Biblical Hebrew Diachrony (continued)

Both Ian Young and Robert Rezetko, the two primary authors ofLinguistic Dating of Biblical Texts (Equinox, 2008), have taken time to respond to our post on Biblical Hebrew diachrony. Because Rezekto’s comment (here), in particular, is so long, it became obvious that a response within the comment section was inadvisable. Thus, we decided to summarize Rezetko’s comment here and respond seriatim.

Perhaps we should explain why we summarized his comment and did not simply reproduce it in toto. First, a practical issue is the length, especially when our responses were inserted. Second, we thought the activity of identifying the salient points (fairly, of course, even if at times with a certain snarkiness) would benefit both us and you, the readers. We (the 4 participants in this discussion) are all academics, and it seems inherent to academic training that concision sometimes gives way to wordiness with the purpose of bombarding one’s conversation partner into submission. Indeed, we are not exempt from this temptation. The danger, of course, is that so much is said, with so much nuance, that the propositional content is decreased to a disturbing point. This is wonderfully illustrated by everyone’s favourite science-fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, in the first book of his Foundation series:

“When Holk, after two days of steady work, succeeded, in eliminating meaningless statements, vague gibberish, useless qualifications—in short, all the goo and dribble—he found he had nothing left. Everything canceled out. Lord Dorwin, gentlemen, in five days of discussion didn’t say one damned thing, and he said it so you never noticed.” (Foundation, p. 71)

So, we hope our summaries below are both fair (to the content) and clear. If not, I’m sure we’ll hear about it in the comment section!

Now, be aware that Robert, Ian, we two (JAC and RDH) get along personally and have discussed these issues in person without coming to blows, name-calling, or the hurtling of large, pointed projectiles. However, we pull few punches in our assessment of each others’ arguments because we consider these issues important. And while we are perfectly willing to have our arguments criticized, dismantled, cut in into pieces, and thrown into someone’s circular file, and we agree with Robert’s call to avoid name-calling and contumely, we are disturbed to find certain of his remarks out of keeping with his urging, such as asserting that we have “misread,” “misreported” and even “mislead” others to “erroneous thoughts” about his and Ian’s ideas. If a scholar’s ideas do not stand up to scrutiny or are widely misunderstood, to shift the blame and assert that others have misunderstood is simply to avoid taking scholarly responsibility to construct clear and convincing arguments.

In the end, whatever the next generation of Hebraists decides about the outcome of the current debates about BH diachrony, we hope that our papers and perhaps even this blog exchange help to clarify the issues, methodological necessities, and analysis of data, and so move the discussion profitably forward.

READERS PLEASE REMEMBER! Unless we have used quotation marks, we are summarizing and interpreting Robert Rezetko’s comments to our previous entry.

Introduction: Misrepresenting, Misleading, Mistaken
“I wish to add my voice to the discussion between you two, Ian, and others referring to it elsewhere in the blogosphere (
Halton, Hobbins, etc.). Mostly I want to clarify several issues and *our real views* which, astonishingly, you continue to misread and misreport (and even mislead others who reproduce the same erroneous thoughts).”

We wonder what the “critical mass” of misreaders of your ideas might be to require you to take upon yourself the burden of communicating more clearly and carefully. We submit that the real cause of “misunderstanding” lies in a pattern of writing X but then softening it to Y when you are called to the carpet over it; it is therefore disingenuous to shift the blame to your readers as you do. Further, should the tone of your second book be similar to the polemical—even ranting—tone of LDBT, then we expect it will not fare any better in the in the eyes of those of who who work with both Hebrew grammar and linguistics. The rhetorical edge of LDBT was very off-putting, both to us and to our graduate students. I (RDH) used LDBT as a textbook in the fall of 2009 and by mid-term, the grad students were weary of the style of argumentation. LDBT comes across as a Bill Dever’s style text for BH language study. Not entirely profitable, we think.


Part I. DATA.
A. We take the data seriously. We do not prejudge them. And LBDT was comprehensive in terms of scholarship, bibliography and data, but not analysis. We are aware of the various linguistic approaches (e.g., “the jargon and graphics of the Constant Rate Effect/Hypothesis, Sigmoid Curve, and so on”) but simply decided they could not fit in LDBT. “We examined dozens of so-called early and late linguistic features, superimposing them in the formulation of our hypothesis, and as we did so, we became increasingly aware of the chaotic variation (real situations ≠ traditional assumptions) that we had already started to observe in previous studies and publications.”

