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.
Part II: VIEWPOINTS.
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.”
Part III: DATING.
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.
Part IV: AGENDAS.
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 ) 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?
As always, we appreciate the back and forth. And we love the opportunity to inject some humour into it.
RDH and JAC