Counting and Weighing: On the Role of Intuition in Philology and Linguistics, with Some Thoughts on Linguistic Comments by R. E. Friedman in The Exodus

The intuition of established scholars often holds them back from appreciating revolutionary advances in the understanding of how the biblical texts evolved and how to view their language in that context. Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts helps elucidate what is currently going on in our field. We use Richard Friedman’s new book on the exodus as an example of the old paradigm and juxtapose it with the emerging paradigm that is founded on more robust data collection and analysis.

See Also: An Unsettling Divide in Linguistic Dating and Historical Linguistics
Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts
Unhistorical Hebrew Linguistics: A Cautionary Tale
A Very Tall “Cautionary Tale”: A Response to Ron Hendel

By Martin Ehrensvärd
Associate Professor
Faculty of Theology
University of Copenhagen

with collaboration by

Robert Rezetko
Research Associate
Radboud University Nijmegen & University of Sydney

Ian Young
Associate Professor
Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies
University of Sydney
November 2017

Samuel R. Driver famously stated that words should be weighed, not counted, and thus he cast doubt on the usefulness of statistics in linguistics. He said this over 100 years ago, and since then a great deal of solid work has been done on Biblical Hebrew by philologists relying more on intuition and qualitative analyses, and less on quantitative measures and a strict linguistic framework. A scholar’s intuition is a crucial means in producing good scholarship, but in certain circumstances, as I shall argue, it is a hindrance.

A good example of a scholar relying on his good intuition is Avi Hurvitz. Since the 1960s he has developed and refined his intuitively very attractive model of the early history of Hebrew. His model goes like this: The Hebrew used in the monarchic period started to be forgotten during the exile, and in the following centuries, scribes no longer wrote the language perfectly. They tried to but would invariably use new words and expressions betraying their lack of knowledge of traditional Hebrew. A modern scholar with very good knowledge of Hebrew and using the methodology of Hurvitz can discern which writings, then, date from the monarchic period and which writings are later, unsuccessful attempts at sounding like old Hebrew.

When I first encountered Hurvitz’ work and his model in 1995, I was very impressed by it and I quickly decided to make it the focus of my Ph.D. dissertation. Since then, and even very recently, I have met many young people with the same experience. Hurvitz’ model is just appealing and feels satisfying.

Hurvitz has a remarkable command of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic and he is very good at weighing words, arguing like a good philologist on the basis of specific instances of a word or expression. As a consequence, his work has really driven the field forward. He became my PhD supervisor and one day at a meeting with him in the late 1990s, I expressed misgivings about my chances to do good work in this field. As a non-native speaker of modern Hebrew and not having grown up with learning Biblical Hebrew, I would never get the same feel for the language. He comforted me by saying that it was perfectly possible to master these languages as a grownup and do good work. Just look at Gustaf Dalman, the brilliant German Semitic scholar, he said.

Now, I was trained at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, as a philologist in a very old-fashioned way. The institute was founded by Erling Hammershaimb, known for his work on Ugaritic. I studied with his successor, F. O. Hvidberg-Hansen. There you studied introductory Hebrew with the theological students, and then you spent two years studying 250 chapters from Biblica Hebraica on your own, followed by your BA exams. Then you spent two more years studying the rest of the Hebrew Bible, also entirely on your own, and then took the MA exams. Only a handful of students ever undertook this program during the four or so decades the department existed. There was teaching there alright, but the teaching involved other Semitic languages, not Hebrew.

Being very philologically minded, and very old-fashionedly trained, I was surprised and very pleased to discover the power of linguistics. It turned out that linguistics had tremendous gifts for Biblical Hebrew studies. In other words, linguistics could solve many of the problems philologists had. The last couple of decades has seen great work done on Hebrew by scholars very well versed in both Hebrew and linguistics.

Now, as for the field of linguistic dating in particular, I feel that there are still low-hanging fruit to be picked by using methods developed within general linguistics, specifically historical linguistics. For the last fifteen years or so, there has been a remarkable divide in this Biblical Hebrew field. After something like two centuries of relative consensus in diachronic Hebrew studies this last decade and a half has seen a mindboggling lack of mutual understanding.

