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.

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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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