Esther 3:8-15

And here is the second half of Esther 3. I’m still considering whether I will post further in Esther. Even if I do, it won’t be until the end of the month, though.

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Esther 3:1-7

This and the next section, together accounting for all of Esther 3, will be my last two posts in this aborted series. Lack of interaction suggests that there is little advantage in posting the rest of our commentary here.

But later in the spring I’ll add a few posts about some of my recent linguistic studies.

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Esther 2:21-23

Below is our commentary on the final scene of the first major part of the book of Esther.

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Hebrew verb theory . . . ten years gone

The relief of having finally gotten my work on the Hebrew verb into print is finally sinking in (available here). I reflected towards the end of this ten-year-long project of revising, expanding, and reinventing parts of it that it is a project (due to the nature of the topic) about which one has to pronounce a stopping point not a finishing point (Those familiar with Vendler’s situation aspect categories will get the allusion). I honestly thought I’d tire of the whole topic once finished, and admittedly I am weary of the theoretical discussion and eager to spend the next ten years or more applying the theory to the text in a way that will merge directly into more far-reaching exegetical issues. I have in mind work like my forthcoming article on the verb in Qoheleth or my work on the Qohelet volume for the Baylor Handbook of the Hebrew Bible, co-authored with my co-blogger Robert Holmstedt and Phillip Marshall. Of course, teaching language and exegesis classes in addition to ongoing work on the Accordance syntax project has given me ample opportunity to see how my theory works out in practice.

However, in this post I want to briefly step back into the fray of the discussion. For a while it was a quiet scene, other than the periodic discussion on another blog (see the discussion on John Hobbin’s blog) or the requisite bi-yearly flare up on the b-hebrew list (yes, I confess I’m a lurker there). I say “flare up” because usually it ends with the same folks talking past each other followed by a moderator shutting it down (and rightly so).

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Genesis 1.1 and Topic-fronting before a Wayyiqtol

Robert Holmstedt and John Cook

In a previous post, I (RDH) partially based my analysis of the syntax of Gen 1.1 within the larger structure of Gen 1.1-3 on the existence of examples where a wayyiqtol clause has a Topic-fronted Prepositional Phrase that is located before the wayyiqtol, such as Gen 22.4 (1).

(1) Gen 22:4 בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֗י וַיִּשָּׂ֨א אַבְרָהָ֧ם אֶת־עֵינָ֛יו וַיַּ֥רְא אֶת־הַמָּק֖וֹם מֵרָחֹֽק׃
‘On the third day, Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from afar.’

In this post, we follow that description of Gen 1.1-3 with additional supporting data and analysis.

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Genesis 1.1-3, Hebrew Grammar, and Translation

*(revised after the clarification given in the initial comment)*

Introduction 

Genesis 1.1 is one of the most discussed verses in the Hebrew Bible. It is the first verse of the first book, initiates the Hebrews’ grand cosmology, and … contains an apparent grammatical crux. Phooey! You would think that one could get further than one word into the Hebrew Bible without a grammatical problem.

In fact, there is no problem, only a long-term misunderstanding of Hebrew grammar. In a 2008 article appearing in Vetus Testamentum (which revised a sub-section taken from my 2002 thesis), I argued for an analysis of the first verse that is grounded both in my long-term research on the Hebrew relative clause and comparative Semitic grammar. You can find the article linked here.

But recently I was criticized (on a blog), for failing to explain how my analysis of 1.1 fit into an interpretation of 1.1-3. So, although my argument for Gen 1.1 stands ably on its own, I will take the opportunity presented by the recent criticism to summarize my argument for 1.1 and provide my analysis of vv. 1-3.

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Biblical Hebrew Diachrony (continued, again)

In two previous posts (1, 2) we discussed our position in the current debate over whether we can date linguistic features found in Biblical Hebrew texts. In a nutshell, while we agree with the weaker hypothesis that texts cannot be dated absolutely by linguistic means, we disagree with the stronger hypotheses is that no dating at all is possible and argue that the relative dating of features, and the texts in which they cluster, is possible if the analysis is carried out with a sound linguistic and philological methodology. To assert otherwise, to put it bluntly, represents an extreme historical and linguistic skepticism that we find hard to justify.

In our first post we provided links to our two articles (Cook’s, Holmstedt’s), which are forthcoming in a volume titled Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew (edited by Ziony Zevit and Cynthia Naudé-Miller; Eisenbrauns). These articles are revisions of papers given at the 2009 NAPH meeting at the annual SBL meeting. The keynote speaker at the meeting was the linguist B. Elan Dresher (University of Toronto), who masterfully discussed methodological issues in working with the linguistic features of “old” texts. Elan is a colleague of mine at Toronto and has graciously allowed us to post his revised paper (which will also be included in the Diachrony volume).

The decision to post this paper comes on the heals of a rather energetic exchange between Ronald Hendel and Rezetko, Young, and Ehrensvärd at the Bible and Interpretation site: see here for Hendel’s criticism and here for Rezetko et al’s response. Note also the vigorous and often pointed exchange in the comment sections of both posts!

