[b-hebrew] Early and late biblical Hebrew

jimstinehart at aol.com jimstinehart at aol.com
Fri Nov 25 14:26:16 EST 2011

 David Steinberg:

1.  You and I agree with the following remark by Ian Young:

“Once it is admitted that the language of the biblical texts has been changed in scribal transmission, the claim that the language of the current texts is evidence of the date of the original authors is thrown into serious doubt.”

So far, so good.  That means that the absence of case endings in the received text of the Patriarchal narratives does not preclude it from having been composed in the Late Bronze Age.

2.  You wrote:  “Three works that I suggest that you read carefully are:

Van Seters, John (1975) - Abraham in History and Tradition 

Thomas L. Thompson - The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/New York, 1974). Read the section on names.

Redford, Donald B. (1970) - A Study of the Biblical Story of Joseph. Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill.”

Why are you stuck back in the bad old 1970s?  The latest book you reference is 36 years old!  Van Seters showed that the “Philistines” in the Patriarchal narratives share no characteristics whatsoever with the classic Philistines of later date in southwest Canaan.  Rather than undercutting the historicity of the Patriarchal narratives, that simply shows that the Patriarchal narratives are not talking about the classic Philistines, who did not yet exist in the Patriarchal Age.  Van Seters also is helpful in pointing out a mid-14th century BCE vintage for the phrase “fields of Aram”.  If you have read the book, you know that what Van Seters actually does is to attack an Early or Middle Bronze Age time period for the Patriarchal narratives, while making no more than passing mention of a possible Late Bronze Age time period for the Patriarchal narratives.

Thomas Thompson sees “Abram” as being a virgin pure west Semitic name.  I agree.  That is fully consistent with my view that the Patriarchal narratives portray the Hebrews as being indigenous to Canaan.  Thomas Thompson cannot understand the name “Abraham”.  We started a discussion of that controversial name a while back.  In my opinion, the name “Abraham” makes sense only in a very short time period in the mid-14th century BCE.  

3.  You wrote:  “One has to accept that most of the literature of the Hebrew Bible was meant to be comprehended read or recited aloud by a basically illiterate audience in the period of say 800-400 BCE ( see van der Toorn, Karel. Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible, Harvard University Press, 2009 - worth a careful read).”

Spoken like a true scholar!  Meanwhile Genesis 15: 19-21 has six Hurrian-based Patriarchal nicknames for the Hurrians [such as Gera-ge-$e-ya/“Girgashites”] that could not possibly have been ginned up in the 1st millennium BCE.

Do you really think that Karel va der Toorn understands who the Girgashites are?  He doesn’t think he knows who the Girgashites are:

“The name of the Girgashites…has received no satisfactory explanation.” K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing:  1999), at p. 375.

If someone in the mid-1st millennium BCE created the name Gera-ge-$e-ya, how is it that (i) scholars such as van der Toorn are utterly baffled by that name, (ii) it’s attested as GRG$ and as GRG% at Ugarit, and (iii) it’s attested as Ki-ir-ru-ka-zi and, in shorter form, Ge-ra-$e at Nuzi.  GRG$-Y is one of six Hurrian-based Patriarchal nicknames for the Hurrians at Genesis 15: 19-21 that were created in the mid-14th century BCE, when Hurrian princling dominated a majority of the cities of Canaan.  Those Hurrian-based names, and that substantive content, could not have been ginned up in the mid-1st millennium BCE.

4.  You wrote:  “The fundamental situation is that we would all like to prove the date of various pieces of the biblical text and, in most cases, be able to demonstrate that the biblical Abraham, Moses etc. lived and did what they are described as doing in the text. However, archaeology, critical studies of history etc. contradict such naive readings of the text.”

My analysis of dozens of Hurrian proper names in the Patriarchal narratives is “naïve”?  Then I suppose that would mean that the scholarly approach of generally ignoring such Hurrian proper names altogether in trying to date the Patriarchal narratives is “sophisticated”?  If you are going to argue for a mid-1st millennium BCE composition date for the Patriarchal narratives [which in my opinion literally reek of Years 12-14 in the Amarna Age as to substantive content], then why aren’t you obliged to try to explain away the six Hurrian-based Patriarchal nicknames at Genesis 15: 19-21 that could not, under any circumstances, have been ginned up in the mid-1st millennium BCE?

5.  You concluded:  “In my view we simply have to accept that we cannot linguistically date the material and not to continue to grab at straws.”

In my opinion, the six Hurrian-based Patriarchal nicknames at Genesis 15: 19-21 are a strong indication of a mid-14th century BCE composition date for the Patriarchal narratives.

Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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