[b-hebrew] Two High Registers of Post-Exilic Hebrew?

David Steinberg david.l.steinberg at rogers.com
Mon Nov 28 12:22:03 EST 2011

Your recent reply to Karl made some valid points. However, it does 
ignore the linguistic complexity of Judea during the period 500 BCE-70 
CE ( see http://www.adath-shalom.ca/history_of_hebrew.htm#PostExH ; 
http://www.houseofdavid.ca/anc_heb_diglossia.htm#koine_PMH ).

The first thing that should be said is that the culture was overall oral 
with real literacy, in the sense of being able to express oneself in 
writing, being as low as in contemporary Greece (say 10 percent of the 
population) - see Karel van der Toorn, /Scribal Culture and the Making 
of the Hebrew Bible /(Harvard University

Press, 2009)

There can be no question, given the evidence at hand, that in Judea -
a) many, almost certainly most, Jews spoke Palestinian Jewish Western 
Aramaic. A descendant of a similar northern dialect is found in e.g. 
Targum Pseudo-Jonathan 
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Targum_Pseudo-Jonathan> ( 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Targum_Pseudo-Jonathan ).

b) many Jews spoke Greek either as a first or second language and wrote 
in Greek. ( Although a bit later and further north the evidence of Beit 
She'arim may be relevant. At Beit She'arim (burial place of the 
Sanhedrin in the 2-3 centuries CE) the dominant language of 
inscriptions, presumably written by and for the family is Greek. The 
following is from /Beth She'arim, vol III The Excavations 1953-1/958 by 
N. Avigad (Rutgers U Press, 1976) -

The most prominent feature is the profusion of Greek inscriptions in 
contrast to the paucityof Hebrew inscriptions. It emerges that Greek was 
the tongue spoken by many Palestinian Jews.... Another interesting fact 
is noteworthy: all the men referred to in the Hebrew inscriptions have 
Hebrew names (except for one whose name is Greek in form...); whereas 
all the women have Greco-Roman names....

c) in many inland localities, peasant and small town Jews spoke a Hebrew 
dialect or dialects that later became the new rabbinic literary language 
called by the rabbis  leshon Hakhamim and now called in English Mishnaic 
Hebrew or Rabbinic Hebrew or Middle Hebrew.

At this time it is clear that several written languages were in use -

a) the Aramaic of Daniel ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Aramaic 
) consciously modelled on the already ancient Imperial Aramaic ( 
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Aramaic#Imperial_Aramaic%20> ). 
This would probably have been as incomprehensible to the Aramaic speaker 
on the street in 100 BCE as Chaucer's English is to an English speaker 
on the street today. We must assume that texts like Daniel were written 
by trained scribes for trained scribes. The Archaic language would have 
given a patina of ancient truth (see van der Toorn re. scribes writing 
for scribes);

b) the Middle Aramaic of (consonantal basis of ) Targum Onkolos. This 
was probably an archaising literary dialect still comprehensible to the 
Aramaic speaker on the street in the same way that the English of the 
Authorized Version is still comprehensible to a reasonably literate 
modern English speaker;

c) Post-classical Biblical Hebrew ( 
<http://www.houseofdavid.ca/anc_heb_abb_dia.htm#PCBH>) which slowly 
developed into the sort of Hebrew we find in most of the Qumran 
documents ( http://www.houseofdavid.ca/anc_heb_abb_dia.htm#QH 
<http://www.houseofdavid.ca/anc_heb_abb_dia.htm#QH>). This would have 
been difficult for a Mishnaic Hebrew speaking peasant to comprehend 
though exposure to Torah reading would have given him some grasp of 
simple prose Biblical Hebrew. To see how different the two forms of 
Hebrew are see Bendavid, Abba,/Biblical Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew/(in 
Hebrew), Dvir 1967 (2 volumes) - vol 1. pp. 331-382; vol. 2 pp. 882-924)

d) Proto-Mishnaic Hebrew - we have evidence of this only from the copper 
scroll in the period before 70 CE. However, it is likely that it was 
used as a non-literary by Hebrew speakers writing on materials that 
would not survive (wood, waxed wooden tablets) or if the material 
survives the writing does not (potshards with water soluble ink).

e) Greek (see above).

It is also very likely that spoken Aramaic was widely used as a 
non-literary by Aramaic speakers again writing on materials that would 
not survive (wood, waxed wooden tablets) or if the material survives the 
writing does not (potshards with water soluble ink).

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