As I (RDH) indicated in my comments (##4, 12) on Rezetko’s response at the B&I site, it is deeply troubling that Young, Rezetko, and Ehrensvärd are following up their first work, which contains methodological flaws and a tremendous amount of circular chop logic, with a second volume that will supposedly focus on language. (They repeatedly claim that their first volume was focused only on texts, not language, but the very fact that they propose to replace the ancient-standard-late BH chronological model with a concurrent dialects model indicates very clearly that they make just as large claims about language as they do about texts).

YRE’s responses to the linguists and Hebraists who have interacted with their Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts show that rather than take the opportunity to learn from those who have been trained in linguistics, they are merely adding a linguistic sheen to their rhetoric and repeating the same claims.

Hence, the addition of Dresher’s article to our part of the exchange. Click here for the PDF.

Basic Word Order in Biblical Hebrew, update

Back in April and May I wrote a 6-part series on basic word order in the Biblical Hebrew finite verbal clause (see: #1#2#3#4#5, #6). I am now pleased to announce that the full article, with the full lists of examples and fuller interaction with secondary literature, has appeared in The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (an excellent journal that has an exceptionally timely turn-around from submission to online publication).

The direct link to the PDF article is here.

In brief, I argue that Biblical Hebrew can and should be classified as a Subject-Verb language from a cross-lingusitic typological perspective. Moreover, I challenge those who hold the traditional Verb-Subject analysis to defend their position with linguistic arguments. Recently I heard the issue of BH word order characterized as follows: “Everyone believes that Hebrew is VS except for this one fellow Holmstedt.”  This is depressing but not surprising. Though no one has actually argued the VS position from a linguistic perspective (of any sort), the tradition holds for those unwilling to have what they were taught in introductory Hebrew turned on its head.

It is the essence of scholarship to question previous positions using newer analytical frameworks. To remain stubbornly attached to the 18th-century views of Gesenius, as brilliant as he was, is the type of attitude that so often makes Biblical Hebrew studies an embarrassment to those of us who do interdisciplinary scholarship. “I’ll keep thinking Hebrew is VS because … that’s what I was taught” or “… that’s what it seems to me when I read texts” are not acceptable scholarly responses. It is incumbent upon those who think my SV argument is wrong to make the argument using the tools of modern linguistics. Tradition is not an argument (at least not in scholarship).

In my previous word order studies I took a softer rhetorical approach, hoping to woo both senior and junior scholars by the linguistic and aesthetic appeal of my analysis. No more soft wooing. I am coming to the realization that I am probably not going to get through to those who stubbornly hold to the VS position despite sound linguistic arguments to the contrary. So now I am waiting for scholars who are willing to engage linguistics as it is currently formulated. Whoever you are, I invite you to embrace my analysis, contribute to its perfection, or dismantle it. Regardless what you do, if you make a good linguistic argument, I will applaud you. Indeed, I look forward to it!

I have thrown down the gauntlet. Will someone accept the challenge?

Hebrew Textbooks: Update

Last August we announced here that our new textbook, Biblical Hebrew: An Illustrated Introduction (BHII), was entering into the testing stages and invited those interested in helping us in that process to contact us. The grammar has been well received through our test group and we have greatly benefited from their feedback on it.

Therefore we are happy to announce that we are now releasing the grammar in pdf form for use beyond the test group.

[links removed on July 5, 2012]

We are releasing the 2-volume BHII (Lessons and Readings) now and will follow them up later this summer with the completed instructor’s manual and also a draft of the intermediate Reader, tentatively titled Biblical Hebrew: An Illustrated Reader (BHIR), which will include the Elijah and Elisha stories in Kings.

At the same time, the manuscript will be going to the publisher shortly so that we can provide a professionally typeset, bound version, along with (we hope) many other supporting materials such as an epub version, hi-resolution pdfs of the illustrations for electronic presentation use, and professionally recorded audio to use along with the materials.

Note that the PDF files posted above have been optimized due to size concerns. Those who sign up at our forum for BHII (bhii.proboards.com) will have access this year to the full size files, which maintain a higher resolution for course printing and electronic presentation. (Please contact us at bibhebii-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com for access to the forum.)

Our previously completed grammar, Biblical Hebrew: A Student Grammar (BHSG), remains freely available in pdf form. Thanks to some sharp-eyed users it has gone through another pass of corrections this summer.

Basic Word Order in the Biblical Hebrew Verbal Clause, Part 5

In this series (see post #1, #2, #3, #4), I have argued that the study of Biblical Hebrew word order has lacked methodological rigor. In this, the penultimate post, I introduce the last criterion by which the word order data must be filtered.

I have been a bit slower putting up this post since I wanted to check and re-check my data, questioning my judgments as I went in order to produce the best possible results. My eyeballs now hurt more than ever. But, I still hope to finish off the last section by the end of the weekend. From my two or so readers, I covet input.

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