Traces of Linguistic Development in Biblical Hebrew

By Eskhult, Mats | Hebrew Studies Journal, Annual 2005 | Go to article overview

Traces of Linguistic Development in Biblical Hebrew


Eskhult, Mats, Hebrew Studies Journal


This article discusses some constructions that are characteristic of the late biblical prose literature and focuses on the more or less unconscious use of verbal syntax. The linguistic competence of the post-exilic authors was not enough to guide them to handle the complicated system of tense, aspect, and modality in the old way, because their current vernacular had developed new strategies to express these categories. Also, the linguistic expression of "point of view," seems to be linked to the development of the narrative as genre. It is, thus, argued that the indisputably late authors produced a Hebrew that displays traces of linguistic development in comparison to the language found in other parts of the Biblical Hebrew narrative prose.

1. INTRODUCTION

Biblical Hebrew, in contrast to, for example, Ugaritic, was handed down during a period of slow but steady standardization of spelling and pronunciation. From the outset, the unified linguistic norm was, in all probability, the official language used in the administration of the monarchy. It is no wonder then that Biblical Hebrew shows few geographical varieties. (1) The poetic books though, display some divergences that are not likely found in prose. (2) The Hebrew (and Moabite) epigraphic material points to slightly different dialects in Israel, Judah, and Moab. There is little reason then for contending that these dialects were not mutually comprehensible. The epigraphic texts, albeit few in number and length, show that ancient Hebrew, the language used in central and southern Palestine, is the same language as that which we call Biblical Hebrew.

Books like Samuel and Kings display a mode of expression similar to that found in the Mesha inscription (ca 840 B.C.E.). This mode, however, contrasts with that found in the incontestably late prose writings Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther, and the non-parallel portions of Chronicles. In all likelihood, these late authored writings reflect a later stage of Biblical Hebrew. In other words, there is a correlation between differences in mode of expression and linguistic usage, on the one hand, and the time when texts were written, on the other. The question under discussion, however, is whether authors of late biblical prose were able to adapt themselves to the classical mode of expression, or whether they were constrained in doing so by the linguistic usage of their own time.

Syntax and the point of intersection between contents and form, that is, style, cannot easily be separated in the discussion of possible diachronically significant changes within Biblical Hebrew. Syntax and vocabulary depend on subject matter and genre; accordingly, contents and form influence the style of a document. Style is also associated with genre inasmuch as each genre is characterized by its particular style. It would appear that there is a subsequent development of the various genres in the Bible, and that this development stands in a mutual relationship to the development of the language as such. This article is limited to a discussion of narrative prose and linguistic developments that may be discerned in this text type. Since different text types and genres do not likely develop at the same pace, it is possible that diachronic changes are more overt in one type of text and less in another. (3) Vocabulary, too, is important, since especially loanwords reveal a great deal about shifting cultural influences that exerted their influence on the Hebrew used in ancient Israel.

2. STATE OF RESEARCH

Arno Kropat's study, published in 1909, is a good starting point for an investigation of linguistic development within Biblical Hebrew. Also, Hans Striedl's competent account of the style encountered in Esther, 1937, gives good guidelines for approaching the problem. Outstanding among the older investigations is, however, the regrettably overlooked study by Rebecca Corwin, published the same year as Kropat's study. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Traces of Linguistic Development in Biblical Hebrew
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.