Please let us clarify what we mean by taking the data *very seriously*: we mean treating the data as one’s starting point with no pre-set agenda. LDBT was more than a scholarship review and presentation of data. You intentionally set out to debunk the “scholarly consensus,” your polemical tone is evident throughout, and the work is replete with straw man arguments of the sort, “Look, here’s one example of a supposed LBH feature in a supposed SBH text.” We do not think that the book reflects a serious or fair consideration of many of the dating arguments. To be sure, there are problems with the arguments past (and some current) scholars have made about dating BH and HB texts, but there is often an intuitive grasp of the language issues behind those problems that, as the rhetorical edge of your book suggests, you summarily dismissed on a slash-and-burn march towards your own point. While we hope your new book pushes beyond this negative, polemically charged argument, as recently as this past NAPH session we find you to remain engaged in dismantling the old consensus while others of us are ready to move on to taking the data seriously in reevaluating the text.Regarding your specific claim: are you seriously asserting here that in writing LDBT you were aware of the use of the Sigmoid-curve in historical linguistics, etc.? If so, then you could (and should) have hinted at such in a footnote somewhere. We have a hard time believing this, even after a careful look at your bibliography. Rather, your handling of historical linguistic methods outside of BH is precisely what disturbed Elan Dresher and why he agreed to participate in the first set of NAPH discussions in 2009.

B. We did not illustrate the fact that we were aware of all the linguistic angle in a very lucid way in LDBT–except tangentially in the table of accumulation–but the data are there in many of the discussions and tables. Thus, our reaction to your S-curves is fully informed: we, too, know statistical linguistics and your S-curves “do not not coalesce with other evidence to paint a coherent chronology of biblical writings, that is, they are simply illustrative of the same widespread linguistic disorder that we expect given the complex composition-transmission histories of the biblical books.”

Here you’ve missed the point of both our responses in New Orleans (SBL 2009) and our other blog post. You insist on evaluating the validity of the S-curve results, which (as we pointed out in our papers) are preliminary since they reflect only a couple features, against some sort of preconceived notion of the order of biblical texts. Given the way languages change, with different features changing and diffusing in different idiolects and idiolect clusters of various sizes, it is entirely possible that the surprising placement of some of the biblical texts in our S-curves are due to idiosyncrasies of the particular dialect of an individual author, or due to archaizing, etc. Such judgments can only be made after a great deal more study in this vein. And so, simply put, in contrast to what we see in your approach, we insist on putting the cart behind the horse, not in front of it. This is simply a case in point of your not taking the data seriously.



A. We do not privilege textual criticism over other approaches. We are omni-disciplinary. Ian was first a Hebraist/Semitist and then moved to textual criticism. Martin is a Hebraist. And I began with textual criticism and literary criticism and then moved to language work. The main point of LDBT was to deconstruct previous scholarship and results. Our new book will present our solution. But up to this point, “we (Ian and Robert) have never spoken a word about the “dates” or “dating” of biblical texts (= compositions) that can be determined on the basis of textual criticism. Second, text critics of the ancient versions of the Tanak do not postulate dates for biblical texts (= compositions) other than the dates of the manuscript artifacts themselves. The current “consensus”—and there is one (Tov, Ulrich, Sanders, Talmon, Trebolle, and many more)—has nothing to do with “dates” but rather, it relates to the nature of the evidence, textual fluidity and pluriformity in the BCE period, and its implications, including that the Tanak was evidently written, rewritten and edited over the centuries, as was other ANE literature (e.g. Gilgamesh).”

Thank you for this news. But what you’re refusing to acknowledge is that while you don’t give specific dates, all your criticisms betray that you do indeed (no question about it!) work with an order of texts, if not also dates, in your minds. If you didn’t, then you wouldn’t object so violently to someone proposing an order, as long as it was done with the appropriate methodological awareness, as our work shows. Indeed, if you had no preconceived order of texts in mind, you would be agnostic about dating until a critical mass of study had been accomplished and one could draw some valid conclusions. Instead, as Ian clearly stated it to me (JAC) after the latest NAPH sessions, you have decided to privilege text criticism over historical linguistics in a way that the former nullifies any effort by the latter to discern dates in the biblical text. Your claim that you don’t date “compositions” merely side-steps the issue since you do date texts and we are essentially talking about doing the same. The references to book-chapter-verse in our databases are not intended to claim any sort of unified date for any given composition, but merely a convenience for referring to the data.And, again, we see you here backing up behind your interpretation of the text-critical consensus without serious reflection on what you’re saying. You continue to ignore our point, that text criticism starts with the artefacts and reconstructs. As such, even in the face of the textual fluidity and pluriformity—the two headed Hydra you two use to scare anyone away from the thought of engaging in diachrony—you seem to ignore the fact that those serious text critics you cite often engage in reconstruction to find the earlier text, the earlier layer, the relationship between the scribe who wrote manuscript A and archaized and the scribe who wrote the earlier (concluded due to other features) manuscript B and updated.  And since none of those text critics that Ian cites are actually engaged in this debate as its unfolding, it’s hardly acceptable to take their statements, pull them into a different context (for which they very well may have nuanced them differently), and cite them as definitive proof of X, Y, or Z.

B. “Traditional textual criticism, whether of ancient biblical or medieval English writings, has to do with the editing of texts, the removal of errors, and so on. Thus there are specific instances here and there where linguistic criticism and textual criticism combined may prompt one to call a particular linguistic feature early or late or a particular textual reading primary or secondary. However, following the discovery of the biblical Dead Sea Scrolls there was a shift in the practice of textual criticism from resolving smaller-scale textual problems to unraveling larger-scale literary formation. So,  your (RDH’s) remarks on textual criticism are “pre-critical and undoubtedly unacceptable to most biblical scholars, including textual and literary scholars.”

