I just recieved the latest issue of Hebrew Studies last week. This volume contains the preceedings from a forum in 2004 concerning the dating of texts through historical linguistics and comparative Semitic studies. It’s a very interesting discussion and I will summarize and reflect upon one essay every few days.
Jan Joosten states that vocabulary can be easily manipulated to make a document seem older than it is, but syntactical structure is more difficult to simulate. Therefore, when atempting to date texts upon linguistic features, one should primarily look at the syntax and not the vocabulary of the text. Joosten also demonstrates several features of syntax that develop over time. For instance, over time the prefix form, yiqtol, moves from representing present tense in Classical Hebrew to mainly representing modal forms in Late and Mishnaic Hebrew. In Late Hebrew the predicative participle takes over the present tense function.
In light of this, one might be able to make general observations about the relative (not absolute) date of a text. Since syntactical development clearly took place, Joosten concludes:
Biblical scholars–not just one or other maverick, nor just a school of minimalists–have become too liberal in the matter of dating, particularly with regard to Pentateuchal texts. Paraphrasing Delitzsch, one is tempted to say: “If the Pentateuch were of postexilic origin, then there is no history of the Hebrew language.”
Joosten’s article is very interesting and I largely agree with it. I think the minimalist camp has definitely gone overboard with their historical reconstructions. These reconstructions are largely based upon the ideological content of texts and overlook syntactical features and devalue cross cultural comparisions. The syntactical development of Northwest Semitics in general and biblical Hebrew in particular is definitely an area that deserves more study (a glimmer of hope is seen when comparing Lipinski’s volume on comparitive Semitic grammar, 2nd ed. 2001, which includes a section on syntax and Moscati’s volume, 1969, which does not include syntax–progress is being made) and Joosten is apparently producing a monograph on this subject. In the meantime, check out the article, it’ll be worth your while.
Outline of a Comparative Grammar
Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta – OLA 80
by Edward Lipinski
List Price: $99.00
Your Price: $89.10
(I don’t know why Eisenbrauns lists this volume as from 2002, I own a copy of the 2nd. ed. and the copyright printed inside it says 2001. I also own Moscati’s volume which has been out of print for a while, but you can still find used copies–as per Jim’s comment, Eisenbrauns has corrected the date of printing on Lipinski’s volume and I’m pleased to hear that Moscati’s volume is still in print, so follow the link and pick up a copy today!.)
An Introduction to Comparative Grammar of Semitic Languages
Phonology and Morphology
Porta Linguarum Orientalium – PLO 6
by Sabatino Moscati
vii + 185 pages,English
Your Price: $59.00