Dr. Richard S. Hess

Old Testament Questions from the desk of Dr. Richard S. Hess

What’s New in the Linguistic Study of the Old Testament: A Review Article

A 2020 Update of What is Happening in the Study of Biblical Hebrew (and Aramaic): A Review Article of Benjamin J. Noonan, Advances in the Study of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic: New Insights for Reading the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2020). Paperback, 336 pages. $38.99. ISBN 9780310596011.

Updated and revised from Denver Journal 25 (2022).

The book’s own introduction argues that it is important to understand the current study of the Hebrew language in the context of modern linguistics in order to exegete the text. Noonan also maintains that it is not as difficult as one thinks. The first chapter goes into defining linguistics and presenting major schools of the subject. Linguistics is the scientific study of the language, primarily in a descriptive form. Different aspects of linguistics (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, socio-linguistics, discourse analysis, etc.) along with major schools of method, lead to the identification of five approaches. Comparative philology is the oldest, reflecting philology, comparative language studies, and words given a grammatical function. Gesenius’ grammar, Brown, Driver, and Briggs lexicon (itself an inheritance of Gesenius), and the lexicon of Köhler and Baumgartner are examples. Structuralism looks at language as an abstraction. It studies each sign and what it resembles. Building on the work of de Saussure, Noonan argues that Waltke and O’Connor’s grammar, as well as that of Joüon and Muraoka follow structuralism, while David Clines’ Dictionary of Classical Hebrew represents a lexical approach. As someone who worked on Clines’ project, my view of the work is that it has structuralist components but integrates other approaches mentioned here. Generative grammar owes its origin to Noam Chomsky who emphasizes the innate ability of a person to become competent in a language so as to generate an infinite number of linguistic combinations. This view describes a universal grammar where all languages share certain features. Each language has its own formula for generating surface expressions from deep structure. Waltke and O’Connor are again cited as an example. The well-known Prague School is associated with Functionalism. It studies “real life” use of language whose purpose is communication. Pragmatics and Discourse analysis are two better known aspects of this approach. The reference grammar of van der Merwe, Kroeze, and Naudé is an example. I agree with Noonan’s assessment that discourse analysis and word order are an important part of this work. For the fifth approach, Cognitive Linguistics, the assumption is that language processes and stores information in the brain. Therefore, it can shape the world as we see it. Meaning does not exist apart from the brain. Ellen J. van Wolde’s work (cf. her revealing title of the monograph, Words Become Worlds: Semantic Studies of Genesis 1-11) is an example.

Chapter 2 reviews the history of Hebrew grammatical and lexicographical study, drawing largely upon the entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica. This study began soon after the Masoretes inserted their vocalizations into the Biblical texts. It borrowed concepts and ideas from the surrounding Arabic culture and its linguistic studies. In the tenth century Saadiah ben Joseph Gaon produced the first grammar and lexicon, observing distinctions in parts of speech. Over the following two centuries Spanish Jewish scholars wrote their grammars in Arabic. Circa 1000 AD Ḥayyuj wrote the first Hebrew grammar identifying the three-consonant roots, a concept already in use in Arabic grammars. In the following decades Jonah ibn Janāḥ completed the first comprehensive grammar of biblical Hebrew, as well as the first dictionary to group words according to their tri-consonantal roots. Circa 1150, political events caused the next generation of scholars to flee to southern France and Italy. This included ibn Ezra and David Kimḥi. The latter’s grammar was the first systematic presentation of the Hebrew language that placed the verb centrally and that addressed the stems. Circa 1500 AD Abraham de Balmes published a grammar using Latin concepts, such as the division of grammar into phonology, morphology, and syntax.

The Reformation brought a Christian interest in Hebrew grammar. Reuchlin’s work, perhaps used by Luther to study the language, built on the earlier contribution of David Kimḥi. Of note was Henry VIII’s establishment of Regius professorships of Hebrew at Cambridge and Oxford universities. Additional study in Arabic, Syriac, and Ge’ez formed the basis for comparative Semitic studies at the end of the eighteenth century. The climax of this approach came with the work of Wilhelm Gesenius at the University of Halle. His lexicon was completed in 1812 and his grammar the follow year. Through success editions and translation into English these works undergird most Hebrew grammatical studies up to the present. Gesenius, Kautzsch (editor of the 28th German edition), and Cowley (translator) produced the standard reference grammar used by English speaking students. Brown, Driver, and Briggs lexicon, based on the translation of Gesenius’ lexicon, remains perhaps the most widely used Hebrew lexicon. Comparative grammars were produced by Brockelmann, Bauer, Leander, and Bergsträsser. In French, Paul Joüon’s grammar appeared. The twentieth century saw the discovery and translation of Ugaritic as well as the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Noonan could also mention here the publication of tens of thousands of Akkadian texts, vital for the background of Semitic before and during the composition of the Hebrew Bible. Names such as W. F. Albright, G. R. Driver, N. H. Tur-Sinai, and, more recently, W. L. Moran and J. Barr are among the twentieth figures who contributed to the study of Hebrew. Missing from Noonan’s list surprisingly are (1) David Clines, the editor of the groundbreaking Dictionary of Classical Hebrew; and (2) Anson F. Rainey, who contributed so much to the study of Amarna West Semitic, Ugaritic, and many cognate studies providing a better understanding of their influence on Biblical Hebrew. Influential grammars became collaborative efforts (1) of Waltke and O’Connor, (2) of van der Merwe, Naudé, and Kroeze, and (3) of Muraoka who revised Joüon’s earlier grammar. Summarizing names of various contributions in monographs and journals and worthy of special note is the multivolume online publication of Brill, edited by Geoffrey Kahn, the Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics.

