretty much off
limits for discussion.

On Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 5:27 PM, George Athas <George.Athas at moore.edu.au>wrote:

> Karl wrote:
> There is evidence even among Biblical books. Those that were written before
> the Babylonian Exile show a greater linguistic complexity than those
> written
> afterwards, e.g. the final three prophets, Haggai, Zakaria and Malachi used
> the language in a simpler manner, as befits those who do not have native
> fluency of the language, than their pre-Exile predecessors.
> ----
> Karl, I'm not sure how you're defining 'complexity' here, but I'd beg to
> differ on that one. The Book of the Twelve must be a post-exilic book, and
> there doesn't seem to be any great disparity between the Hebrew of, say,
> Hosea and Zechariah. I would argue that Ezekiel preserves an at times
> strange brand of Hebrew. Furthermore, you have the problem of identifying
> the date of particular books, which is very difficult to do. One could
> legitimately make the case that some (or a lot) of the material in the
> Pentateuch is post-exilic.
> Dating biblical books on language is fraught with difficulties. I refer you
> to the recent two volumes, Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts, by Young,
> Rezetko, and Ehrensvärd.
> Regards,
> Moore Theological College (Sydney, Australia)
> www.moore.edu.au

I am not dating the books by their linguistic form, rather by the clear
statements included in them. So, for example, the Pentateuch, by its
internal claims, was written in about mid 15th century BC. Hosea was written
in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Amos too was written in
the days of Uzziah, Haggai in the days of Darius, as well as Zachariah, just
to name a few. And of course we can’t miss the multitude of historical
references in Isaiah and Jeremiah. These are clear dates, and one needs good
reason to set them aside. I have yet to see a good reason to do so.

Not all the books are dated, so this analysis does not apply to them.

What I have found is that when one takes those dates as accurate, then there
is a pattern that starts out as moderate complexity of literary
forms—allegory, irony, indirect speech, euphemisms, and so forth—that as a
pattern gets more complex as one goes later in books up to Jeremiah and
Ezekiel. Then books dated after the Exile have smaller vocabularies and
fewer literary devices.

This is the sort of pattern one would expect to find if Hebrew after the
Exile were no longer spoken as a native tongue (learned at one’s mother’s
knee, then used almost constantly) but was just learned in school as a
literary/legal/religious language.

I think those dating methods based on the Documentary Hypothesis are a waste
of paper.

I know not everyone agrees with this analysis, therefore I refrain from
pushing it as normative. There is plenty to discuss about the language
itself, without getting into a cat fight about what can’t be proven either

Karl W. Randolph.

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list