Scholars in this field on both sides of the divide are bright, hardworking, and quite civil to each other, but frustratingly there seems to emerge no mutual understanding. I’ve turned to Thomas Kuhn’s work to understand this state of affairs.[1] He describes how a scientific field in crisis can see two paradigms competing, one new and one old. He argues that they are incommensurable. The idea of incommensurability has been criticized but certainly seems to hold in this case.

The crisis in the field of linguistic dating came about because of substantial advances in biblical studies and textual criticism, due especially to the revolutionary discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These changes meant, for some people, that a new framework, or paradigm, was needed in order to better understand the data. I was so very fortunate to get this understanding at a relatively early date. So, as I’ve described elsewhere in more detail,[2] twenty years ago, as I was living in Jerusalem, studying under Hurvitz and completely steeped in the traditional paradigm, I had the strange idea one day to try to inhabit the new paradigm, brought on by Philip Davies, Niels Peter Lemche, Thomas Thompson, John Van Seters, and others. To my great surprise, I found that it made sense.

So, in a minute everything fell into place. Late writers were not attempting to write early Hebrew and failing. At least some of them were perfectly capable of writing good Classical Hebrew. And so-called Late Biblical Hebrew features were found across the whole Bible for a reason.

In that moment the traditional paradigm stopped being fruitful for me. I was and am still strangely emotionally attached to it, probably because it was such an important part of my formation as a scholar. But in light of what we know today, it is entirely unsatisfactory.

Let me quote from a book that just came out, The Exodus by Richard Friedman,[3] my old neighbor from Jerusalem. This will serve as an example of how far the two sides stand from each other:[4]

“Forty years of research on the Hebrew language (a biblical number) has gone against their late dates. We can distinguish between the Classical Biblical Hebrew of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, on the one hand, and the Late Biblical Hebrew of Judah after the exile, on the other. The dividing line is essentially pre-exile versus post-exile Hebrew. Just as the English of Shakespeare’s time is different from the English that I am writing right now, so Hebrew went through the natural development that all languages do over centuries. I have written about the challenge of getting the late-daters even to address all this evidence. If it is right, they are wrong. So one would think that they would have pounced all over it to challenge it. And one would think that they would have addressed it before they published their books and articles claiming that so many of the biblical texts were late—when those texts have been shown to be written in Classical Biblical Hebrew. It would be as if they claimed that a Valley girl wrote Hamlet. I have described sessions at international conferences in which they simply refused to discuss it. I have compared their dating of the Bible without taking Hebrew into account to someone writing about diabetes without mentioning sugar. I have listed a major sampling of unrefuted research on Biblical Hebrew here in earlier chapters.”

Reading Friedman’s words here and elsewhere,[5] my fellow revisionists and myself are confounded. According to us, we have very thoroughly addressed and refuted every scrap of evidence to the contrary.[6] But this is given no value. We basically criticize each other in quite similar terms for quite the same faults. Thus, on our side we feel that it is the others who haven’t addressed our legion arguments.

Returning to Driver and the injunction to weighing words rather than counting them, in a world where historical linguistics does not possess very sophisticated statistical tools and quantitative methods, Hurvitz’ type of argument would be a good way to proceed.

But we no longer live in such a world. Massive changes have taken place in the methods historical linguists use and the degree of robustness of their results. With the rise of corpus linguistics, the linguist now has extensive access to large-scale trends in linguistic usage. This has not gone unnoticed within Biblical Hebrew studies, and this quantitative aspect is thus incipient in the work of B. E. Dresher, J. A. Cook, and R. D. Holmstedt, more prominent in the work of D.-H. Kim, R. Rezetko and I. Young, and even more profound in research and publications by J. Jacobs, and M. Naaijer, and colleagues, as seen for example in a recent issue of Journal for Semitics.[7]

This is not to say that old-fashioned philology has lost its relevance and that beautiful and important philological arguments cannot be made. On the contrary. But we must be smart about when to use which methods. And realize that sometimes they work very well in unison.

Two years ago, Jacobus A. Naudé and Cynthia L. Miller-Naudé, chairs of the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew section at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, had the brilliant idea to invite an interesting person to the annual meeting, Jared S. Klein. He is a linguistics professor and a specialist in historical linguistics. He reads Biblical Hebrew well but had never done research in it. I was very excited to hear what a specialist coming from the outside would make of the debate. And he did not disappoint.