Hogwash. There is nothing pre-critical about my (RDH’s) text critical argument in my Leviticus paper. Even those text critics who have shifted to working on the “larger scale literary formation,” as you call it, have typically spent years, if not decades, working on precisely the type of variant in Lev 1.17 that I discuss. Their shift to the larger picture flows out of the many small bits and pieces. And that is precisely the point of my paper — that an understanding of linguistic change is necessary for understanding some of those small bits and pieces which are obviously the critical building blocks of the big picture syntheses. If you text critical work ignores the small bits, indeed, blazes through the data like a runaway lawnmower (much like LDBT), then it does no service to the discipline. And perhaps readers will be comforted to know that I was set on my investigation of Lev. 1.17 by a bona fide text critic who is editing a volume for the Oxford Hebrew Bible. We are not so out of touch with the “way things are done in TC” as you’d like to think. In turn, we would much prefer to hear the endorsement of Tov, Ulrich, Sanders, etc. of your Rezetko-speak about TC before we hop on board and abandon “old-school thinking.”


You imply that we date texts (= compositions) to particular periods or points of time on the basis of language and other evidence, such as textual criticism. Others have thought this of us, as well. “This is a fundamental misrepresentation of our views and arguments.” We do not date texts. We have no opinions on their temporal origin, but we do know for a fact that they were “written and rewritten over time” and each biblical book “is a composite of the work of a succession of authors over many centuries.” But we don’t date any of this activity. For all intents and purposes, we think it could have happened in a historical vacuum. “*Our real view* is that individual biblical writings do not have *a* single date of origin but rather take in a multiplicity of dates, a continuum of dates, such that it is meaningless to speak, for example, about a preexilic (only) book of Genesis or Samuel or Pentateuch or Deuteronomistic History.” This means, of course, that we do date the texts, but we give each text somewhere between 2-and-infinity number of dates. In my opinion we’ll never know when these texts date to.

So, if you really don’t care about dating texts, why are you so adamant it can’t be done? It’s a funny sort of agnosticism that tells an entire sub-discipline (Hebrew linguistics) what it can and cannot do. Moreover, we have a question that has haunted us for quite some time, now: to reach the conclusion that “each biblical book and passage . . . is a composite of the work of a succession of authors over many centuries” requires that you actually have—by hard data—identified at least two layers (presumably more, though, given a “centuries” time-frame). How did you go about this? What are the data? Would you like to share the layers of composition that you have discerned? Because, of course, then we can use those layers in our diachronic analysis. But … our guess is that you’ve simply adopted the latest perspective of a multi-generational source critical effort without recognizing that you’re using language—and therefore by necessity linguistic judgments, many with diachronic implications—to determine the layers.


We have no agenda and we’ve been surprised that many who have not reacted to our LDBT appear to do so because of some underlying agenda, reflecting a “deeply-embedded ideology,” which includes among other things, adherence to scriptural inerrancy, early dating of Israel, and so on. If everyone approached the issue of Hebrew diachrony agenda-free, they would agree with our conclusions. Moreover, we would like for others to cease categorizing our agenda-free work with any other approach in biblical studies, no matter how closely it may align or comport with, e.g., minimalist, revisionist, nihilist perspectives. To do so is careless and might keep people from agreeing with us.

Claims about agendas or lack of them is a strange thing. Ian told us both the story that one of the instigators of the project was Philip Davies, when he was visiting Australia a number of years ago. That’s interesting, because Davies recognizes the critical role that language plays in the source critical discussion and the reconstruction of ancient Israel. Indeed, using outdated epigraphy charts, he even attempted to re-date the Siloam Tunnel to the Hasmonean period (The Biblical Archaeologist 59 [1996]) and then Cross, Hackett, McCarter, Yardeni, and a number of others came down on him like a hammer (BAR 1996)!. So, whether you recognize any agendas in your self-reflection, there is no doubt that your work has been pushed and is being used by those with agendas.But even if we grant your claim to be agenda-less, but please don’t pretend that your conclusions don’t have implications for those of us in disciplines other than textual criticism: Zevit’s comments fairly reflect the implications your views have for reconstructing the history of Israel—one of his areas of interest and research. The various fields are interrelated and if you continue to trump one over the other, insisting that you be able to draw conclusions but none can test them in light of their implications for their disciplines, and if you insist on forays into areas for which you are less well equipped to intelligently dialogue within, such as linguistics, then your chore will continue to be an uphill challenge that will ultimately isolate you from your colleagues.
Our comfort with our S-curves and the surprise position of date from a few books (whether or not the relative order is greatly changed by the addition of many more studies) should indicate that we do not bring any agenda into this argument except for 1) common sense and 2) a depth of awareness for linguistics that has not often characterized the discussion. In any case, you two keep claiming that your stances reflect “mainstream biblical studies, text criticism, etc.” and yet because those views appear to line up with certain camps that are far from the middle of the road, how can you complain that the terms “minimalism” or “revisionism” are used in conjunction with your conclusions on Hebrew diachrony?
Here is what we suggest, in a sincere way: Drop the compositional views you’ve imported into the discussion, do the language work with an attempt at objectivity. And above all, recognize that not all those who studied the issues before you or concurrently with you are somehow dense, addle-brained, agenda-ridden, sloppy, pre-critical, misleading, and all-around ignoramuses, and perhaps you’ll get a fair hearing from those of us who’ve been working formally in Hebrew linguistics well before you two began your diachrony studies.


