Do We Really Think That There Is No Historical Linguistics of Ancient Hebrew?

Ancient Hebrew like all natural languages evolved through time, and silhouettes of its history are traceable in the literary writings of the Hebrew Bible. But, historical linguistics is not text-dating, and the latter is what Hendel and Joosten’s How Old Is the Hebrew Bible? is largely about.

See Also: How Old Is the Hebrew Bible?, Can the Ages of Biblical Literature be Discerned Without Literary Analysis?, Flawed Philology

By Robert Rezetko
Research Associate
Radboud University Nijmegen & University of Sydney

By Ian Young
Associate Professor
Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies
University of Sydney
April 2019

We welcome the chance to reflect again briefly on some of the claims that Ronald Hendel and Jan Joosten (RH-JJ) make in their recent book and in their comments on our review[1] and response to it.[2] We appreciate the conversation and hope it has value for the public and scholarly audience of The Bible and Interpretation.

 

RH-JJ make five main claims about our work and theirs.

 

Claim 1: RH-JJ claim we think there is “no [or: “no viable”] historical linguistics of ancient Hebrew.”[3] This claim, and a related claim, that we (supposedly) think ancient Hebrew had no chronology, are old claims by RH-JJ[4] to which we have responded in our review of their book and in other places.[5] Such claims are caricatures of our actual position, yet RH-JJ persist in putting them forward despite our objections, clarifications, and arguments to the contrary. Repetition of a fiction does not make it true. Their misapprehension of our work and of the theoretical and methodological differences between linguistic dating and historical linguistics, render it difficult to have constructive dialogue. In short, it seems to us that RH-JJ think that linguistic dating is the same thing as historical linguistics, whereas we have attempted to clarify the differences, to show how historical linguistics might be applied to the study of ancient Hebrew, and to document that linguistic dating is not a normal procedure in conventional historical linguistics.[6] Hopefully others will be able to see past our gridlock and find helpful information and insights on both sides of the debate which in the end will lead to advancement in our field.

 

Claim 2: RH-JJ claim they do literary criticism.[7] Here lies the problem: We indicated that RH-JJ do not incorporate literary criticism and dialogue with literary critics in their model, not that they never mention literary-critical issues.[8] There is a big difference between these two. It is one thing to “engage with sources and redaction where relevant to the data and arguments,”[9] which amounts to something of an ad hoc approach, but it is another thing altogether to formulate a model for discerning the ages of biblical literature which considers wholeheartedly and knits tightly together linguistic, textual, literary, cultural/historical, and other data and methods. What we are advocating is an approach that incorporates all of these in a holistic way, rather than one which esteems linguistic data and linguistic dating so highly and weighs them so heavily that it really aims for correction instead of integration of the literary-historical framework of analysis (notably source criticism and redaction criticism, as practiced by Baden, Carr, Kratz, Schmid, Blum,[10] and so on). In our opinion, some other scholars seem more committed to conversation, and the consilience or integration of the relevant data and methods, than are RH-JJ.[11] We are happy to let others decide for themselves about this.

 

Claim 3: RH-JJ claim they engage with recent scholarship in this field.[12] In this case, absence of evidence is evidence of absence. RH-JJ, for whatever reason, omit a whole lot of the recent debate—of the past five years or so—including substantive issues, major publications, and prominent voices.[13] One simply has to look for them in their book to see that they are not there at all, or they are just barely there. RH-JJ’s response to our review continues the trend. Many valid points of critique are simply ignored, or distorted.

 

Claim 4: RH-JJ claim our study of the qal passive is flawed philology. To start, since we do not think there is “no [viable] historical linguistics of ancient Hebrew,” that cannot make for flawed philology.[14] However, we could have written with more nuance on some points, and we did omit some others. This said, despite the lengthiness of our study, we remark in several places that it is preliminary and partial, and we included the matter of textual variation in that observation.[15] RH-JJ exploit a slice of our appendix on the qal passive to argue that our review of their book overall and our scholarship generally are “flawed,” “misleading,” “untruthful,” “slippery-spun,” and so on. But actually, truth be told, their interpretation of our data and arguments have their own problems.