He reworked his SBL paper for the recent issue of Journal for Semitics that I just mentioned.[8] I highly recommend reading it. I will tell you why in a second. First, however, I would like to explain why the voice of someone like him is particularly welcome.

The thing is that I feel that our field is too idiosyncratic. And here I also include my own work. Somehow, as I alluded to just now, in Biblical Hebrew studies for many decades we have been closed in around ourselves and to some degree have had our own linguistics. It is interesting that we have allowed this to happen and to continue to happen, precisely with the original language of our Bible. Well, I cannot be sure that this plays a part, but I have the sense that we Hebrew scholars as a group find it hard to study Biblical Hebrew exactly as we would the language of the Rigveda or the Quran. It seems to me as if there is an ingrained sentimentality and scientifically unwarranted trust in the literal words of the Bible, making it counterintuitive to be as naturally questioning of their authority as we would be when studying similar corpora that we are not emotionally attached to.

If this is true, I can very well relate to it. As I mentioned, my own sentimentality and intuition is drawn in this direction even now, twenty years after my moment of doubting all that I had learned and my more radical embrace of revolutionary ideas. The intuition of a scholar in command of his or her field can be a powerful tool. But in times when a field undergoes a revolution, as I think biblical studies can be said to have done, intuition must be curbed and many conclusions must be reappraised in the light of recent advances. Because the fatal flaw of intuition is that it in a certain sense is the sum of what you know. If basic parts of your knowledge turn out to be false, you cannot rely on your intuition.

One of the chief scientists involved in the discovery of oxygen, Joseph Priestley, never believed in its existence. His intuition was built within the old paradigm and probably assisted him greatly within that paradigm. But it failed him and blocked his view of the revolution of chemistry that was underway.

Returning to Klein, his voice was indeed sobering. Crucially, in spite of feeling sympathy for the idea, he could not confirm Late Biblical Hebrew as a linguistically defined entity.[9] For him, Late Biblical Hebrew works as a designation of the language of undisputedly late books, but at the point where scholarship is for the moment, Late Biblical Hebrew cannot be seen as a separate stage in the development of Hebrew. He agrees that certain linguistic features were chronologically late, and this by the way is not contested by us, we always agreed that there is a bunch of chronology within the biblical corpus. Klein sees this too, and says:[10]

“Rezetko and Young (2014) freely admit in the case of many characters that there is some tendency toward late usage. What they deny is not the fact of late usage but rather the inverse conclusion that books not showing such usage are necessarily early, a point with which I wholeheartedly concur. Variation analysis is very helpful in making sense out of characters that are of fluctuating occurrence within a textual tradition, but it has nothing to say about evidence that is not there, particularly in a corpus where editorial and scribal intervention have produced massive fluidity in the form of individual books. Note that I have said virtually nothing about the dating of texts in this paper. That is because diachronic linguistics and textual dating are separate enterprises, even though the results of the first can be useful to the second.”

Now, returning to Kuhn, he has five criteria to help determine the best theory to proceed with. The first is that it is empirically adequate with experimentation and observation. The idea that there is a sharp dividing line between pre-exilic and post-exilic Hebrew, which seems a necessary precondition for the attempt to linguistically date biblical texts, struggles to accommodate recent observations of data. These include the presence of a surprising number of supposedly late linguistic features in pre-exilic texts, including inscriptions, as well as in compositions those scholars themselves would consider early.

The second of Kuhn’s criteria is that the theory should be internally consistent, but also externally consistent with other theories. The linguistic dating theory is founded on the assumption that the individual details of biblical compositions have remained virtually unchanged since the time of an original author. In contrast, the consensus of scholars of the text of the Hebrew Bible is that the text remained fluid throughout most of the BCE period. Recent observations of the data indicate that this was especially the case with linguistic peculiarities such as those used in linguistic dating.

Kuhn’s third criterion is that a theory's consequences should extend beyond that which it was initially designed to explain. One example is how intuitively, the logic of the older theory implies that the later the composition, the more prominent Late Biblical Hebrew linguistic features should be in it. It came as a surprise to my research partners and myself to find that most Qumran texts and many other late compositions show less signs of late Hebrew than earlier books like Ezra. But it makes sense in our paradigm, while being contrary to the predictions of the linguistic dating paradigm.