Noonan turns to consider lexicology and lexicography. He begins with basic definitions such as a word that represents a symbol, a reference that the symbol designates, and the sense that ties together the two. This struck me as odd with respect to personal names and other proper names. These words characteristically have reference but no sense. He also mentions the prototype or exemplar that one thinks of when a word is used, though this may vary according to culture. In lexical relations or paradigmatics, words relate to and define one another. The example of the near synonym describes two words that possess more semantic overlap than do others. Etymology explores the origin of words through means such as cognates, word formation, and loan words. Into this picture enters the idea of polysemy in which a given word may have multiple meanings, more or less related to one another. Silva describes context for understanding a word and the particular associations connected with the use of a word that may vary in different contexts. Barr decried the idea that there was such a thing as Hebrew thought or Greek thought so that these could be identified by the differences in their languages. Finally, as Barr argued, comparative etymology is useful when sufficient context is lacking. However, it is not determinative by itself as different Semitic languages show different developments of the same root into distinct meanings.

Turning to lexicography, Noonan identifies four issues in producing a biblical Hebrew lexicon: what to include among texts, presentation of lexemes by root or alphabetically, glosses or definition, and additional information. He identifies these elements in the three major Hebrew dictionaries (BDB, HALOT, and DCH) as well as a lesser used and incomplete semantic data base and a semantic dictionary. He also reviews the major theological dictionaries (TDOT, TLOT, and NIDOTTE). This reviewer feels that Noonan’s critiques take potshots at some of these works without actually having understood what is involved in the production of such works.

For full disclosure, I worked for a year on the first volume of the DCH. There is a reason that DCH is the only completed dictionary using any modern linguistic approach. Others have attempted but have never seen this sort of immense project through to its conclusion. The revision of BDB that Noonan identifies as underway may be completed and I hope it will be; but as of this writing it is not complete and not the only revision of BDB to be attempted in the last forty years. The preference of definitions rather than glosses is a nice hope. However, glosses are often useful, especially when a thorough examination of syntax is made as in DCH. The recurring criticism that this or that work does not include Aramaic is without justification. HALOT indicates that Aramaic is included by its title. DCH indicates that Aramaic is not included by its title. Methodologically, there is nothing inappropriate about this. While it is true that comprehensive dictionaries of all pre-Mishnaic Hebrew texts do not always differentiate in the chronology of when the texts cited appear, such explicit chronological indicators are not helpful where the critical scholarship of the OT does not agree as to when most of that major corpus was composed. Indeed, a work such as the DCH does indicate the original source of every citation, biblical and extrabiblical. Anyone can examine this information and draw their own conclusions.

Like many, Noonan again and again returns to Barr’s critiques. While these are important and largely warranted, it is telling that a certain Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford refused the opportunity to put his own method to the test in a positive manner when given the opportunity to revise BDB. Noonan praises NIDOTTE for its index of semantic fields. I think this theological dictionary is valuable and I recommend that students consult it. I also contributed to it. Among the entries which I wrote (in their initial draft) were “friend” and “drip.” When I objected that the editors had decided that significantly more space and attention should be devoted to “drip” rather than “friend,” I received no explanation other than that they had decided and that was that. To this day, it makes no sense to me that “drip” should be assumed theologically more important than “friend,” however many semantic fields are indexed.

Noonan provides an interesting discussion of verbal stems in Hebrew. He begins with a review of linguistic terms such as arguments, transitivity, semantic role, and grammatical voice or diathesis. Very briefly, but helpfully, Noonan reviews aspect in terms of situation aspect and phasal aspect. He then reviews the Niphal and the question as to whether the core of the Niphal is reflexive, passive, or a combination. Noonan doesn’t accept any of these. Rather, he prefers the adaptation of a medio-passive framework. This would need some development to understand its implications. For the Piel, Noonan begins with Jacob Weingreen of the stem as primarily intensive and energic. Others see a resultative aspect. Noonan tends to follow his professor Stephen Kaufman in finding here an emphasis on plurality (and I agree it is most reasonable as I have found repeatedly). He suggests a comparison and contrast with the Hiphil.