 

We will summarize four problems with their response.

 

(a) Our “method” which RH-JJ diagnose in their book and response as having “three critical problems”[16] is not a method we recognize in our Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts or Historical Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew. In our review we responded to their critique,[17] but they chose instead to disregard our response and repeat their story. We ask again, for example, how could RH-JJ critique our method in Historical Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew when the historical sociolinguistic methods that are at the heart of that book—cross-textual variable analysis and variationist analysis—are never brought up by them anywhere in their critique, even in their Appendix 2 which focuses exclusively on our work?

 

(b) Perhaps being influenced by their thinking that we (supposedly) believe ancient Hebrew had no chronology and there is no (viable) historical linguistics of ancient Hebrew, RH-JJ disregard our points of agreement with them and our positive linguistic story about the forms in question. We agree(d) with RH-JJ that the qal passive is typologically older than the niphal; the qal passive was certainly used by biblical writers in the preexilic period, that is, it was not invented out of thin air by biblical writers in the postexilic period; and the qal passive gradually lost ground to the niphal and eventually disappeared from usage.[18] We agree(d) with RH-JJ that in general “a historical sequence is inferable” from the biblical phenomena. But, in contrast to RH-JJ, we (and others) argue that the totality of evidence suggests a long transition from a very early time and over many hundreds of years from the use of both the qal passive and niphal to the niphal alone, and during that long transition there was fluctuation of usage in the literary output of individual writers and between different writers.[19] In this sense, then, it is true that there was “contemporaneity” and “free variation” in ancient Hebrew, but contrary to what RH-JJ seem to think, this explanation does not contradict that there was historical development in ancient Hebrew or that different writings exhibit different usage tendencies. This conclusion is perfectly reasonable in a variationist approach to language change.

 

(c) RH-JJ’s response is concerned primarily with the six niphals of yld and ntn in MT Samuel. Their objective is to undermine our discussion by purging these “late” niphals from “old” Samuel (from the “original” or “first edition” or “earlier edition” of Samuel). As a preliminary comment, since the biblical text, especially its less common linguistic features, is so fluid, as we have documented in great detail elsewhere, it is not difficult to cast doubt on at least some part of any set of data found in the MT that a scholar wishes to dispute. In regard to specific comments: (i) RH-JJ’s conjecture to emend the niphals of yld in 2 Sam 5:13 and 14:27 to qal passives seems like grasping at straws. The suggestion appears unprecedented, probably due to the many other niphals of yld in Biblical Hebrew, and we doubt that RH-JJ would want to take the same approach to some other niphals, for example, in the non-“early” Prose Tale of Job (1:2) and Third Isaiah (66:8). (ii) Our discussion of 2 Sam 3:2 recognizes the primary/earlier qal passive (ketiv) compared to the secondary/later niphal (qere). We are baffled by RH-JJ’s assertion that we (supposedly) consider these ketiv/qere readings of yld (and also the ketiv/qere readings of ntn in 2 Sam 21:6—see below) as “free variations,” “equally old readings,” “contemporane[ous].” (iii) RH-JJ’s observation on 1 Sam 18:19 (niphal of ntn) is correct. We overlooked the minus of this verse in the Septuagint. (We acknowledged that our study was preliminary and partial.) (iv) RH-JJ’s proposal on 1 Sam 25:27 (niphal of ntn) is possible but remains tentative. The Septuagint here may represent the translation of an alternative Vorlage, but the reconstruction here of 4QSama is very uncertain.[20]

 