Kuhn’s fourth criterion, simplicity, I leave aside as in the eye of the beholder.

As for Kuhn’s fifth criterion, that a theory should disclose new phenomena or new relationships among phenomena, one need only point to the fruitful research that has been conducted over the past few years. But I will also mention the fact that once freed of the shackles of the linguistic dating theory, it becomes apparent how much linguistic variety in the biblical texts has not been discussed because it cannot easily be fitted into a chronological model of development.

In these respects, revisionist views like those of Rezetko, Young, and myself are to be preferred, as they, as opposed to that of Hurvitz, Friedman, and many others, despite their intuitive appeal, align with recent advances in historical linguistics, biblical studies, and textual criticism, and fit with the observed data more closely.[11]


[1] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (3rd edition; Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996).

[2] Martin Ehrensvärd, “The Contemporary Debate Over Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts,” in History, Archaeology and the Bible Forty Years After “Historicity” (Changing Perspectives 6; ed. Ingrid Hjelm and Thomas L. Thompson; London: Routledge 2016), 60-67.

[3] Richard Elliott Friedman, The Exodus (New York: HarperOne, 2017). See In Chapter 1 posted on The Bible and Interpretation, Friedman makes only a passing reference to language issues: “And then for too long we leaned on archaeologists who were not trained in biblical texts, their history, language, and authorship” (p. 23). Further along in the book, however, Friedman makes more explicit comments on (in his mind) linguistic evidence for the early composition of the texts about the exodus: p. 36 with n. 16 on p. 243; p. 70 with n. 97 on pp. 250-251; pp. 101-102 with n. 43 on pp. 257-258; p. 103; pp. 166-167 (cited below) with n. 23 on p. 266; p. 168; p. 245 n. 33; p. 260 n. 61.

[4] Friedman, pp. 166-167.

[5] See note 3.

[6] For example: Ian Young, editor, Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement, 369; London: T & T Clark, 2003); Ian Young, Robert Rezetko, and Martin Ehrensvärd, Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts, Volume 1: An Introduction to Approaches and Problems, Volume 2: A Survey of Scholarship, a New Synthesis and a Comprehensive Bibliography (BibleWorld; London: Equinox, 2008); Robert Rezetko and Ian Young, Historical Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew: Steps Toward an Integrated Approach (Society of Biblical Literature Ancient Near East Monographs/Monografías sobre el Antiguo Cercano Oriente 9; Atlanta: SBL Press, 2014) (; and many other publications listed at:ärd; and

[7] Jarod Jacobs, “The Balance of Probability: Statistics and the Diachronic Study of Ancient Hebrew,” Journal for Semitics 25 (2016): 927-960; Martijn Naaijer and Dirk Roorda, “Syntactic Variation in Masoretic Hebrew, The Object Clause Reconsidered,” Journal for Semitics 25 (2016): 961-971. See also, for example, Jarod Jacobs, Statistics, Linguistics, and the “Biblical” Dead Sea Scrolls (Journal of Semitic Studies Supplement 39; Oxford, Oxford University Press, in press); Robert Rezetko and Martijn Naaijer, “An Alternative Approach to the Lexicon of Late Biblical Hebrew,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 16 (2016) (; Robert Rezetko and Martijnn Naaijer, “Review-Essay of A. Hurvitz, in Collaboration with L. Gottlieb, A. Hornkohl, and E. Mastéy, A Concise Lexicon of Late Biblical Hebrew: Linguistic Innovations in the Writings of the Second Temple Period (2014),” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 16 (2016) (

[8] Jared S. Klein, “Historical Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew: An Indo-Europeanist’s View,” Journal for Semitics 25 (2016): 865-880.

[9] Klein, p. 879. Klein, p. 879 n. 16.