As always, we appreciate the back and forth. And we love the opportunity to inject some humour into it.



13 Responses to “Biblical Hebrew Diachrony (continued)”

  1. Robert Rezetko Says:

    Dear John and Robert,

    By way of illustration I will respond to only two of your additional criticisms and then I will highlight some points of agreement.

    Your Criticisms:

    First, regarding your “Introduction: Misrepresenting, Misleading, Mistaken” and three paragraphs earlier where you talk about misunderstanding, you have twisted my specific comment about YOU and some of YOUR readers into a sweeping “‘critical mass’ of misreaders” of OUR ideas and OUR “readers.” That is quite a leap! The majority of OUR readers, insofar as we can tell by way of conversation, correspondence, reviews, and references to and interaction with LDBT in other publications, have not drawn the same sort of conclusions about our objective, argumentation and (especially!) tone that are discussed on this website and in your papers/articles. Indeed, I have sometimes wondered who the real Ziony Zevit and Robert Holmstedt are. You both critically read and responded to a complete pre-publication draft of both volumes of LDBT (Zevit, blurb on back covers; Robert, vol. 1, p. ix), for which we again thank both of you, yet there is a bewildering inconsistency between Zevit’s early correspondence and full promotional statement, and some of what he has said recently (e.g. in the Iggeret newsletter), and between your earlier correspondence and remarks on LDBT, and what you are saying now. (I am tempted to simply quote verbatim glaringly different “before” and “after” / “then” and “now” statements, especially, by the way, regarding “tone”!) Since the content of LDBT–unlike ancient writings!–did not change, I draw the conclusion that a shift occurred in YOUR minds. Perhaps both of you belatedly realized, after you had given us your initial feedback, the “dangerous” use that “the sons of darkness” could make of LDBT in terms of THEIR agendas regarding the (non-)historicity and (non-)veracity of ancient Israel and the Bible.

    Second, skipping down to your remarks in “Part IV: AGENDAS,” again you have grossly perverted my comments, deriving strange conclusions about their meaning and intention. I will mention just two points, rather than exegeting each sentence of your “summary” and response. (1) It is true that Philip Davies was the “instigator” of both books (BHSCT [Young 2003] and LDBT) as we openly say (LDBT, vol. 1, p. ix). However, it does not follow that his agendas (whatever they are and whether or not we agree or like them) are also ours, especially since we stated in the beginning our objective in writing LDBT (vol. 1, p. 4; quoted in my previous comments). (By the way, the framework of your response to my four main points is quite humorous, as anybody who remembers the heated debates of the 1990s between Bill Dever and Philip Davies will know. How rhetorically effective that you should “compare” us to Dever on the one hand and Davies on the other!) (2) An additional non sequitur relates to the so-called implications of LDBT for those working in other disciplines. I am referring in particular to your reiteration that “Zevit’s comments fairly reflect the implications [our] views have for reconstructing the history of Israel.” Such an assertion continues to shock me (having spent a number of years in two previous institutions focusing specifically on ancient historiography and historical reconstruction via textual and artifactual evidence, i.e. “text and tel”) and the assertion would also surprise many other historically-minded scholars. Let me repeat what I said in BHSCT (p. 217, n. 5): “The history and historicity of biblical persons and events and the dates of origin of biblical literature should not necessarily receive treatment together. It seems to me that scholars frequently confuse the realia of ancient Israel with their historiographic portrayal in the Bible, and wrongly assert that the closer a text is to the events it relates the more credible it is.” Read, for example, A. Danto, Analytical Philosophy of History (1965), pp. 149-151; K. L. Younger, Jr., Ancient Conquest Accounts: Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing (1990), pp. 40-41, 249-250; J. B. Kofoed, Text and History: Historiography and Study of the Biblical Text (2005), pp. 41-43; remarks in ch. 1 of (forthcoming) R. Gilmour, Representing the Past: A Literary Analysis of Narrative Historiography in the Book of Samuel (VTSup, 143; Brill, 2011); and so on.

    Our Agreements:

    Let me try to highlight some points of agreement and how we are going to move forward by making positive use of three years of on and off and sometimes (no, almost always!) intense dialogue.

