New Article in the Journal of Semitic Studies

The latest issue of the Journal of Semitic Studies (2014; 59/1) is out and has an article that I wrote with my doctoral student, Andrew Jones.

Robert D. Holmstedt and Andrew R. Jones. 2014. “The Pronoun in Tripartite Verbless Clauses in Biblical Hebrew: Resumption for Left-Dislocation or Pronominal Copula?” Journal of Semitic Studies. 59(1): 53-89.

This article is related to this earlier post, as well as this JBL article that came out last Fall.

For the full article, see here and scroll down.

A Linguistic Profile of the Book of Esther (SBL 2013)

A doctoral student in my department, John Screnock, and I are co-presenting a paper in the SBL Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew section in Baltimore on Sunday. The paper is a much shortened version of a large section of our introductory chapter in the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible volume on Esther that we are writing (the volume is now 99% drafted).

Since we have finished the paper much sooner than I typically do, I have posted the paper and handout below. (It’s a relief to anticipate a flight without finishing my paper—what an odd feeling.)

See you in Baltimore!



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.

The Biblical Hebrew pronoun as a copula

In a previous post I argued that the likely solution for understanding a textual variant in Lev 1:17 was a processing error by a scribe — an error that reflects a different grammatical construction that the one reflected in the (older) text witnessed by the MT of B19a.  The solution critically requires recognizing that ancient Hebrew had begun to develop the use of the pronoun as a non-verbal copula.

In this post I briefly present the evidence for a copular pronoun in ancient Hebrew. Note that most non-critical (non-quotation, non-original idea) secondary sources have been omitted for the sake of space, although all such sources are included in the bibliography at the end. A greatly expanded discussion of this issue of pronoun syntax is forthcoming in an article written with Andrew Jones (Univ. of Toronto), which I will submit for publication in the near future. After it is submitted, I will post a pdf draft on this blog.


The Linguistic Solution to the textual variation in Lev 1:17:

The Pronoun as Copula

The status of the third person pronoun as a third element in verbless clauses has been a much studied issue. In nineteenth and early twentieth century scholarship there were adherents of both the copular and non-copular analyses for examples like (1).

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The Nexus between Text Criticism and Linguistics: The Case of Leviticus 1:17

At the end of May I will deliver a paper on this topic at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. The paper is finished, although I have it out to a couple trusted readers. When I feel it is complete, I will post it on the blog and note it here.

Below is my summary of the paper.  I welcome your thoughts, especially those of you more text-critically inclined, since I do not claim to be a text critic as such.


1. Introduction

There is an uncomfortable truth that linguists of ancient languages admit only rarely and even then with some reticence (and usually in a dark, empty room): we are, plain and simple, dependent on the paleographer, the epigrapher, and … (dare I admit it?), the text critic. For without those scholars who concern themselves with the decipherment of scripts, the first reading of texts, and the reconstruction of textual histories, the linguist would have nothing to analyze.

The difficulty of facing this truth is manifested in the modus operandi of ancient Hebrew linguists: rarely do scholars of biblical Hebrew question the wholesale acceptance of using the Masoretic text, dating to 1008 C.E., as representative of the linguistic system(s) of ancient Hebrew from 1500 years prior. They use the text of the standard printed critical edition, the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia – or its electronic form from some computer program, without qualification, without reckoning with complex textual history represented by the data.

Ancient Hebrew linguists do not always seem to have learned the lessons taught by the Qumran texts, that while some scribes were quite passive transmitters, other scribes expanded, rearranged, and clarified the materials they were transmitting. It is thus clear that ancient language linguists rely on those scholars who investigate the features of an ancient text’s scribal history (using scribal here to refer to author and/or copyist). It is equally clear that, while we need not become experts in textual criticism ourselves, we must understand the issues involved.

Conversely, everything I have said indicates that if the linguist must be aware of text, the text critic must be aware of the linguistic systems. For if the scribe updates a text based on his native grammar and that grammar differs, in large or small ways, from the grammar of the text being copied, the text critic must also be aware of the diachronic changes in linguistic systems in order to understand properly the diachronic changes in the text. It is from this perspective, what a text critic may learn from a linguist, that I shall consider the case of a pronoun variant in Lev 1:17.

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Biblical Hebrew Diachrony

This past November’s NAPH annual meeting brought a close to several years of discussions about linguistic dating of biblical texts that will be preserved in a volume of the papers being being edited by Ziony Zevit and Cynthia L. Miller and published by Eisenbrauns. Both of us have papers appearing in that volume that we have posted here (Cook) and here (Holmstedt).

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