[11] There are several other disturbing aspects of Friedman’s remarks on language issues, and unfortunately these reflect a similar pattern that we discussed previously: see Martin Ehrensvärd, Robert Rezetko, and Ian Young, “An Unsettling Divide in Linguistic Dating and Historical Linguistics” (, and Ian Young, Robert Rezetko, and Martin Ehrensvärd, “Do We Really Think That Ancient Hebrew Had No Chronology?” (
). First, it is commendable that Friedman at least cites our Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts (Friedman, p. 251 n. 97), but one wonders whether he has really looked at the volumes since he gives some incorrect bibliographic data similar to what is found in the review of our work by J. Joosten that Friedman cites. Also, Friedman seems somewhat out of touch with the ongoing language debates, since he does not cite more recent challenges to the conventional linguistic dating approach championed by Hurvitz and others, for example, D.-H. Kim, Early Biblical Hebrew, Late Biblical Hebrew, and Linguistic Variability: A Sociolinguistic Evaluation of the Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts (Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 156; Leiden: Brill, 2013), and Rezetko and Young, Historical Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew (see note 6). Second, Friedman mainly cites publications that support his argument (cf. previous point) while overlooking explicit responses by us and others to those publications. For example, alongside Joosten’s review, he also cites Ronald Hendel’s “Unhistorical Hebrew Linguistics: A Cautionary Tale” (, but not Robert Rezetko, Ian Young, and Martin Ehrensvärd, “A Very Tall ‘Cautionary Tale’: A Response to Ron Hendel” (, where we also discuss Joosten’s review. Third, Friedman seems to have underappreciated the arguments in some of the publications he cites. For example, he cites R. Polzin’s Late Biblical Hebrew and R. S. Hendel’s “‘Begetting’ and ‘Being Born’ in the Pentateuch” (Friedman, pp. 250-251 n. 97, p. 258 n. 43) in support of his argument that the texts, including P, about the exodus are written in “classical, PRE-exilic Hebrew” (Friedman, p. 250 n. 97, his double emphasis). However, in no way do these two publications cited by Friedman agree with his argument; rather, Polzin argues that the language of P is between pre-exilic / Classical Biblical Hebrew and post-exilic / Late Biblical Hebrew and was written in or near the exile (Polzin, Late Biblical Hebrew, pp. 22, 159), and Hendel concludes: “These data would seem to support the classical view that the J source is earlier than the P source, and that the P source stems from roughly the exilic or early Persian period” (Hendel, “‘Begetting’ and ‘Being Born’ in the Pentateuch,” p. 46). The full publication data of these sources are: R. Polzin, Late Biblical Hebrew: Toward an Historical Typology of Biblical Hebrew Prose (Harvard Semitic Monographs 12; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1976); R. S. Hendel, “‘Begetting’ and ‘Being Born’ in the Pentateuch: Notes on Historical Linguistics and Source Criticism,” Vetus Testamentum 50 (2000): 38-46. For a more evenhanded presentation of scholarly views on the language and date of P see our Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts, vol. 2, pp. 11-17. Fourth, and finally, and in regard to our preceding remark, we would like to have seen some interaction in Friedman’s book with European biblical scholarship on the formation of the Pentateuch, and the dating of the sources, as well as some treatment of empirical evidence, especially text-critical evidence, for the evolutionary growth of the Pentateuch, including again the dating of the sources. See, for example, J. C. Gertz, B. M. Levinson, D. Rom-Shiloni, and K. Schmid, eds., The Formation of the Pentateuch: Bridging the Academic Cultures of Europe, Israel, and North America (Forschungen zum Altes Testament 111; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), as well as our “Currents in the Historical Linguistics and Linguistic Dating of the Hebrew Bible” (in preparation;

Comments (14)

Martin says: "views like those of Rezetko, Young, and myself are to be preferred," while the views of others are "old-fashioned" and based on "intuition" Well, maybe it's not quite so simple. At the risk of echoing Martin's self-advertisement, I would mention that Jan Joosten and I have a new book on this topic coming out next year with Yale University Press. Stay tuned for some philological fun.

#1 - Ron Hendel - 12/05/2017 - 03:33

We eagerly look forward to the publication of your forthcoming book with Jan, and we hope/trust that it will continue to advance the field by making use of the quantitative methods and statistical tools that are, at last, becoming a part of Biblical Hebrew language studies as in other fields of historical linguistics.

