A question for hebraists - did Hebrew style change with time?

Discussion in 'Languages' started by JennyG, May 3, 2010.

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  1. JennyG

    JennyG Puritan Board Graduate

    If you started by reading Beowulf, then moved on to (say) Chaucer, then Shakespeare, Milton, the Romantics and so on finally up to contemporary writing, you would have experienced from start to finish a quantum linguistic shift (I always like to get the Q word in if I can, even if you don't use it accurately it makes you sound clued up)
    It's the same with Greek. Homer> classical Attic >NT>modern; there's an enormous difference.
    The OT covers a longer time-span than either of those examples, but as you read it, it all sounds linguistically/stylistically pretty much the same.
    Is that because the translation is masking the differences, or does the Hebrew really have that amount of homogeneity? Thanks!
  2. SemperEruditio

    SemperEruditio Puritan Board Junior

    The more Hebrew you read the more the differences are apparent. These differences are not apparent at all in the translations but they are very clear in the Hebrew.
  3. JennyG

    JennyG Puritan Board Graduate

    But does that mean that someone fluent in the language experiences as much difference as between Beowulf and what I'm typing now?
  4. CharlieJ

    CharlieJ Puritan Board Junior

  5. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    I'm not sure I understand the question. Do you mean fluent in MODERN Hebrew? Modern Hebrew was artificially constructed from classical and rabbinic Hebrew. Israel even has a government agency to regulate the language.

    There's not as much difference as between Old and Modern English -- though Middle to Modern English isn't far off the mark. There is a DRAMATIC difference between classical Hebrew and Rabbinic Hebrew. So much so, in fact, that most pastors will not be able to make their way through the Mishnah. The Aramaic influence is strong.

    I'm wary of arguments about the age of a biblical text based SOLELY on linguistic factors. That said, in answer to the original post: Yes, Hebrew changed with time. Anyone reading Chronicles would notice significant differences between its Hebrew and that of Exodus, for example.
  6. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    I agree with this, although my personal impression is that the Hebrew of Chronicles and Exodus is much more similar than, say, the Greek of Homer versus the Greek of the New Testament. So, some change, but not nearly as much as the examples adduced.
  7. Hebrew Student

    Hebrew Student Puritan Board Freshman


    The quesition is somewhat complex, as the text has undergone a long transmission history. First of all, there is a definite difference between early Hebrew and late Hebrew. Many of those differences do survive in the Hebrew Bible today.

    However, the other problem is with the updating of the text. The Jews were concerned that people could understand the location of the archaic place names, archaic orthography etc., and as the language changed, would actually change these things so that the text could be more easily understood.

    Hence, the text underwent a standardization over time, the end time of which no one knows. Hence, you get these various layers of tradition, and it can sometimes be difficult to see which is which. However, there are clear differences, and you see them if you translate a book like Genesis, and then go and work on a book like Nehemiah. You can also see them if you work on a books like Samuel-Kings, and then translate the parallel passages in Chronicles.

    God Bless,
  8. JennyG

    JennyG Puritan Board Graduate

    I didn't mean modern hebrew, because I did know that was an artificial construct. I expressed it badly, ought to have said "would someone fluent...have experienced," meaning a hypothetical Hebrew speaker standing at the end of the OT period.
    Thanks for all those interesting answers. This is something I've wondered about for eg when reading Samuel and Kings, because you move seamlessly through all those reigns, yet nothing in the narrative gives you any sense of having travelled (as it were) from Henry Vth to Queen Victoria.
    If things were getting continually standardised it would explain a lot, but it's also very interesting if there really is less change than with some languages. I wonder if there could be a providential purpose in that? I've often marvelled at the way (as I understand it) the poetry of the OT uses parallelism in the place of things like rhyme or stress/quantitative rhythm - it being the ONLY thing that could survive translation into any language whatsoever! wish I knew some Hebrew.
    One passage which does for some reason give me the sense of an immeasurably archaic voice heard out of the deeps of time is Balaam's prophetic utterances in Numbers 23 & 24. I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not now...
    that really does send shivers
  9. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    How does this view impact the doctrine of inerrancy -- particularly as that centers on the original manuscripts, preservation, etc.? And what evidence is there for standardization (orthography doesn't count)? Are you only referring to the standardization of language as source material is used in the penning of the manuscripts, or are you saying that, once having been written, the actual language of the biblical texts themselves was 'updated'?