    First, we agree that LDBT effectively dismantled the working principles and methodology of Avi Hurvitz, and by implication, the long list of scholarly publications that have simply adopted his approaches and conclusions regarding linguistic diachrony and dating as if they were the final word. I do not know your view, John, but Robert perhaps says this about Hurvitz in a roundabout way in his unpublished paper on Ruth (; p. 4), but he unambiguously said this in his emails to us after critically reading LDBT the first time (11 and 14 January 2008).

    Second, we agree that attempts to date biblical literature should involve both linguistic and “non-linguistic” perspectives and evidence (Robert H.’s paper/article, pp. 43-44, n. 41). John, I imagine you concur. What is surprising about this agreement is that it happily transports us together back to a previous moment in biblical scholarship when discussions of dating were more well-rounded, less focused on a single specialized interest such as language, and less adamant about language as the only or most objective criterion for dating. Let me say a brief word about this here and I will elaborate in much more detail elsewhere (mentioned below). The previous “philological” approach to absolute/relative dating, reflected in most older and some contemporary introductions and commentaries, paid attention to a diversity of factors, including linguistic, textual, literary, historical, conceptual, etc. See the explicit remark in LDBT, vol. 1, p. 61, n. 31, and the survey of scholarship in vol. 2, ch. 1. This approach, however, due to a number of reasons which I will discuss elsewhere–for example, undiscovered material artifacts, unexcavated sites, unknown literary parallels, undiscovered textual evidence, simplistic views of linear development from BH to MH, and so on–has often proved unconvincing for dating biblical sources and books with any degree of certainty. This is the situation that Hurvitz references and stresses when he remarks on the inconclusiveness of “higher criticism” (addressed under the label “objectivity” in LDBT, e.g. vol. 1, pp. 16-17) and that led to what we have shown to be an overconfident (“pseudo-objective”) and reductionist (“black/white”) response to the previous “philological” approach to dating. So, this brings us to the present moment, and to our agreement, I believe, that attempts to date biblical literature should involve both linguistic and “non-linguistic” perspectives and evidence.

    Third, so far my remarks have related mainly to linguistic dating. Yet I think we agree that the whole idea of linguistic dating is somewhat off target, no, downright unconventional, as anybody who has read a substantial quantity of historical linguistic literature knows. I emphasized this in my SBL/NAPH paper in Atlanta and it is documented and discussed in the book I am writing with Ian. I am not through yet with the issue of dating–I will return to it in my next and final point–but first let me say something specifically about diachrony in Biblical Hebrew. The book in progress, provisionally called Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew: Steps Toward an Integrated Approach, argues that linguistic, textual and literary perspectives must be held in conversation with one another when discussing diachrony in Biblical Hebrew. In essence this book is a return to the previous “philological” approach but with more sensitivity and insights in the realms of linguistic, textual and literary studies. We certainly agree that in terms of language much more methodological sophistication and rigor is necessary. And it is happening in research by you and others, especially in the area of syntax, which has been mostly neglected in the past. I append below two specific suggestions about the way forward in terms of diachrony in Biblical Hebrew (* and **). They are too lengthy to insert here. Can we agree that WE will strive for more general and historical linguistic awareness in our work and YOU will seek more textual and literary awareness in yours?

    Fourth, and finally (and all the readers say todah rabbah!), the books by Ian, Martin and me (Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts), and the book by Ian and me (Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew: Steps Toward an Integrated Approach), will be followed eventually by a third book by me alone (!), provisionally called Dating the Bible: An Integrated Approach to Dating Biblical Hebrew Literature. This book has been on my mind for about a dozen years. I originally conceived of it when I was working mainly on historiography and “text and tel” (mentioned above) and it has received a push forward since early last year in conversation with my colleague at Radboud, Ellen van Wolde, and some of the ideas in her recent book, Reframing Biblical Studies: When Language and Text Meet Culture, Cognition, and Context (2009), for example, her study of “gate” (pp. 72-103, 123, 344-345, 365-367). The question that my book will seek to answer is how do we negotiate different sorts of evidence and arguments for earliness and lateness in biblical stories, sources and books? We referred already in LDBT, vol. 1, p. 3, n. 5 to the types of issues that I have in mind: “Attempts by scholars to date biblical texts [= compositions] sometimes refer to other matters such as (1) synchronisms between biblical literary phenomena and various types of cultural, historical, political, archaeological and geographical phenomena; (2) similarities between biblical literature and various extra-biblical writings ranging from the Assyrian and Babylonian periods to the Persian and Hellenistic eras; (3) trajectories in developments in religious beliefs and institutions; (4) inner-biblical literary links between different biblical books and sections. However, all of these relate to matters portrayed in biblical texts rather than the dates of the extant biblical texts themselves [= the writings as we have them now].” I actually have written an extensive summary of potential categories of diachronic phenomena, but the preceding quote gives you an idea of the kinds of things I am considering. My test-case is the Saul narratives in 1 Samuel 9-2 Samuel 1. In short, my argument is that there are particular conceptual elements in these stories that relate best to the monarchic period but that other evidence shows that the stories cannot be situated only then but must have developed throughout the Second Temple period. Two metaphors: a ship anchor that is dragged along the sea floor; a sapling with roots that grows into a large tree. The Saul stories had a complex composition-transmission history. Solid evidence supports both early and late dating. They do not have a single date but rather encompass a range of dates. So, there you have it, I am probably much more middle of the road than you imagined, and I hope you will agree that my cases of myopia and nihilism are not so severe as you first diagnosed.

