In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language

By Joel M. Hoffman | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

Dialects in the Bible

So far we have been talking about “Biblical Hebrew” as though all of the Hebrew in the Bible were the same. But it is not. It turns out that more than one stage of Hebrew is evidenced in the Masoretic version of the Bible as we know it today. Of course, it should come as no surprise that a compilation of material that was composed over the course of several hundred years and then copied, edited, and (inadvertently and by design) changed for several hundred more should contain more than one dialect of the language in which it was written.

Scholars have worked to identify the various authors of the Bible based on content and style. They notice that different sections of the Bible tend to place more or less emphasis on the priests, for example, or on the prophetic traditions. They notice wording variations and different ways of referring to God. They find repeated passages within a story, and try to tease apart different original versions of the story that may have been combined at one point.

But we will not review those efforts here. Rather, we will focus on the more limited domain of major linguistic trends, the most important of which is the set of changes that took place after the exile in 586 B.C.E. to create what is known as “Late Biblical Hebrew,” a term that is somewhat confusing, because “Biblical Hebrew” generally refers to all of the Hebrew used to write the Bible, and therefore includes “Late Biblical Hebrew.” There ought to be a corresponding term, “Early Biblical Hebrew,” but it is seldom used. So when we talk about all of the Hebrew of the Bible, we call it simply “Biblical Hebrew,” but when we talk about “Late Biblical Hebrew,” we contrast it with “Biblical Hebrew,” by which we mean earlier Biblical Hebrew.

After looking at Late Biblical Hebrew, we will look at the ramifications of seeing more than one dialect reflected in the Masoretic text of the Bible.

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In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Tables xi
  • List of Figures xiii
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Part I - Getting Started 1
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 3
  • Chapter 2 - Rules of the Game 7
  • Part II - Antiquity 13
  • Chapter 3 - Writing 15
  • Chapter 4 - Magic Letters and the Name of God 39
  • Chapter 5 - The Masoretes 49
  • Chapter 6 - Pronunciation 81
  • Part III - Moving On 119
  • Chapter 7 - The Dead Sea Scrolls 121
  • Chapter 8 - Dialects in the Bible 149
  • Chapter 9 - Post-Biblical Hebrew 165
  • Part IV - Now 185
  • Chapter 10 - Modern Hebrew 187
  • Chapter 11 - Keep Your Voice from Weeping 211
  • Part V - Appendices 215
  • Appendix A - More About the Rules of the Game 217
  • Appendix B - Further Reading 229
  • Bibliography 245
  • Index 251
  • About the Author 263
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