(d) RH-JJ do well to underline the “uncertainties of [their] interpretation,” but for the sake of argument we will grant that “the first edition of Samuel may never have used the niphal for these two roots [yld, ntn].”[21] Does it matter? Not much. Why? (i) First of all, our analysis is not based on two roots (yld, ntn) in one book (Samuel) but on all roots (attested/analyzed as qal passives) in all books. RH-JJ comment that the “primary evidence” for our view that “both forms are used for many of the same verbs in presumed early or preexilic writings” is “the distribution of forms in Samuel.”[22] This is untrue. Samuel was an extended illustration, over about three pages, not the primary evidence. RH-JJ ignore most of the other thirteen pages of our analysis where we discuss the wider issue of distribution of qal passives and niphals in Biblical Hebrew. (ii) RH-JJ are imaginative scholars, but we doubt that even they are clever enough to purge hundreds of (relevant) “late” niphals from “early” biblical writings.[23] In this respect, RH-JJ omit discussion of the other nine roots in Samuel that are used in the niphal but are also attested in the qal passive elsewhere in Biblical Hebrew (e.g., nqm[24]). (iii) Lastly, RH-JJ omit treatment of the counterexamples of probable secondary/later qal passives in MT 2 Sam 18:9 and 21:6.[25] Such examples—and there are plenty of others for other language features—suggest that in scribal practices of the Second Temple period, Classical Biblical Hebrew writings like Samuel could pick up early features in late textual transmission.[26]

 

Claim 5: RH-JJ claim we are trolling.[27] It is difficult to know how to respond to such a bizarre statement, which is simultaneously quite disrespectful to the very venue in which they are writing. We would contend, rather, that our review raises many valid points of critique which RH-JJ simply ignore or distort. The Bible and Interpretation has a long history of hosting substantive—and often combative and entertaining!—discussions of particular issues, such as minimalism and dating. We respect this venue and certainly do not consider something published here as “unpublished” or “trolling.” Again, we appreciate the conversation and think it has value for the public and scholarly audience of The Bible and Interpretation.

 

[1] R. Hendel, comment on I. Young and R. Rezetko, “Can the Ages of Biblical Literature be Discerned Without Literary Analysis?,” The Bible and Interpretation (January 2019) (https://bibleinterp.arizona.edu/comment/284#comment-284).

[2] R. Hendel and J. Joosten, “Flawed Philology,” The Bible and Interpretation (March 2019) (https://bibleinterp.arizona.edu/articles/flawed-philology).

[3] “Young and Rezetko’s whole discourse is oriented to the outcome, dictated from the start, that there is no historical linguistics of ancient Hebrew. This is a disingenuous procedure that makes for flawed philology” (Hendel and Joosten, “Flawed Philology,” 1); “Young and Rezetko marshal their statistics in order to baffle the reader into accepting their prior conclusion, that there is no viable historical linguistics of biblical Hebrew” (ibid., 5).

[4] For example, R. Hendel, “Unhistorical Hebrew Linguistics: A Cautionary Tale,” The Bible and Interpretation (September 2011) (http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/hen358022.shtml); J. Joosten, Review of I. Young, R. Rezetko, and M. Ehrensvärd, Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts, Babel und Bibel 6 (2012): 535–542.

[5] For example, R. Rezetko and I. Young, Historical Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew: Steps Toward an Integrated Approach (SBLANEM, 9; Atlanta: SBL Press, 2014), 594596 (https://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/pubs/9781628370461_OA.pdf); I. Young, R. Rezetko, and M. Ehrensvärd, “Do We Really Think That Ancient Hebrew Had No Chronology?” (2016) (https://www.academia.edu/24578417/Young_Rezetko_and_ Ehrensvard_Do_We_Really_Think_That_Ancient_Hebrew_Had_No_Chronology_2016_ and https://www. academia.edu/24578410/2016b_Young_Rezetko_Ehrensva_rd_Do_We_ Really_Think_That_Ancient_Hebrew_Had_No_Chronology); Young and Rezetko, “Can the Ages of Biblical Literature be Discerned Without Literary Analysis?,” 1516.

[6] See also below under Claim 4, point (a), especially note 17.

[7]The idea that we ‘eschew literary criticism in the formulation of [our] model’ is news to us. Here’s a characteristic passage from the chapter in question: ‘If we grant that J and E (including the core of the Covenant Code) – or some analogous construction of non-P texts – were sources of Deuteronomy, then the relative chronology of these textual relationships yields a larger consilience’ (p. 112). We engage with sources and redaction where relevant to the data and arguments. Notice that our statement in this case is formulated to be open to discussion by as large an array of biblical scholars as possible. On p. 21 of their review, Young and Rezetko mention our section on ‘historical linguistics and redaction criticism,’ further undermining their claim that we eschew literary analysis. In sum, Young and Rezetko simply mischaracterize our book” (Hendel, comment at https://bibleinterp.arizona.edu/comment/284#comment-284); “[Young and Rezetko] state, for example, that our book ‘eschews literary criticism’ (i.e. source and redaction criticism) and displays a ‘lack of engagement with any recent scholarship in this field.’ These statements are simply false, as a glance at the book easily demonstrates. They are nothing more than unsubstantiated aspersions” (Hendel and Joosten, “Flawed Philology,” 1).