  10. Hebrew Student

    Hebrew Student Puritan Board Freshman


    I am saying that the actual language itself was updated after it had once been written. If you ever get a chance to study Epigraphic Hebrew, you will find out that the forms that are found are very different. For example, we know from Epigraphic Hebrew that there were dialectical differences even in Israel. For example, the north used the Hebrew term št, while the southern kingdom used the Hebrew term šnh. Also, there were differences between pre and post exilic Hebrew, such as preexilc Hebrew using the term 'anoki while post exilic Hebrew used the term 'ani. The name of the Goddess Asherah is 'šrh in the Hebrew Bible, but in Epigraphic Hebrew, it is always written 'šrth.

    Also, I don't know why you don't want orthographical differences, as they do make a difference in the consonantal text. For example, Epigraphic Hebrew mostly uses a he rather than a waw for the 3ms suffix. The yod in the ym plural ending is not written in Epigraphic Hebrew, and only a mem appears.

    There are also more differences between pre and post exilic Hebrew, and more differences between Epigraphic and current forms of Hebrew but it would be laborous to type them all out, so I will just point you to two resources A Grammar of Epigraphic Hebrew by Sandra Landis Gogel, and A History of the Hebrew Language by Angel Sáenz-Badillos. Those works will lay out the differences between Epigraphic and Masoretic Hebrew, as well as Pre and Post exilic Hebrew.

    Now, I also mentioned the issue of Geographical names, and the updating of these names. Consider Genesis 14:14:

    Genesis 14:14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.

    The problem is that Dan was not named Dan until the conquest [Joshua 19:47], and before this, it was called Leshem. It is easy to see what is going on here. At a time long after the conquest, it would be easy to see how a person would have difficulty, since they would be more familiar with the city as the city of "Dan." Hence, the text of Genesis 14:14 was updated so that the reader would better understand where this place was.

    You have the same problems with the phrase "Ur of the Chaldeans." The problem is that there were no Chaldeans in Ur at the time of Abraham. That came later. Again, it is easy to see what is going on here. If you were living in Israel in the early Iron age long after the distruction of Ur, it would be difficult to know where Ur was located. Hence, the term "Chaldeans" was added to aide in locating the city of Ur to later generations who lived after Sumer began to be inhabited by the Chaldeans.

    Now, as to your first question, how does this effect inerrancy and preservation? I think it would make the ecclesiastical text theory rather difficult to hold without having to argue from silence. However, in terms of the teachings of the text, as your can see, the updating of language has zero effect on the teachings of the text. Some of the older forms of the language, and some of the older words in the language would be difficult to understand to a later reader of the Hebrew Bible, and so, the language was updated so that people of every generation could understand the scriptures. Also, as I mentioned, there was a final standardization of the consonantal text, and it is that text that was faithfully copied.

    Now, having studied Epigraphic Hebrew, I can honestly say that none of these differences have any doctrinal significance at all. The insertion of later synonyms, or the grammatical updating of the text are things that are things that have zero bearing on the teachings of the text.

    God Bless,
  11. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    I'm aware of most of what you mentioned. The biblio was helpful. I don't have those two resources.

    You've put your finger on JUST the thing that has always bothered me a bit about the Chicago statement though. I wasn't arguing with you as much as asking what you thought about its impact on centering inerrancy in the original manuscripts. Clearly, as you've just demonstrated, the originals would have had to have been revised. The same could be said of anachronistic use of "Pharaoh". The reason I ruled out orthography is that it has NO impact on meaning. If it's merely a spelling change (maybe even dialectical standardization), no big deal. But where's the line? Where can we be comfortable with alteration in the original manuscripts, and where do we say, "Nope, can't go there"?