The Hiphil is commonly recognized as the causative. Noonan focuses on discussion of the non-causative functions. Distinguishing the Hiphil from the Piel, Jenni notices the following uses of the Hiphil: imposition of an action, durative action, occasional participation of the subject in the verbal action, and substantial (rather than accidental) action toward the object. Garr focuses on force dynamics with the verb. Speiser borrows from Arabic and elsewhere to argue for an elative function. For Noonan, “the Hiphil may simply provide an available stem for representing a new meaning” (p. 108). As for the Hithpael, Mazars accepted the traditional understanding that it is primarily reflexive, although in other cases it can exhibit a transitive sense. For Speiser, there is a frequentative function resulting from its origin with the infixed -tan- stem. Noonan disagrees, noting the lack of evidence for this stem in West Semitic. Boyle argues that the primary sense of Hithpael is one of intensification. Benton sees a resultative sense. Adams understands the Hithpael to often convey one’s social status. Dombrowski maintains an inversative sense in which the direction changes with respect to the subject. Mark Arnold argues for a middle voice in which the Hithpael takes on the Gt and Št stems that disappeared from Hebrew. Jenni compares the Piel with the Hithpael, arguing that the latter is predominantly middle. Noonan feels that further study on the development of the inversative in Semitic languages as well as well as the relationship of the Hithpael to other t-infix stems are the most fruitful directions for research.

The Aramaic verbal stems have received little study in contrast to their Hebrew counterparts. Thus, the Pael is understood as both intensive and extensive in Bauer and Leander’s grammar. Kaufman stresses the sense of plurality (as with the Piel). The Haphel normally expresses the causative sense. For stative verbs, however, it creates an intransitive sense. Both the Hithpeel and the Hithpaal are reflexive, middle, or passive in voice. Noonan concludes with observations on the importance of voice and aspect for Hebrew stems and on the value of stative/active differences in all the stems.

Chapter five considers the important topics of tense, aspect, and mood. Tense identifies the time of the action relative to the speaker or author. Relative tense describes this perspective from the standpoint of a third party or perhaps an ongoing relation such as past perfect or future perfect. Aspect considers whether the action is taking place from inside or outside the speaker’s involvement. If from the inside, then it is incomplete and thus has imperfective aspect. If from outside, it is complete and thus has perfective aspect. Mood is distinguished according to realis (actually occurring) and irrealis (possibly occurring). The latter divides into epistemic or propositional modality such as possibilities of what might happen or what one wishes would occur. Deontic or event modality considers commands as well as statements of obligation or permission. All languages have one of these three (tense, aspect, and mood) as dominant. Modern English is tense dominant.

For Hebrew early grammarians found the verbal system tense dominant, with qatal past tense and yiqtol future. Ewald and S. R. Driver shifted to an aspect view where qatal was perfect or completed and yiqtol was imperfect. With the development of the study of earlier Semitic languages, the qatal was seen to derive from the qatala adjective; the yiqtol from the yaqtulu; and the wayyiqtol from the preterite yaqtul. Although this all seems to have developed within West Semitic, it has similarities the (East Semitic) Akkadian and especially its qatil and iprus. E. J. Revell made the important point that the verbal system marked tense in pre-Biblical Hebrew, as evidenced by the preterite, and in post-Biblical Rabbinic Hebrew. Therefore, tense was prominent in Biblical Hebrew. Word order, rather than morphology, marked modality. Verbs that begin clauses tends to have modal value. Tal Goldfajn argued that qatal expresses anterior action for active verbs and contemporary action for stative verbs. Zevit noted that relative past tense was determined by syntax and word order rather than morphology. Noonan observes the need for more study on the relationship between verb usage and word order.

