The Syntax of Complex Adding Numerals and Hebrew Diachrony

By Screnock, John | Journal of Biblical Literature, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

The Syntax of Complex Adding Numerals and Hebrew Diachrony


Screnock, John, Journal of Biblical Literature


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The syntax of cardinal numerals has received little attention from Hebrew linguists and philologists. With the exception of a handful of studies, the syntax of numbers is discussed only in reference grammars.1 I offer the following study as part of an attempt to fill this lacuna in Ancient Hebrew scholarship.2

My investigation focuses entirely on complex adding numerals (or simply "adding numerals"), in which two or more numerals are used in tandem to convey a value that would otherwise not be possible, specifically by adding the value of the component parts. For example, ΓрЭ?1 D'parø (Gen 4:24) is equal to 70 (D'parø) plus 7 (ΓрЭ?), that is, seventy-seven. I will admit that when I first began to study numeral syntax, I found the adding numerals quite dull. They seem, on first sight, rather straightforward. How much syntactic complexity could really be involved? I came to see that the matter is much more complicated, and interesting, than meets the eye.

The data suggest diachronic development in numeral syntax when variations are plotted on a text-by-text basis. I suggest an account of change and gradual diffusion for both the structure and the order of adding numerals. The most plausible scenarios for both areas of syntax show a similar relative dating of the language of texts for which we have a high number of tokens3-Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua-2 Kings, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.4 The language of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers falls earlier than the language of Joshua-2 Kings, EzraNehemiah, and Chronicles in both diachronic developments.5 Or, following source-critical distinctions, the language in the Toledoth book is earliest;6 language in P material falls in a period of transition in adding-numeral syntax; and language in Joshua-2 Kings, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles comes later.7 There is not enough evidence to plot J/E material, and the texts falling at the end of the process of diffusion cannot be further distinguished on the basis of adding-numeral syntax.

These models contribute but one piece to the overall picture of Hebrew diachrony. To a certain extent they confirm traditional views of diachrony in the biblical texts, inasmuch as the language of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers belongs (according to the features in question) to a relatively older stratum. The traditional place of Joshua-2 Kings, in the period of so-called Classical Biblical Hebrew alongside pentateuchal texts, is neither confirmed nor disconfirmed, though for the features in question it falls later than pentateuchal material in the processes of change.

I.Method

Before presenting and analyzing the data of adding numerals, I will briefly outline my framework for approaching numerals in general, my method of diachronic analysis, and my corpus.

A.General Framework

My basic framework for approaching cardinal numerals is as follows.8 A number phrase contains a cardinal numeral and the noun that it quantifies.

(1)...

There are simple numerals, as in Judg 18:2, and complex numerals, which are made up of two or more simple numerals working together to express a value. In multiplying numerals, interior numerals or "members" are multiplied to produce the resulting numeral.

(2)...

Teen numerals express values 11-19 by combining a 1s digit with 4Wp or ЛЧ^р, "teen."

(3)...

In adding numerals, the focus of this study, the value of the complex numeral results from addition. Adding numerals can have more than two members, usually one for each digit (1s, 10s, 100s, etc.).

(4)...

Each member of an adding numeral can be a simple cardinal, as in Esth 1:1, or can itself be a multiplying or teen numeral. Moreover, adding numerals can themselves be embedded within multiplying numerals. For example, Num 2:26:

(5)...

Using this approach, I have isolated adding numerals and included them in my data whether or not they contain other internal complex numerals or are embedded in a multiplying numeral. …

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