[8] Young and Rezetko, “Can the Ages of Biblical Literature be Discerned Without Literary Analysis?,” 20–23. On these pages we comment on their main discussions of this issue, including the sections in their book on “textual criticism and redaction criticism” (Hendel and Joosten, How Old Is the Hebrew Bible?, 56–58), “historical linguistics and redaction history” (ibid., 77–79), and elsewhere (ibid., ix, 5–10, 98–101). (In his comment, Hendel refers inadvertently to a section in their book on “historical linguistics and redaction criticism”; https://bibleinterp.arizona.edu/comment/284#comment-284.) In our review we did not intend to record every passing reference in their book to literary criticism and related matters. In the interest of fairness and transparency, most of the relevant references are (omitting here the associated endnotes): literary history, source criticism, and redaction criticism (Hendel and Joosten, How Old Is the Hebrew Bible?, ix–x, 5–10, 56–58, 77–79, 98–101, 120–125); Pentateuchal sources JEDP/H (ibid., ix, 17–19, 108–109, 112–113, 123, 127–130); layers and editions of Genesis, Judges, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Job, Proverbs, and Ruth (ibid., 56–58, 77–82, 114–115, 117, 133, 137); and literary relations, parallels, and allusions between Genesis//Esther, Exodus//Deuteronomy, Pentateuch//Ezra–Nehemiah, Samuel–Kings//Chronicles, and prophetic texts//Daniel (ibid., 4, 35, 67–69, 85, 105). However, we reiterate, RH-JJ’s several brief discussions and mainly passing references to literary criticism and related matters do not offset their disregard of literary-historical analysis in the formulation of their model of consilience. RH-JJ do not seek to incorporate in their model research on internal developments within biblical books by means of literary-critical methods. In contrast, as we observe in our review, RH-JJ’s book is chock-full of insightful observations on a multitude of linguistic, textual, and cultural/historical phenomena, in particular text-critical details (MT ketiv vs. qere readings; MT vs. the biblical Dead Sea Scrolls, Samaritan Pentateuch, and/or Septuagint), but the latter emphasis should not be considered a suitable substitute for literary analysis.

[10] Hendel and Joosten, How Old Is the Hebrew Bible?, 5–10, 98–101.

[11] Some publications which one might profitably read alongside RH-JJ’s book include E. Blum, “The Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts: An Approach with Methodological Limitations” (303–325), and T. Römer, “How to Date Pentateuchal Texts: Some Case Studies” (357–370), in The Formation of the Pentateuch: Bridging the Academic Cultures of Europe, Israel, and North America (ed. J. C. Gertz, B. M. Levinson, D. Rom-Shiloni, and K. Schmid; FAT, 111; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016); D. M. Carr, “Criteria and Periodization in Dating Biblical Texts to Parts of the Persian Period” (11–18), and K. Schmid, “How to Identify a Persian Period Text in the Pentateuch” (101–118), in On Dating Biblical Texts to the Persian Period: Discerning Criteria and Establishing Epochs (ed. R. J. Bautch and M. Lackowski; FAT II, 101; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019); K. Schmid, “How to Date the Book of Jeremiah: Combining and Modifying Linguistic- and Profile-based Approaches,” VT 68 (2018): 1–19; and so on. Other relevant publications are cited, and there is deeper discussion of this issue, in section 3.3 in our forthcoming article, “Currents in the Historical Linguistics and Linguistic Dating of the Hebrew Bible: Report on the State of Research as Reflected in Recent Major Publications.” In our opinion, such authors offer a more comprehensive approach than RH-JJ, and we underline that these other authors are hardly ignorant of or opposed to the evidence of language, but only to the linguistic dating approach advocated by Hurvitz, RH-JJ, and some others. For example, we document in our review that RH-JJ do not do justice to the extensive remarks on linguistic issues in D. M. Carr, The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

[12] “[Young and Rezetko] state, for example, that our book ‘eschews literary criticism’ (i.e. source and redaction criticism) and displays a ‘lack of engagement with any recent scholarship in this field.’ These statements are simply false, as a glance at the book easily demonstrates. They are nothing more than unsubstantiated aspersions” (Hendel and Joosten, “Flawed Philology,” 1).