The most popular approach to the Biblical Hebrew verbal system today is aspect. John A. Cook observes patterns in languages worldwide. The qatal, originally resultative, became perfective. The yiqtol, originally progressive, became imperfective. Zwyghuizen noted the difference between stative and active verbs. There is a past or present time reference for stative verbs in the perfective qatal; and a past time reference for active verbs. The imperfect yiqtol has present or future time reference for active verbs and future time reference for stative verbs. Noonan favors Cook’s approach which uses grammaticalization and linguistic typology as a means to provide external confirmation (p. 133). The mood prominent approach begins with Jan Joosten. Joosten argues that all Biblical Hebrew verbs fall either into realis (indicative: qatal, wayyiqtol, and participle) or the irrealis (volitive: yiqtol, weqatal, and volitives). Zuber uses the early translations of the LXX and Vulgate to find support for his approach. Here qatal and wayyiqtol are non-future indicatives. The yiqtol and weqatal translate as future, subjunctive, or optative (p. 135). Rattray follows some of the same basic methods as Joosten. Noonan faults these scholars for not incorporating evidence from modern linguistics and comparative Semitics. Functional theories combine parts of the other views of aspect, mood, and tense. Of these, Noonan prefers study of changes in the verb between Archaic Biblical Hebrew and Standard Biblical Hebrew. Noonan likes Jero’s attention to specific contexts and the meaning for those contexts.

For Aramaic grammar, not a lot has been done. Rosen distinguishes active and stative verbs. He uses collocations with other verbs and notes the changes in meaning. For Tarsee Li, Biblical Aramaic is transitioning from aspect prominence to tense prominence. Noonan concludes with notes about the important difference between point aspect and linear aspect. For this, like the Hebrew, Noonan describes a distinction between point aspect verbs. Overall, the future of tense, aspect, and mood in Hebrew and Aramaic lies with the importance of setting the language in the context of the world’s languages, of applying Comparative Semitics, and of the manner in which languages can and do change.

Noonan’s chapter on Discourse Analysis describes how this is reflected in foundational concepts: coherence and cohesion, distinctions, and the grouping and dividing of discourse units. There is also the matter of focus and the importance of the position of the word in a sentence as a casus pendens. The first type of discourse analysis is tagmemics. This looks for patterns in phrases and relates them hierarchically. Robert E. Longacre finds the following types of discourse: narrative, predictive, procedural, expository, and hortatory. The verb at the top of the hierarchy, wayyiqtol in narrative, is foregrounded, with everything else backgrounded. David Alan Dawson also has the wayyiqtol as the main clause type for narrative, the weqatal for predictive, volitive forms for hortatory, and verbless clauses for expository discourse. This approach assists in understanding the macro-structure of discourse and contributes to the cross-linguistic study of text types. If tagmemic approaches move from function to form, distributional approaches move in the opposite direction. Wolfgang Schneider identified wayyiqtol in narrative and yiqtol as the foreground in speech. Eep Talstra added computer analysis so that he could begin with morphology of words and then construct phrases from those words, and clauses from the phrases. The distributional method tends to emphasize patterns in a discourse type but not ask why those forms appear. It looks to pragmatics for meaning rather than semantics. The functionalist approach, also referred to by Noonan as Information Structure, builds upon the study of Lambrecht and Dik. Kasuomi Shimasaki found the clause-initial position for focused information. Jean-Marc Heimerdinger looked to topic and focus for foregrounding. Nicholas P. Lunn looks to changes in topic and focus and to stylistic and rhetorical devices to explain the movement away from the V-S-O word order in poetry. Walter Gross distinguishes elements that occur before the verb and those that follow it. Fronting before the verb provides focus for background information, commenting, or marking. It is distinguished from casus pendens which can focus on the preposed element, on the sentence, or denote a topic other than the subject of the sentence. Christo H. J. van der Merwe notes that argument focus and sentence focus appear in verbal clauses, but only argument focus occurs in fronting nominal and participial clauses. While the functionalist approach serves well the understanding of the purpose of the clause, it tends to remain at the clause level. The Inter-Clausal approach was championed by Francis I. Andersen who studied the relationship between independent clauses, determined by context. Douglas M. Gropp noted that wayyiqtol and weqatal move narrative forward with successive events, while qatal and yiqtol do not. Randall Buth distributes that continuity with past wayyiqtol and non-past weqatal; and the discontinuity between past qatal and non-past yiqtol. Building on this approach of Buth, Peter Gentry argues that modal verbs occur in initial position. Elizabeth Robar makes the point that the most basic “chunk” of discourse is the paragraph. Continuity is found in wayyiqtol (past), weqatal (habitual past), and weyiqtol (present and volitional). Discontinuity occurs with weqatal in narrative, and with nonstandard verb forms (e.g., paragogic nun and long wayyiqtol forms). The Inter-Causal approach follows the flow of thought and thus is valuable for exegesis. However, there are no clear and agreed upon criteria and that lends a subjective element to this approach.

Noonan considers major tools for the study of discourse analysis. The Basics of Hebrew Discourse, by Patton and Putnam, provide a synthesis of the many approaches, discussing narrative and poetry separately. However, the assumption that basic Hebrew word order is V-S-O has been challenged. Runge and Westbury’s Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible uses the functionalist approach which assumes that choice implies meaning. The work is very useful as it covers the entire Bible, identifying clauses and arranging them hierarchically. Because it deals with the level of clause almost exclusively, it does not consider as much boundary markers, textual cohesion, and discourse relations. Noonan mentions the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament, where each book takes this approach. However, the actual methods chosen and employed vary a great deal from volume to volume. The Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible Series provides analysis on the word and clause level. However, there is no single method employed. Noonan expresses hope that the future will provide a more fully integrated method that takes advantage of all the approaches.