    All the best,



    Quotes from other copyright material that I have written:

    * “First, we should describe systematically and exhaustively the linguistic data of the Hebrew Bible. Good diachronic analysis begins with good synchronic description. I do not wish to belittle the worth of the standard grammars and histories of BH such as those by Gesenius-Kautzsch-Cowley, Joüon-Muraoka, Waltke-O’Connor, Kutscher, Sáenz Badillos, and so on, but it is the case that these were not written to answer the questions that we are asking about the origins of the Hebrew Bible. Too often their descriptions are inconsistent and overgeneralized for our purposes. What we need are comprehensive lexical (including semantics) and grammatical (including morphology and syntax) investigations into the linguistic forms and uses of BH. Some studies of this type, especially on the Hebrew verbal system, have been published as articles and monographs. But we must go further and produce comprehensive matrices of the linguistic variety in the Hebrew Bible with close consideration of innovation and diffusion. Thus De Caën suggests that we appropriate the computational and statistical artillery of corpus linguistics in order to “to crunch the huge biblical corpus and to rapidly execute statistical analyses to identify associative patterns” (De Caën 2000–2001: 24; cf. 23-24). It is possible to make substantial progress towards this goal with software programs and databases like Accordance Bible Software, BibleWorks, Libronix Digital Library, Logos Bible Software, Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible, the Andersen-Forbes Analyzed Text of the Hebrew Bible and Phrase Marker Analysis, the Groves-Wheeler Westminster Hebrew Morphology, the Werkgroep Informatica Database of the Hebrew Bible, and other morphologically and syntactically tagged corpora under development [such as yours, John and Robert]. For immediate results some might begin by tabulating the large quantity of data given in the appendices of LDBT, but caution is in order since at best this would be a provisional and unbalanced approach to the task ahead of us.”

    ** “Second, we should write comprehensive grammars of the individual books of the Hebrew Bible. Young, Ehrensvärd, and I, in agreement with several other scholars (we cite Ben Zvi, Holmstedt, and Naudé), have argued that “the relative status of a book among other biblical books cannot be adequately assessed by comparing linguistic features in one book to two sets of linguistic features found in two other groups of books, but only by thoroughly comparing the languages of different biblical books” (LDBT I, 54; cf. 8 n. 10). The principal aim of the suggested grammars should be detailed synchronic description that can subsequently function as a basis for comparative analysis and formulation of diachronic hypotheses in terms of individual books and groups of books. Ideally in order to facilitate comparison the individual grammars should share a similar philosophy and methodology including coverage and structure. Most publications to date represent two other approaches. Some, such as the standard grammars and histories of BH mentioned above, give sundry illustrations of linguistic phenomena or speak about groups of books rather than individual books and writers. Many other publications, including many articles, theses and monographs on individual biblical books often have “early” versus “late” language as a point of departure, rather than neutral descriptions and comparisons of the linguistic data. (These kinds of books are cataloged in LDBT.) Finally, most commentary series have not been very successful at treating in detail the language of individual biblical books, though several series in preparation may help to remedy this situation (e.g., Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible by Baylor University Press, Text of the Hebrew Bible by Sheffield Phoenix Press).” [Robert H. wrote the book on Ruth, and Robert H. and John are writing the book on Qoheleth, for the first series, if I am not mistaken. Ian is writing the book on Daniel, and Robert R. is writing the book on Haggai, for the latter series.]

    • robertholmstedt Says:

      1. On the “real” Holmstedt — Fair enough! ;-) I can understand your confusion, but in my defense, brief email exchanges and a quick turn-around (less than a month over Christmas break!) for an already finished (2-volume!) work did not really give me much room for substantive feedback. What did you want to me say when your PDF looked like it was at the page-proof stage? Would you seriously have listened if I had said, “Whoa! You’ve got to rewrite this in X, Y, and Z ways!”?

      In any case, I don’t think our email exchanges in Dec 2007/Jan 2008 demonstrate much change in my basic thinking. Since you’ve looked back at the emails, you’ll note that I urged you to move past the methodological inadequacies of the status quo in BH linguistics and engage historical linguistics in general. I also pointed out a few diachronic issues you did not address and which I think are strong pieces of evidence for witnessing change in the biblical texts. Besides the possible VSO to SVO shift (see Givón 1976), a topic I’m finally taking up for SBL next fall, I pointed to the merger of /s/ and /ś/, as it witnessed graphemically in Qoh 1.17 (שׂכלות instead of סכלות) and in “post-biblical” Hebrew in general.

