What Do We Actually Know about Ancient Hebrew

By Young, Ian | The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

What Do We Actually Know about Ancient Hebrew


Young, Ian, The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies


1. The Three Stage Theory of the History of Ancient Hebrew

Using the sources available to them, by the end of the nineteenth century scholars had been able to construct an elegant theory of the history of Hebrew in the ancient period. The main evidence that scholars used was the Hebrew Bible. More specifically, for them, as is still the case with language scholars today, "the Bible" meant the traditional Masoretic Text of the books of the Tanach, the one readily available to everyone who has a Hebrew Bible. The Bible was, however, not the only evidence that scholars in the nineteenth century had available to them for ancient Hebrew. They were also aware that early rabbinic works like the Mishnah used a noticeably different sort of Hebrew, which is often called "Mishnaic Hebrew." Third, these early scholars were aware that from the late biblical period on, Hebrew competed in the Jewish homeland with the Aramaic language. Various forms of evidence in rabbinic sources or in other sources like the New Testament Gospels (see, for example Jesus' quoted use of Aramaic in the Greek text of Mark 5:41 and elsewhere) indicated that Hebrew's battle against Aramaic in the Jewish homeland was often a losing one.

According to this scholarly theory, there were three main periods in the history of ancient Hebrew. First, before the exile to Babylon in the sixth century BCE was the "Golden Age" of Hebrew literature. Early works of literature such as the story of King David in the Book of Samuel, or the early parts of the Mosaic Pentateuch were written in pure Classical Hebrew. After the Babylonian exile, however, according to this theory, Hebrew lost ground to Aramaic. Factors such as the rise in non-native speakers of Hebrew, and the breaking of the continuity of the pre-exilic educational system meant that Hebrew declined. Evidence for this was found in the Bible. The books of Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles, by their contents, are among the books that must have been composed after the return from exile. It happens that each of these books shares a peculiar style of Hebrew, which sets them clearly apart from works of the Golden Age, such as Samuel. The main characteristic of this style is actually simply a greater openness to linguistic variety than is typical of the language of a book like Samuel.

However, since some of the additional linguistic features which these books like to use are found in Aramaic or "Mishnaic Hebrew", and since some passages in these books seem rather difficult to comprehend (try Daniel chapter eight, for example), these books were taken as a symptom that Hebrew in the post-exilic period was in a state of decline. Scholars therefore called this second period the "Silver Age" of Hebrew literature. The idea of decline was also used to explain the third era of the history of ancient Hebrew. Under the influence of Aramaic and other factors, Hebrew continued to decline in the post-exilic period, according to this theory, until by the CE period the Mishnaic Hebrew of the Rabbis represents a thoroughly unclassical form of Hebrew, perhaps an Aramaised form of Hebrew.

The three-stage linear model of the development of ancient Hebrew was a reasonable and logical deduction from the evidence as it was available and understood at that time. The three-stage model, of a pre-exilic Golden Age down to about the sixth century BCE, a post-exilic Silver Age, and a post-biblical, post-classical age, was furthermore of great use to scholars when discussing biblical books. Since Hebrew was understood to have developed in a linear fashion, away from early, pure, classical Hebrew under Aramaic influence towards the form of language found in the Mishnah, it was possible to argue where on that linear development works of uncertain date were to be put. Note the following paragraph on the language of Qoheleth (or Ecclesiastes) from the authoritative Encyclopaedia Biblica, published in 1899, which is a good illustration of the results of nineteenth century scholarship:

[T]he language . …

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

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.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

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

What Do We Actually Know about Ancient 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?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access 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.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.