Associated with discourse analysis is the vexed question of word order. The traditional assumption of VSO has been challenged in relation to questions of markedness (where a noun such as “book” is unmarked, while “books” is marked) and of word order typology. The latter raises questions of the frequency of occurrence of examples and the size of sufficient samples, of distribution of one form of word order across various types of constructions, of identifying the simplest way to express an idea with these forms of word order, and of pragmatics that make prominent or mark a particular part of a clause through word order. Robert Holmstedt challenged the VSO order in large part by arguing that the wayyiqtol’s restricted environment excludes it from consideration of word order. Other criteria, such as excluding clauses without an overt subject, led to a dominance of SVO word order. Chronologically, Holmstedt argues that SVO increased in the development of biblical Hebrew, increased in subordinate and negated clauses, and increased in its use of casus pendens. Adina Moshavi challenged this conclusion by including all pragmatically neutral clauses such as wayyiqtol, weqatal, and modal clauses. She makes the important observation that not including these clauses, as Holmstedt has done, results in a language that does not look like Biblical Hebrew. Aaron Hornkohl examines clauses in which wayyiqtol cannot occur, such as those beginning with relative, negative, and causal terms. He also concludes VSO as the dominant word order, noting that SVO clauses are best explained by pragmatic marking. Karel Jongeling, writing before Holmstedt, ignores all clauses in the book of Ruth without an explicit subject. He concludes that 75% of the remaining clauses have a VSO word order. His comparison with Welsh, a verb-initial language, notes similarities with Hebrew in various syntactical manners. Noonan calls for a re-examination of basic word order and typology, looking at SVO order as requiring pragmatic marking of the subject. For this and for Aramaic, the most important task is an agreed upon definition of basic word order without too much reliance on a specific linguistic framework.

Biblical Aramaic has enjoyed two monograph studies on word order. Randall Buth, in his UCLA dissertation, concludes that the functional order of Biblical Aramaic is VSO but the statistically dominant order is SVO, due to topicalization and focus. Adrian Lamprecht concludes that the basic order of Biblical Aramaic is VSO but its deep structure is SVO. All clauses that are not verb-initial involve the introduction of pragmatic features. Additional articles on the subject are reviewed, including Sung-dal Kwon, who argues that it is not possible to determine a basic word order for the language. With Buth, Noonan emphasizes the importance of comparing the wider corpus of ancient Aramaic (beyond Biblical Aramaic), and the need to recognize multiple factors in the diversity of word order.

Chapter 8, titled, “Register, Dialect, Style-Shifting, and Code-Switching,” considers the field of sociolinguistics. Going back to the 1960’s and William Labov who considered NYC’s linguistic variation on the basis of class, age, and gender, the type of language used in a particular social setting is referred to as register. Register considers differences of speech in terms of genre, generations, gender, and politeness. Regarding gender, the use of masculine forms by Naomi in the book of Ruth when speaking of women is noted (Ruth 1:8-9). However, it is probably not simply a literary way of representing female speech because it occurs elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. A more complete analysis of this can be found in Robert Ratner, “Gender Problems in Biblical Hebrew” (PhD diss., Hebrew Union College, 1983). Noonan considers recent studies that have in one way or another adjusted imperative force. Thus the “long imperative,” with the qamets-he, is best understood in light of Hélène Dallaire’s analysis as a means to soften requests, although it is used between every social category. On the other hand, the infinitive absolute, when used volitionally, appears as a “strong, enduring command” (p. 207). It never accompanies the “politeness particle,” nāʼ, and always is used by a lesser to a greater person or group. The prohibition, lōʼ + yiqtol, occurs when a greater person gives a command to a lesser person. A volitional weqatal (perfect consecutive) occurs following an infinitive absolute or an imperative, when a greater gives a strong command to a lesser. The nāʼ is best understood as a politeness marker that does not appear in legal material. It also occurs with a cohortative where it may convey the sense, “I think it may be a good idea to…” (p. 209 following Stephen Kaufman). Gary Rendsburg attempted to argue that Mishnaic Hebrew is a descendant of colloquial Hebrew while Qumran Hebrew is a literary style found in the Bible. He has been criticized but no consensus exists regarding what should substitute for this interpretation of diglossia. Dialect, a permanent pattern of language (unlike register), occurs in the shibboleth incident of Judges 12:5-6. For Rendsburg, much of the dialect of the Hebrew Bible is that of Judah and Jerusalem. However, some 15% of the text (especially found in Judges and Kings, blessings to the northern tribes, Hosea, Amos, Micah, northern psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes) can be attributed to northern Israelian Hebrew on the basis of its similarity to northern Semitic languages such as Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Aramaic. Daniel Fredericks regards many of these elements as colloquialisms. Pat-El suggests that the Hebrew Bible standardized and edited out dialectical differences. William Schniedewind and Daniel Sivan also suggest northern Hebrew dialects in Kings. It is surely difficult to understand otherwise the Aramean general Naaman’s statement in 2 Kings 5:18, where the infinitive for bow down (bĕhištaḥăwāyātî with prepositional prefix and 1cs suffix) is pointed by the Masoretes as Aramaic. Stephen Kaufman identifies Aramaisms as an intentional representation of Trand-Jordanian speech such as attributed to Balaam (Numbers 22-24), Agur and Lemuel (Proverbs 30:1-31:9), the desert oracles of Isaiah (21:11-14), and the poetic speeches of Job. In Biblical Aramaic the use of verbs in the final position imitates the Aramaic of native Persian speakers. While additional work has been done by other scholars, Noonan finds important research needed in address switching and in code switching in non-Northwest Semitic languages. Here he thinks that the use of literary Akkadianisms in contexts associated with Assyrians and Babylonians should be pursued.