      So, I really haven’t changed my position, although I will say that my frustration with your book, which developed upon the 2nd, more careful (i.e., not over Christmas, and over a whole summer) reading, pushed me to greater research in historical linguistics (whereas I had previously focused mostly on synchronic issues). And in doing so, while I still consider the previous research on BH diachrony to be methodologically inadequate, I’ve also arrived at a greater appreciation for the instinct of many of those scholars. But your works suffers the same fundamental inadequacies, in many ways. For instance, to point to 2 forms of X in “SBH” books and 4 forms in “LBH” books as either 1) evidence of a diachronic shift or 2) evidence against such a shift is unsound. As Dean Forbes would quickly (and eloquently) point out: the data are two few to allow for any statistically meaningful conclusion. Thus, I feel that my work on שׁ and אשׁר and the work I’m now doing on word order is on much firmer ground than *any* of the tables or data sets you’ve listed in LDBT.

      2. On the agendas — “grossly perverted” does not help, and I deny that our comments were any such thing. Every time you cite “mainstream biblical scholarship,” it is a trump card meant to stifle objections. And it would be a unbelievable large coincidence for this “mainstream” scholarship you cite to be all from one particular trend in biblical studies (which we all know and most of us have no trouble labeling as “minimalist”) without any awareness on your part. Nothing we do is in a vacuum. The only question is whether one is aware or ignorant of the context.

      3. On agreements. I mostly agree! And, as you know, beyond our contributions to BHHB, John and I have long discussed a grammar series of descriptive treatments for each biblical book (recognizing the “book” as a corpus is problematic at times; but it would be a first step).

      But I will withhold my judgment of your myopia and nihilism until I see this new book of yours. ;-)

      Perhaps, though, with this amicable conclusion (?) to our exchange on the blog at this time, readers will actually believe us that we can sit down and chat without fisticuffs!

  2. Rev. Bryant J. Williams III Says:

    Dear John and Robert,

    It appears to me that what is happenning is that your colleagues in this endeavor are relying on the results of the thoroughly discredited JEPD theory of Graf-Welhausen without really saying so. It is a presupposition with them. They are also confusing “copying” of the text by scribes with Redaction Criticism (editing) and Source Criticism. This is especially true with the use of the terms like “consensus,” “modern scholarship,” etc.

    I would recommend the following:
    “The History of Religions School and the Jews” in Anders Gerdmar, Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism (Brill, 2009)
    also see the numerous blog posts of Kevin Edgecombe’s blog: starting with dates of 06/2009 and following which he deals with Higher Criticism-Higher Anti-Semitism.

    I only mention this because of the problems associated with Higher Criticism regarding ANYTHING dealing with the Tanakh.

    En Xristwi,

    Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

  3. johncookvw Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Bryant, but to be clear, none of the parties involved in the discussion are hanging on to the outdated JEDP theory or accusing anyone of anti-Semitism.


  4. Robert Rezetko Says:

    Dear Robert and John,

    I agree! The end. We have reached an amicable conclusion to this conversation. We agree that previous research on BH diachrony was methodologically inadequate. More importantly, we agree that the future looks bright and rosy and that (Hebrew) linguists–and maybe even textual and literary critics–are handsome and deserve a pay raise!

    Best regards,


  5. Ian Young Says:

    But not quite the end from me.

    I’ve been quiet the last week due to the strains of beginning semester 1 in Sydney. But I really feel like making two points about issues that came up in the discussion between Robert Rezetko on the one hand, and John Cook and Robert Holmstedt on the other.

    The first is: I’ve been called both a fundamentalist and a minimalist in my career, but I can’t understand how I got any of these labels, from what I have written. The fact that Philip Davies had the idea for the edited volume Biblical Hebrew Studies in Chronology and Typology (2003) doesn’t mean the volume is a vehicle for Philip’s so-called “minimalist” ideas-otherwise Hurvitz, Polak, Rendsburg etc, who all contributed, are minimalists. I think Qoheleth is pre-exilic, for goodness’ sake! Some minimalist! I’ll let everyone in on my secret agenda. I think that linguistic dating doesn’t work on biblical texts (it is usually used to date things LATE) because I don’t think linguistic dating of biblical texts works. I think I also know Philip Davies’ agenda in commissioning the book: he is a good scholar who thinks that both sides of an important issue should be given a good airing. Pretty sinister! Final clarification: I had already arrived at my basic position by the mid-1990’s, six years before I first met Philip. The current research project was in no sense launched by Philip’s invitation to edit the volume.

    Second. What does not seem to be grasped in the discussion is how strong the empirical evidence for the text critical consensus is. We know that biblical texts were fluid in the BCE period quite simply because biblical texts from that period are characterized by textual fluidity. I’m not talking here about hypothetical theories of composition, but actual evidence of real texts. So textual fluidity is not a hypothetical theory, it is an observation of a basic fact, like the fact that there is a variety of linguistic forms in the Bible. Denying that texts were written and rewritten, especially their linguistic elements, in the BCE period, is like denying that we can see linguistic variety in the Masoretic Text. Textual variety is a basic observation, from which we may draw some conclusions. A really obvious one is that if texts are subject to constant rewriting, then it is futile to try to use the linguistic profile of one of those texts, the Masoretic Text, to describe the language of one original author at the start point of the textual development of a book. That seems so obvious to me, I’m struggling to understand why people don’t seem to get what I’m saying.