#2 - Robert Rezetko - 12/05/2017 - 04:01

Dean Forbes and Frank Andersen were introducing statistical/quantitative analysis to BH studies when were we all still learning long division. I'm frankly shocked that their older work, as well as the continued extremely deep work of Forbes, gets no mention.
What is useful in this essay is that Martin explicitly connects his and Y&R's work to revisionist biblical studies. A welcome candid admission. It contextualizes the doggedness of their advocacy for the "text critical" model. And it reminds the rest of us that, their wisdom in following us down the path of statistical linguistics aside, their arguments are not without bias, including the attempt to make text criticism both the gatekeeper and final judge in all maters of historical linguistics.

#3 - Robert Holmstedt - 12/07/2017 - 19:55

Thanks for the comments Robert Holmstedt. I'm a bit unclear in some parts what you are saying, though.

It is a truism in historical linguistics that hypotheses about language changes, specific stages of a language, and so on, cannot be reached independent of an evaluation of the literary-textual envelope in which the language phenomena are embedded. In that sense, then, "text criticism," which means the study of the nature of the texts and hence the data available, is rightly "both the gatekeeper and final judge." I don't see how it can be any other way. How can that be seen as a biased point of view: understand the nature of the sources of the evidence before drawing conclusions from that evidence is surely the most basic step in the procedure?

I'd like to say again that what the textual data affects seems to be mostly the less common or plain unusual linguistic features. It doesn't impact to any significant degree the large-scale and basic features of BH. Even when the text is heavily rewritten, the basic forms of Biblical Hebrew, such as wayyiqtol verbs in narrative, are used in appropriate places. Thus, linguistic analysis of large-scale and standard features of Biblical Hebrew, such as the basic features of the verbal system, or whether VSO or SVO is the normal word order, are not seriously affected, at least according to the data that we have analyzed.

As I understand it, Martin was connecting our work to revisionist biblical scholarship, by which I guess you mean "minimalism," because that was the context in which the questioning of the old models of studying Hebrew language arose. We have clarified on numerous occasions that we are not "minimalists" (as an early dater of Qoheleth, and a questioner of the necessarily late status of the Prose Tale of Job, I'm less minimalist than most!) But what's the connection you see to text criticism? Are Emanuel Tov and Eugene Ulrich arch-minimalists? Do you not agree that the sketch of the textual evidence we provide in our recent work like Historical Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew is simply mainstream scholarship? We are just summarizing the basic work in the field like that of Tov and Ulrich. I'm puzzled.

Nice to mention the work of Dean Forbes and Frank Andersen!

#4 - Ian Young - 12/08/2017 - 01:21

Robert H., in addition to Ian’s comments, I would add that I don’t believe Martin intended to give a complete list of characters. Also, of Dean’s publications that are most relevant to the recent historical linguistic discussion, we cite/discuss his 2012 articles in our Historical Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew (cf. n. 6, above), and we discuss two of his 2016 articles (including the one in Journal for Semitics) in our “Currents” article (cf. n. 11, above). In other words, we are not ignorant of his contributions, and we agree that he has valid and interesting insights on some issues.

#5 - Robert Rezetko - 12/08/2017 - 03:20

I am not a Bible scholar, and I am confused. You are saying that some scholars say you can tell how old books of the Bible are by seeing if it is Classical Biblical Hebrew or Late Biblical Hebrew, but you say there is Late Biblical Hebrew in throughout the Hebrew Bible. If that is true, why don't all Bible scholars see that and what does that have to do with statistics, which I think you were also mentioning?

I am sorry if these are stupid questions, but I am not a Bible scholar, as I said, so it is hard for me to understand what Bible scholars talk about.

#6 - Kenneth Greifer - 12/11/2017 - 12:32

This is a good question. It is also hard for us to understand. It is fascinating - scholars on both sides of the debate don't understand how the others can have such opinions.

#7 - Martin Ehrensvärd - 12/12/2017 - 09:10

It is interesting that scholars on all sides "see" much of the same data. Martin mentions his teacher (and my mentor) Avi Hurvitz, the leading scholar on the question of different chronological phases in Hebrew in the previous generation. Hurvitz's classic method for arguing that a particular composition is post-exilic includes that there must be an "accumulation" of late linguistic features in it. This criterion is due to Hurvitz's acknowledgement that what he considered early compositions have what he considered late linguistic forms in them. But how you evaluate the data, e.g., what are considered late features, how many late features are found, and what the significance of the data is, varies greatly. I presume that this is an example of how what Martin calls different paradigms can influence what a scholar looks for and how it is evaluated. Quantitative and statistical methods can help us see the data in new ways and thus evaluate the robustness of a theory.