Chapter 9 investigates that fascinating and controversial area, “Dating Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic Texts.” Noonan describes two areas that he sees as important for dating texts linguistically: language change and linguistic dating. The former includes both internal and external factors. Examples of internal factors are the Canaanite shift which involves a sound change. There is also the creation of a wayyiqtol form into a cohortative with the addition of a final he. This is an example of a form created by analogy. External factors include borrowing and loan words. Although linguistic dating is relative (rather than fixed) in terms of chronology, there are traditionally three periods of Hebrew from Old Testament times: Archaic Biblical Hebrew (ABH) of the late second millennium BC; Standard Biblical Hebrew (SBH) from the monarchy; and Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH) from the exilic and postexilic periods. Albright, with his students Cross and Freedman, identified ABH largely in Hebrew poetry by using parallelism and themes found in Ugaritic, as well as remnants of case endings and defective orthography (absence of matres lectiones). Cross and Freedman emphasized the latter two points as well as metrical structure and the yiqtol as a preterite. They identified many early poetic texts from the 13th through the 11th centuries, including Exodus 15; Judges 5; Numbers 23-24; and Deuteronomy 32-33. Dated to the tenth century were 2 Samuel 1:19-27 and Genesis 49; while they dated 2 Samuel 22l (Psalm 18) and Habakkuk 3 a century or two later. David A. Robertson added forms from both Ugaritic and from the Amarna letters, such as: preservation of yod/waw in final he roots, zû, zōh, and zeh as relative pronouns, 3ms suffix enû, 3mp suffix mô, waw and yod as affixes, and the enclitic mem. Paul D. Hanson used similarities to Akkadian, as found in the increased length of cola, to establish 3rd Isaiah and 2nd Zechariah as LBH. Polzin used some 19 grammatical features of LBH to argue that the P source is transitional and exilic. Andrew Hill studied Malachi as well as 2nd Zechariah for LBH characteristics.

Most influential of all was Avi Hurvitz. He used these tools to date the Pentateuch and Deuteronomistic History as SBH; and Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles as LBH. He looked for lexical items that appeared exclusively or primarily in undisputed postexilic books, for LBH feature that replaced SBH counterparts, and for LBH items that also occurred in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Mishnaic Hebrew. Those linguistic features were applied by others who popularized Hurvitz’s method. It was, however, challenged by Ian Young, Robert Rezetko, and Martin Ehrensvärd, who published Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts in 2008. They leveled multiple criticisms at Hurvitz: 1. Some SBH features are also found in LBH texts and vice versa; 2. Aramaic influence appeared earlier than LBH, and Old Persian and Greek loans could have been borrowed prior to the Exile; 3. The biblical texts were not fixed as late as Qumran and thus allow for alterations; and 4. Each extra biblical corpus represents a unique dialect so multiple dialects may explain difference in biblical texts. Overall, SBH preserved a conservative style while LBH was non-conservative. So Philip Davies argued generally that SBH preserved the literary style of the returned exiles while LBH was spoken Hebrew in the postexilic period. The most significant response was a 2012 volume edited by Cynthia Miller-Naudé and Ziony Zevit, Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew. With essays addressing both the theory and method, as well as specific examples, most of the writers focus on and respond to suggested differences between SBH and LBH to argue that the approach is diachronic. See further my review in Denver Journal: An Online Review of Current Biblical and Theological Studies 18 (2015). Noonan lists additional contributors to the discussion, one of whom, Frank H. Polak, makes a significant contribution in the Diachrony volume which I summarize in my review:

