[b-hebrew] High Registers of Post-Exilic Hebrew and the Languages of Government and Administration
david.l.steinberg at rogers.com
Wed Nov 30 13:52:04 EST 2011
During the Second Temple period there were two major administrative
centers relating to Judea - the Temple administration and the center of
About the language(s) Temple administration we have virtually no
evidence. However, it is possible to surmise that administrative
documents would have been kept in their best Biblical Hebrew and/or
perhaps a dialect similar to Qumran Hebrew and/or in an Aramaic perhaps
similar to Qumran Aramaic. The little evidence at hand suggests that
Aramaic was the normal spoken language in the Temple.
Regarding the center of political power the situation is clearer i.e.
Persian - late sixth to late fourth centuries BCE.Administrative
language Imperial Aramaic.
Hellenistic rule - late fourth to mid-second centuries BCE.
Administrative language Greek.
Hasmonean - mid-second century to late first century BCE (see below)
Herodian - late first century CE.Administrative language(s) probably
Aramaic and Greek.
Roman - early first second century BCE until the destruction of the
Second Temple in 70 CE. Administrative language Greek.
Of the Hasmonean court and administration we know very little. It is
clear that at court and in administrative offices Greek and Aramaic
would be heard and used for many documents. However, it is conceivable
that, for nationalist reasons, the court may have promoted the use of
Hebrew as a written language and possible for the conduct of court
business (cf. "Qumran Hebrew as an Antilanguage", by William M.
Schniedewind,/Journal of Biblical Literature/, Vol. 118, No. 2. (Summer,
1999), pp. 235-252.) If this was the case, it would be likely that
different forms of Hebrew would have been used in writing and speaking.
It may well have been the case that something like Qumran Hebrew may
have been used for writing while the spoken Hebrew may have been closer
to a form of Proto-Mishnaic Hebrew.
For the linguistic complexity of Judea during the period 500 BCE-70 CE (
see http://www.adath-shalom.ca/history_of_hebrew.htm#PostExH ;
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
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.
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 modeled on the already ancient Imperial Aramaic
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
b) the Middle Aramaic best represented by Qumran Aramaic (See the
relevant items in my bibliography (
http://www.houseofdavid.ca/anc_heb.htm ) under Cook, Koller, Muraoka.)
Also relevant is the consonantal text of Targum Onkolos. These forms of
Aramaic may be seen as archaizing literary dialects, 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 Proto-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
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 for non-literary, business or personal, documents by Hebrew
speakers writing on materials that would not survive (wood, waxed wooden
tablets) or if the material survives the writing does not (potsherds
with water soluble ink).
e) Greek (see above).
It is also very likely that in written form, spoken Aramaic was widely
used for non-literary, business or personal, documentsby 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).
More information about the b-hebrew