[13] For specific examples see Young and Rezetko, “Can the Ages of Biblical Literature be Discerned Without Literary Analysis?,” 48.

[14] “Young and Rezetko’s whole discourse is oriented to the outcome, dictated from the start, that there is no historical linguistics of ancient Hebrew. This is a disingenuous procedure that makes for flawed philology” (Hendel and Joosten, “Flawed Philology,” 1).

[15] I. Young and R. Rezetko, “Can the Ages of Biblical Literature be Discerned Without Literary Analysis?, Appendix 2: Comments on the Qal Passive,” 5–6, 8–10, 12, 15 (https://www.academia.edu/38112870/2019c_Young_Rezetko_Review_of_Hendel_and_Joosten_How_Old_Is_The_Hebrew_Bible_Appendix_2).

[16] Hendel and Joosten, How Old Is the Hebrew Bible?, 135–144; idem, “Flawed Philology,” 1–2.

[17] Young and Rezetko, “Can the Ages of Biblical Literature be Discerned Without Literary Analysis?,” 1519. We have explained elsewhere how the contents, objectives, arguments, and theoretical and methodological foundations of our Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts and Historical Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew are similar and different from one another (Rezetko and Young, Historical Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew, 3–5, 14–21, 596–598). That RH-JJ speak of our “method” (singular) suggests that they have not really grasped the contents of these different books. For additional discussion of the differences between linguistic dating and historical linguistics, and the ongoing change of focus among researchers in our field, see section 2 in our forthcoming article, “Currents in the Historical Linguistics and Linguistic Dating of the Hebrew Bible: Report on the State of Research as Reflected in Recent Major Publications.”

[18] Young and Rezetko, “Can the Ages of Biblical Literature be Discerned Without Literary Analysis?, Appendix 2: Comments on the Qal Passive,” 5. The second point here is what we intended to communicate by our original statement: “We agree with RH-JJ that the qal passive originated in the First Temple period.” RH-JJ parse this statement differently (Hendel and Joosten, “Flawed Philology,” 5 n. 1). We should have written the statement with more nuance to stave off their misunderstanding.

[19] Young and Rezetko, “Can the Ages of Biblical Literature be Discerned Without Literary Analysis?, Appendix 2: Comments on the Qal Passive,” 5, 911.

[20] See plate 13, fragment 36, in Qumran Cave 4, Volume 12: 1–2 Samuel (ed. F. M. Cross, D. W. Parry, R. J. Saley, and E. Ulrich; DJD, 17; Oxford: Clarendon, 2005); cf. 89–90.

[21] Hendel and Joosten, “Flawed Philology,” 4.

[22] Ibid., 2.

[23] The qal passive is attested for about 56 unique verbs with about 161 total occurrences, and there are also about 660 niphals of these same verbs distributed throughout the Bible. We remark repeatedly in our preliminary and partial study that a substantial amount of work remains to be done, on issues such as semantic equivalence and others.

[24] Young and Rezetko, “Can the Ages of Biblical Literature be Discerned Without Literary Analysis?, Appendix 2: Comments on the Qal Passive,” 4 n. 13, 6 n. 18, 8, 11, 1314.

[25] Ibid., 14–15.

[26] Contrast Hendel and Joosten, How Old Is the Hebrew Bible?, 158 n. 29.

[27] “It is unusual in academia to distribute an unpublished thirty-plus page review of a book online. This opens the gates to book review as trolling” (Hendel and Joosten, “Flawed Philology,” 1). For the less Internet savvy, on “trolling” see https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Trolling; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_troll.

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