Frank H. Polak provides the first of two essays on “Sociological and Dialectical Considerations” with his essay, “Language Variation, Discourse Typology, and the Sociocultural Background of Biblical Narrative” (pp 301-38). On the basis of syntactical complexity he distinguishes three types of style in Hebrew narrative: the generally pre-seventh century Medial style with paratactic clauses that are lean and brisk, the seventh and early sixth century Judean style representing texts written by scribes with a chancery education, and the post-exilic Achaemenid style written by scribes whose training was in Aramaic (as well as Hebrew). While there may be exceptions due to deliberate archaizing or to unique themes, these distinct styles can be detected consistently. Among other thing the Medial style betrays an oral culture (an “oral-literate nexus”) while the later styles do not.

Of all the later treatments, Noonan gives special consideration to the Yale University Ph.D. dissertation (2011) of Dong-Hyuk Kim, Early Biblical Hebrew, Late Biblical Hebrew, and Linguistic Variability. Kim uses genre (narrative vs. direct speech) and time to analyze internal and external linguistic change. He draws out eight grammatical and lexical elements which he subjects to “variationist analysis” in order to argue that seven of these represent authentic changes over time and cannot be explained as synchronous dialects.

Biblical Aramaic and its dating is explored by Noonan in the book’s longest section devoted to Aramaic. S. R. Driver argued that the presence of Greek loan words “demand” that the date of the book derive from the Hellenistic period. While he compared the text of Daniel with Palmyrene, Nabatean, and Targumic Aramaic, Robert Dick Wilson and others responded that the fifth century BC Elephantine papyri were closer to Daniel in terms of Greek and Persian loanwords. There is a Mesopotamian setting for the Aramaic. As far as later lexical forms (e.g., the presence of the relative with dalet instead of zayin), this could reflect updating of the text. H. H. Rowley argued that the Aramaic of Daniel is later than that of Ezra. Both postdate the Elephantine papyri as represented by phonological shifts. Daniel is later than Ezra as indicated by the 3mp pronoun which has a nun added to it in Daniel but not in Ezra. The use of the lamed as an indicator of the direct object occurs regularly in Biblical and later Aramaic. The Akkadian and Greek loanwords fit much better with later Aramaic. In 1964 Kenneth A. Kitchen defended an earlier date for Daniel by noting: 1. Persian loanwords in Daniel occur in Imperial Aramaic and Elamite, relate to administration, and are explicitly Old Persian in form; 2. The phonological shifts in spellings are updated, something known in the ancient Near East; 3. Earlier forms such as the 3mp pronoun occur alongside later forms in Daniel; and 4. the argument for a form’s lateness based on lack of early attestation has been disproven with more discoveries (e.g., the appearance of the accusative particle yāt). E. Y. Kutscher affirms Kitchen’s arguments and provides further evidence for the problems with dating by use of phonological evidence. Peter Coxon agrees. He notes that the presence of the Haphel in Daniel is closer to fifth century BC Elephantine papyri. Further, Daniel’s flexible word order and other points are more common in Imperial Aramaic than in later dialects. Vasholz and Gleason Archer Jr. examine the Qumran Targum of Job (3rd/2nd century BC) and Genesis Apocryphon (1st century BC, on the basis of paleography and similarity to Jubilees) and argue that Daniel’s Aramaic is older and thus earlier. Archer’s student, Jongtae Choi, carried this argument forward using computer tagging for the Aramaic of Daniel and of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Phonologically, Biblical Aramaic is closer to Imperial Aramaic in terms of dalet, tav, ayin, tet, and sin in place of still older letters. While there are examples of morphology in Daniel that is later than Ezra, the absence of the final nun in the 3mp qtl form in Daniel corresponds with Imperial Aramaic but not Qumran (p. 255 of Noonan seems to have a typo on the fourth line from the bottom). In terms of syntax, the lamed with the infinitive for dating formula, the relative pronoun used only retrospectively, and the relatively free word order correspond more closely to Imperial Aramaic than later dialects. Akkadian and Persian loanwords are frequent in Biblical Aramaic but rare at Qumran. At least two Greek words are attested in Imperial Aramaic. Choi concludes that Daniel dates a bit later than Ezra but aligns with Imperial Aramaic (except for phonology which may be due to updating). The text we have probably dates to the fourth century BC, but certainly not the second century. Although more Aramaic texts have appeared since Choi’s 1994 dissertation, Noonan does not find it likely that these would materially affect his conclusions.

