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Sunday, November 19, 2006
 

Linguistic Dating of Biblical Hebrew ::

A downunder blog that I have not come across before but which promises interesting Hebrew Bible reading - it's called דבר אחר (if you want to know why Simon explains) - discusses the use of linguistic features to date biblical texts.

Simon provides a nice simple clear explanation of why there is an interest in using linguistic features to date texts, and why attempting to do so is problematic.

Simon then summarises what he found in his investigation of the use of locative he in Chronicles (the topic of his honours dissertation).

[For non Hebraists, basically this means a letter added to a word which indicates movement to or from the indicated place, or that that place is the location where the event described took place.]

In short, and his post is well worth reading - clear, simple and well argued - Simon loked at the use of this feature in Chronicles - often used as a known "late" text. He found that although the crude occurrence counting usually used shows lower levels of this feature, a more sophisticated investigation shows that the rates are not truly significantly different from those elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.

He concluded:
In recent years, such has been the content of a great deal of critical scholarship and, as a result, the entrenched position regarding the possibility of charting the Hebrew language over time (and using that to date texts) has been shaken to the core. Scholarship in this area is a little like the long-necked dinosaur that might receive a mortal blow
yet take a while to have that information relayed to its brain. Once the many problems settle in, the school of thought that proposes linguistic dating will ultimately keel over and die; they’ve already been hit, but such things take a little while.
This was not intended to suggest that Simon's work was that final blow, but does provide a vivid image of his conviction that seeking linguistic criteria for dating biblical texts is an impossible quest. But is it? Granted that previous use of the frequency of locative he in Chronicles over-simplified the case, yet it may still be that a still more careful investigation will provide more support.

Both Duane, who discusses the epigraphic evidence for this construction in the 6th century; and Tyler, who (in a comment) asks about the differences between the "synoptic" and non-synoptic passages of Chronicles seem to share my own hope that this dino may still have some life breathed into its dry bones!

(I have a vested interest, my paper at ANZABS next month will suggest that the so-called "prose particles" may also provide clues to dating. In the mean while I am at SBL, and must post about one brilliant paper I listened to this afternoon, but first a bite to eat...)

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