    Now I’ve had my say.

    Thanks for the opportunity.

    • robertholmstedt Says:


      Thanks for taking a break from the beginning of the term turmoil. I sympathize. I can never begin a new term with anything less than chaos.

      On textual criticism — nowhere have we denied the *evidence* or *pluriformity*. Rather, we object to your *interpretation* of pluriformity as a brick wall that only you can scale while we are left at the bottom, apparently incapable of pulling ourselves up and over. ;-)

      Have a good term!

  6. johncookvw Says:


    I appreciate your candid reply Ian, for it helps make clear the points we agree upon (as Rob notes) and the areas we disagree on: in short, we are unconvinced that enough work has been done to conclude that linguistic dating of biblical texts (i.e., the language represented by the textual artifact) is impossible.

    Rather than continuing to beat the dead horse of the old diachronic view and leveraging that to argue that NO linguistic dating is possible, we’d prefer a chance to “give it a try” now that the ground has been cleared of old assumptions. Or, to use Rob’s metaphor, we’d prefer you give us a chance to try scaling that wall before you tell us we can’t.

    Thanks to you both for a great discussion.


  7. Karl W. Randolph. Says:

    This whole discussion looks like a tempest in a teapot on the fringes on what is a far larger controversy. The far larger one questions whether or not this literary criticism is valid in the first place.

    On that note, the unattributed and undated books of the BH (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles) may be particularly unsuited to demonstrate the validity of literary criticism in that they give evidences of having been written later, sometimes centuries later, than the events related in them. The authors lifted verbatim whole passages from earlier books that were still extant in their time, sometimes attributed, sometimes not, along with filler from their own times, which makes those books a mixture of literary styles from different times, a mixture that existed at their authorship. There is no need to postulate later redaction as a cause of stylistic differences.

    When we look at the history of literary criticism, we find it goes back to before Welhausen, even before Gesenius-Kautsch, when philosophic motives were clearly stated. If the foundational philosophic motives are rejected, then the superstructure of literary criticism method is swept away with that foundation. That is the far larger controversy.

    Karl W. Randolph.

  8. Chavoux Luyt Says:


    I am very interested in the question of dating, but from an archaeological point of view rather than linguistic or text critical (only).

    Maybe my understanding of English is not good enough, but there seems to me to be a slight confusion between Textual Criticism and Source Criticism. I can agree that there are textual variants showing the role of scribal transmission and that these variants are most likely to occur in grammatical and spelling changes, reflecting both chronological changes in language and geographical dialect differences (which seems to me as not been taken into account sufficiently). Of course polemical reasons also played a role. These questions to my mind has very little to do with source-critical issues, since we could still assume a single original author for each text (even if he might have made use of different sources). In this case the search for a “single” composition date might be possible. It will still be complicated (at least as far as linguistics are concerned) by the possiblity of geographical differences and scribal “updating”/modernising of old texts (but without changing the basic _meaning_ of the texts). And it will probably be easier to find the date of the latest changes than the date of the original composition.

    Source criticism (sensu Welhausen et al) seems to me to be on much more shaky ground. Trying to find the “different layers” and sources thrown together to form the composite work and even trying to date them on linguistic (or any other) grounds, seem to me a hopeless task. The sources of possible variation becomes simply to much…(how whould you tell if a certain linguistic artifact is the result of one of the original sources, the author himself or later scribal changes?). Moreover, there is very little (if any) hard evidence for this account of how the “original”texts came into being (except for those texts that explicitely mention other sources).

    Chavoux Luyt

    • robertholmstedt Says:


      I agree with much of what you say, especially about source criticism a la Wellhausen. (And it seems to me that your English is mighty fine.)

      I’m curious, though. What would you say about a text that appears to exhibit redaction? If the existence and placement of redactional layers are convincing (at least to you), would you admit the possibility of using the language of the layers in a diachronic synthesis?

      And further, with regard to redaction, what about when the line between scribe-as-copyist and scribe-as-author is blurred or even disappears? Then textual criticism and redaction criticism become one.

      We have never not admitted the complexity of these issues. (Now, if that double negative catches you, it’s more the fault of my English than yours.) But rather than the “the texts are such complex entities that it’s hopeless so it can’t be done” approach, I, for one, prefer the long-recognized (if not always practiced, I grant) modus operandi such that any compelling synthesis will deal with redaction, copying, and language in whatever measure both reason and close textual reading suggest. Th methods used in past studies are what John and I take issue with, not the m.o.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Biblical Studies Carnival LXI – March Madness Edition | Dr. Platypus Says:

    […] the rim. One highlight had to do with to the dating of Old Testament texts. John Cook looked at Biblical Hebrew Diachrony (Continued), a continuation of a blog conversation that began in a previous post. Can linguistic change help […]

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