The discussion continues. Benjamin Noonan’s “Daniel’s Greek Loans in Dialectical Perspective,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 28 (2018): 575-603, is mentioned in the bibliography but not discussed in this chapter. Noonan demonstrates that three of the Greek loans are non-Attic. Yet with Alexander and the advent of the Hellenistic period, all Greek loans entering the ancient Near East were Atticized and koine Greek was used. The non-Attic forms require a pre-Hellenistic date for their appearance. Benjamin D. Suchard, “The Greek in Daniel 3: Code-Switching, Not Loanwords,” Journal of Biblical Literature 141.1 (2022): 121-36, argues that one of the words has a consonantal form that can be read as koine (even if it is not so vocalized), and that the other two do not occur anywhere in earlier Greek in this form. Nevertheless, they do not occur later, either, and there are possible explanations for the earlier forms. The dating of this list and the particular spellings of originally Greek terms for musical instruments lacks parallels and does not in itself determine the dating of the larger corpus of the Aramaic of Daniel.

Noonan concludes that “The Ways Forward” lie with refinements in the use of sociolinguistics, the study of Arabic and Indo-Euorpean approaches regarding the coexistence of oral and written dialects, and the limits of linguistic dating. Noonan follows the “New Philology” which argues that all textual traditions are meaningful. This writer can only agree with Noonan on the latter observation. As someone who has been involved in a series of commentaries on specific LXX manuscripts (rather than an eclectic LXX text), it has been necessary to face the absence of appreciation of this approach. See e.g., R. Hess, “Setting Scholarship Back a Hundred Years? Method in the Septuagint Commentary Series,” pp. 63-68 in L. K. Fuller Dow, C. A. Evans, and A. W. Pitts eds., Language and Literature of the New Testament: Essays in Honor of Stanley E. Porter’s 60th Birthday (Biblical Interpretation Series 150; Leiden: Brill, 2016).

The work moves to its last major chapter (10), “Teaching and Learning the Languages of the Hebrew Bible.” In discussing grammars and other resources for teaching, Noonan distinguishes the older style, Grammar-Translation, from the more recent Second Language acquisition. While this is the key andragogical difference, it might have been helpful to note the two major grammatical teaching traditions that emerged out of the twentieth century, the approach that examines the regular verb in all its stems and then move on to irregular forms, and the approach the examines the Qal stem of all types of regular and irregular verbs and then moves to do the same with each of the other stems. The former was represented by Jacob Weingreen and, in the late twentieth century by Paige Kelley. The latter found an earlier champion with Thomas Lambdin and a later one with C. Leon Seow. Noting some of the best selling Grammar-Translation grammars and the various helps, online and otherwise, Noonan considers various web-based and online teaching of Hebrew through programs. He mentions Accordance and Logos as two premier examples of presenting the Hebrew Bible with many types of analysis attached. Most important here is an observation that describes a “trap” that so many schools have fallen into (in order to save money and reduce the language requirements so as to attract students): “Bible software is unable to unlock the elements of Hebrew and Aramaic that cannot be parsed, such as he contextual nuance of words; it is for this reason that biblical language tools classes / …are ultimately inadequate substitutes for reading Hebrew and Aramaic” (pp. 265-66). The alternative to the Grammar-Translation, Communicative Language Teaching, as presented with Second Language acquisition techniques, uses Total Physical Response and other innovative methods. While Randall Buth and both John A. Cook and Robert D. Holmstedt produced volumes that are excellent examples of this. I would encourage teachers and learners to consider Noonan’s third choice, Hélène Dallaire’s Biblical Hebrew: A Living Language. Incorporating all these techniques, with many years of experience in teaching both Rabbinic and Protestant Seminary students, this work uniquely integrates all that is best in Second Language approaches with a full presentation of grammar into an inviting (notice the cartoons and songs) and fully competent study of Biblcial Hebrew. There are also web-based modules as well as guides for the instructors. Dallaire has trained others at Denver Seminary who teach here and elsewhere. Most impressive is the manner in which she has taken this grammar and method into the best online course instruction of biblical Hebrew that appreciates that “coaching” and personal connection which are so important. The work deserves wide consideration. Noonan considers centers for the instruction of Second Language teaching of Hebrew as well as various books and online guides for reviewing and refreshing knowledge of the language.

His one-page conclusion repeats the importance of learning the language, quoting Martin Luther, “We will not long preserve the gospel without the languages…If through our neglect we let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall… lose the gospel” (p. 279). With such observations, Noonan concludes what is an essential work for bringing up to date all students and teachers of Hebrew. It is the best means of access to an acquaintance with modern linguistic approaches and it is worth study and reflection for both the second or third year Hebrew student as well as the seasoned exegete.

Richard S. Hess, Ph.D.

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