#8 - Ian Young - 12/13/2017 - 08:27

I wonder what would happen if you tried to date modern English translations of the Hebrew Bible because many of them try to sound like they were written hundreds of years ago with "thee", "thy", and "thou", and other older English words.

I even heard a Christian guy on TV who said he was a prophet and when he quoted what God said to him, he used thee, thy, and thou because, I assume, he beleived God did not speak modern English.

Maybe people back then used Classical Hebrew to sound old, but they were writing many years later. How can you know?

#9 - Kenneth Greifer - 12/15/2017 - 11:34

That’s certainly a potential problem, Kenneth. What you describe is called archaizing, or the use of language that is old or old fashioned. In fact, it’s an issue that comes up often in discussions of the Priestly Source (P) of the Pentateuch. We would also point to other problems with dating, a fundamental one being that the evidence strongly indicates that ancient scribes were not usually interested in preserving linguistic peculiarities when copying the texts. We need to get a grasp on what an author wrote before attempting to place their language in a chronological framework. It would also help if we had sufficient dated and localized texts with which to establish that framework to begin with.

#10 - Robert Rezetko - 12/19/2017 - 12:24

Very interesting article. I'm on my second reading of it. Would you comment on how this approach would work concerning the dating of Daniel. I know it's a very controversial subject, but I would certainly appreciate your opinion.

#11 - Marty Runik - 12/21/2017 - 21:15

Hi Marty,

Thanks for your question. My current research focuses on Daniel (although more on the text than the language), so I got elected to answer this one.

As you perhaps know, Daniel is one of the five core "Late Biblical Hebrew" (LBH) books, since it shares linguistic peculiarities with certain other books (see below) and whatever view you take on its date, it can't have been finished before the post-exilic period (specifically the Persian period), as it mentions Daniel being active in the reign of King Cyrus (see Dan 1:21; 10:1). We agree that the five core LBH books (also Esther, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah) share a distinctive linguistic profile (at least as we know them, primarily in the traditional Masoretic Text). We have quantified that they have a linguistic profile marked by a higher proportion of certain less common linguistic forms than other compositions in Biblical Hebrew. So we are in agreement with older approaches in that, and have provided solid data to back up the intuitions of older scholars.

However, one major thing we argue is that they are not normal "late" Hebrew. Nothing else "late" shares that profile that we have found, e.g., Haggai, Zechariah, Joel, Ben Sira, the Qumran scrolls. Because of that, we prefer the label "Peripheral Classical Hebrew." So the interesting question, which I don't have a clear answer for, is: why is Daniel written in that style? Previously the answer was: that's just what late Hebrew looked like. But we haven't found other compositions that share that linguistic style, and later compositions than even the usual scholarly date for final composition of Daniel c.165BCE, such as some of the Qumran scrolls, are in what could be described as a typologically older form of Hebrew than Daniel. So the answer to why Daniel's Hebrew is like it is cannot be solely focused on the date of the book.

That's a long way to say: I don't think the linguistic arguments for dating Daniel (either early or late) based on the Hebrew of the book have much to contribute. It is perhaps most like other books from the post-exilic period; but we already knew that Daniel was post-exilic. Dating Daniel has to be done primarily on other grounds.

For extra reading that's not too technical, you can see e.g. (on my site):

“What Do We Actually Know about Ancient Hebrew,” Australian Journal of Jewish Studies 27 (2013): 11–31.

#12 - Ian Young - 12/22/2017 - 21:51

Thank you Ian. That was an honest answer, and it agrees with other scholars I've read. As Dr. Heiser and others say concerning the date of Daniel, "we just don't know".

#13 - Marty Runik - 12/23/2017 - 01:23

Marty: I think you misunderstood Ian. He was not saying that Daniel cannot be dated, just commenting that the Hebrew linguistic evidence is not strong. For the vast majority of biblical scholars, including us, Daniel is a book that is definitely late and perhaps the latest in the Bible.

#14 - Robert Rezetko - 12/24/2017 - 02:00

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