    It seems that you would want to alter the Chicago statement to locate inerrancy in the "final standardization of the consonantal text." This is what I was after in my remarks. I'd be interested in your take on that.
  12. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I think its also worth recalling that up until the end of the Apostolic era (closing of canonical revelation), the church in every age had its prophets, and it was to them in a special way that the written revelation was reposed. If inspired by Holy Spirit to "update" an old text, they could have done so without violence to the substance.
  13. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    Yes. And this would explain why small bits of amosaica don't generally sound the alarm. But where's the line? Why would it matter if they "violated the substance", so long as we are attributing inspiration to them in their so doing? Again -- this goes to the issue of locating inerrancy in the autographs, rather than in the canonization process more broadly conceived. And what would that broader conception entail -- authorship, editing, collection, transmission?
  14. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    re. "the line",
    Does it matter? Perhaps (just at this one point) the "canonical critics" (ala BrevardChilds) can give us a bit of counsel? We have what we have. What good does it do us to seek after a text behind the text? Are we really having trouble hearing the Shepherd's Voice in his Word?

    I guess I'm "agreeing" in a sense with the notion that theoretically the "substance" could be violated (?), which would be OK since God was making the adjustment--but, can you think of any reason why He would?

    Clearly there is interplay between the pristine autograph, and the transmission process prior to a finished canon. But SFAIK, we who admit of inspiration, and preservation, have never really struggled with the question of whether the Author of the work (HS) continues to have complete command of His product. This is true even to this hour.

    At some point--we'd probably say at the time of Christ when the progress of Redemption reaches a completion stage relative to Christ (and inaugurates the already-notyet)--the "faith once delivered" gets that once delivered imprimatur. Now we actually have a gospel; we have a word of proclamation that has taken (minimum) 4000 years to publish. "Completion" It seems to me, and the end of prophetic revelation, signals us that we are henceforth purely recipient. And simple Preservation takes over.
  15. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    We don't seem to be in disagreement. I never really thought we were. I just want some clarity on an issue that is treated ... dare I say carelessly, while being held to tenaciously. Sorry to have derailed the thread. I just think words are very important. And I think we should be careful of these things.

    From the Chicago statement:
    If we hold to this, should we emend the linguistically verifiable updates back to the original in pursuit of the autographa? Would that fall out of the purview of text criticism, since there are no manuscripts old enough to reach behind the 'standardizations' and 'contemporizations'?
  16. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Hmmm. I think probably that the science of the "linguistically verifiable updates" project could never hope to meet the threshold of confidence. I feel the "threat" of the hypothetical, but the possibility seems utterly remote. Emending the text conjecturally (as some commentators in the past two centuries did) has never yielded solutions to real difficulties. Waltke in Proverbs (for example) typically shows that sticking with the "more difficult" text itself often provides us with a text that breathes with greater power, after its been wrestled with.

    I think the fools-errand WRT the Greek text (and all the controversy over mss traditions) has demonstrated the limits of the pursuit. I think, in the end, our position is only slightly "improved" over the responsibility of the early church--we have to listen for Christ's voice in the text, and recognize the canon (as believers always have) with a spiritually attuned antenna. Otherwise, we fall into rationalism, and placing ourselves over the text. I've likened our handling of the text to dealing with radio-waves and our receiver-equipment: static or none, the message comes through, assuming it is ungarbled. Typically, the heated arguments are over such minor matters, it's sad.

    Let us do the best we can with what we have, thank the scholars, and plow ahead for the people's sake. And believe that God has been gracious in his preserving work. It doesn't strike me that the challenges to textual integrity thus far have been other than speculative, and their greatest "strength" has been in a naturalistic fallacy.
  17. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    Yeah, I'd agree with that. Well said. And like I said, I was just picking a nit with the Chicago statement particularly.
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