Kim, “Early Biblical Hebrew, Late Biblical Hebrew, and Linguistic Variability”

I just finished reading Dong-Hyuk Kim’s dissertation, Early Biblical Hebrew, Late Biblical Hebrew, and Linguistic Variability: A Sociolinguistic Evaluation of the Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts (VTS 156; Leiden: Brill, 2013). I may write a longer review here sometime, but I wanted to commend it to everyone before I forgot.

First, despite a few typos, the book is lucid and well-written. It did not feel like I was reading a dissertation, which have a tendency to be dry and technical; instead, it is engaging and concise, which I appreciated very much. Kim’s monograph is an example of scholarly writing done well.

Second, the argument is nuanced and scientific. Over against the two sides in the debate over dating the books of the Hebrew Bible on the basics of linguistics (i.e., Ian Young, Robert Rezetko, and Martin Ehrensvärd against the traditional view set forth by Robert Polzin and Avi Hurvitz), Kim argues for a middle position in the debate. Using historical sociolinguistics, he argues that the language of the Hebrew Bible changes over time; however, this change was gradual and may not be used to date texts whose dates are otherwise unknown (that is, his method is descriptive, not prescriptive). His methodology is cautious and sound, and his conclusions are sure to shape the future of the debate.

Third, in addition to arguing a novel point, Kim’s monograph serves as an excellent introduction to the debate over linguistic dating of the texts of the Hebrew Bible. I started the book with next to no knowledge of the debate (I got it via interlibrary loan simply because the title sounded interesting), but Kim did a very good job of explaining the different sides, such that by the time he got to his own argument, I felt I had a firm grasp on the current shape of the debate.

Kim’s book is solid overall, and I heartily recommend it both to anyone with an interest in linguistic dating of the Hebrew Bible and as a very good example of good scholarly writing.

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