Tag Archives: hebrew bible

Gaines, “Poetic Features in Priestly Narrative Texts” (2013)

I just ran across a Ph.D. dissertation that finds two redactions, one poetic and one prosaic, in the P source. I’m blogging it here mostly so I don’t forget about it, since it’s directly relevant to a couple of projects I’m working on.

Jason M. H. Gaines, “Poetic Features in Priestly Narrative Texts,” Ph.D. diss, Brandeis University, 2013.

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Online Aramaic and Coptic Flashcards

I’ve been searching for electronic flashcards for John’s Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic and Layton’s Coptic in 20 Lessons all semester. (I cut my teeth with FlashWorks, the vocabulary software that comes with Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek, so paper flashcards don’t really do it for me.)

Thankfully, a kind soul has made free, online flashcards sets for all 20 chapters of Johns, which I’m very excited about. They can be found here. The same site has some flashcards for Layton (chapters 2-13), but I haven’t yet found anywhere that has flashcards for all 20 chapters.

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YHWH: An Imported Deity?

A lot of people may not be aware of the evidence that exists that Yhwh was originally a deity from the southwestern territory of Edom, on the west of the Arabah, a large valley running south from the Dead Sea down to the gulf of Aqabah. The evidence begins in the Hebrew Bible with a small number of early biblical texts that suggest Yhwh originated in that area …

This may all help explain why no other culture of Canaan worshipped Yhwh. Baal, El, and Asherah seem to be deities acknowledged and revered by multiple ethnicities in Canaan, but Yhwh is Israel’s alone. They were indigenous, he was imported. The conflict that is constantly highlighted in the Bible between Yhwh and Baal is intriguing in light of the complete absence of any such conflict between Yhwh and the Canaanite patriarchal deity El. Judg 5:4–5 gives us clues. Yhwh’s power is described with imagery associated with the storm deity motif. The same can be said of numerous other texts. Psalm 29, for instance, refers repeatedly to thunder and lightning as expressions of Yhwh’s glory. Baal was also a storm deity, and while deities performing the same function within the pantheon could be tolerated across national borders (see chapter 1 here), in the same region, there would be room enough only for one. Baal and Yhwh were thus in constant competition for devotees of the local storm deity. Yhwh did not bring imagery associated with the patriarchal deity to Canaan, but rather he appropriated that imagery, along with the station, from the local Canaanite patriarchal deity. There was no need to combat his influence.

Thus, an Edomite deity from around the Arabah was brought north to the central highlands around the end of the thirteenth century. At some point a federation or coalition of tribes dedicated to this deity coalesced, perhaps as described in the Song of Deborah in Judges 5, and developed into a state.

Yhwh, God of Edom | Daniel O. McClellan

This is quite interesting. Go and see the evidence Daniel marshals in support of this point.

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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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Isaiah 40:7-8 in the Ancient Versions

I’m trying to work out the/an original text for Isaiah 40:7-8, which is proving to be quite a puzzle. Here are the ancient versions in roughly chronological order (in English, for those who can’t read the various languages).

The Versions

1QIsa [The Great Isaiah Scroll]
ca. 150-100 BCE

Grass withers, a flower fades,
(Because the breath of YHWH blows on it.
Truly the people are grass.
Grass withers, a flower fades,)
But the word of our God stands forever.

Notes: The text in parentheses is written in a second hand in the margins of the scroll. It was either a haplography that was corrected by a second scribe, or the second scribe added it to make 1QIsa match the text of a different exemplar. At any rate, the uncorrected text matches LXX, while the corrected text matches MT, Vulgate, Peshitta, and Targ. Isa.

Septuagint (LXX)
ca. 140 BCE

The grass dries up and the flower falls,
But the word of our God remains forever.

Notes: The text of the LXX matches that of the uncorrected 1QIsa, except for “the flower falls” versus 1QIsa’s “a flower fades.” It is worth noting that LXX and 1QIsa are more or less contemporaneous, though they come from quite different places.

Targum Isaiah (Targ. Isa.)
2nd cent. BCE-1st cent. CE

The grass withers, its flower fades, because the wind from before YHWH has blown upon it. Therefore, the wicked among the people are counted as grass. The wicked dies, his thoughts perish, but the word of our God abides forever.

Notes: Targ. Isa., being an Aramaic explanation of a Hebrew poem, is necessarily in prose, and I have reflected that here. (Translation is modernized from Stenning’s.) And, though the translator has taken some liberties, it’s clear enough that the Hebrew text behind Targ. Isa. corresponds with MT, Vulgate, Peshitta, and corrected 1QIsa.

Peshitta
1st-2nd cent. CE

The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely this people is like the grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

Notes: Translation is Lamsa’s. The text matches that of the corrected 1QIsa, Targ. Isa., Vulgate, and MT.

Vulgate
390-405 CE

Hay dries up and a flower falls,
Because the breath of God blows on it.
Truly the people are hay.
Hay dries up and a flower falls,
But the word of our God stands forever.

Notes: Hay, of course, is dried-up grass, so the variant reading isn’t all that important. Vulgate has “flower falls,” like the LXX, over against 1QIsa, Peshitta, and MT.

Masoretic Text (MT)
Fixed 10th cent. CE

Grass withers, a flower fades,
Because the breath of YHWH blows on it.
Truly the people are grass.
Grass withers, a flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.

Notes: The text of MT matches that of the corrected 1QIsa, Targ. Isa., Peshitta, and Vulgate.

Analysis

I find it interesting that the two oldest texts in the tradition — LXX and uncorrected 1QIsa — both contain the short reading. Moreover, the two are from different provenances: 1QIsa from Palestine and LXX from Alexandria. In my opinion, the age and geographic separation of the two texts argues against simple haplography, instead presenting evidence of a consistent textual tradition. I’ll call this tradition the “shorter tradition”

However, the tradition in corrected 1QIsa, Targ. Isa, Peshitta, Vulgate, and MT dates to roughly the same time as LXX and uncorrected 1QIsa. I’ll call this tradition the “longer tradition.”

Dating of manuscripts will not help us decide which of the traditions is original, since they are both reflected on the same manuscript (1QIsa). The style of the two traditions argues in favor of the longer, as it is the more difficult reading (a brief survey of the commentaries is more than enough to bear this notion out). However, the length of the two traditions argues in favor of the shorter, because shorter readings are to be preferred over longer ones.

In the end, I prefer the shorter tradition because of its geographical diversity. The longer tradition is confined to Palestine, while the shorter tradition was in both Palestine and Alexandria at the same time. In addition, though the phrase “Truly the people are grass” could be read as a refrain or as part of a call-and-response, its main purpose is to make explicit the metaphor of humans as grass; in other words, it looks very much like an explanatory gloss, which should therefore be rejected.

Thus, I find that the shorter tradition of Isaiah 40:7-8 is more original.

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Hebrew Poetry: Why No Standard Meter?

I’m reading an article by Frank Moore Cross about Hebrew prosody,* and he was talking about how, even after a couple centuries’ effort, no one has been able to find a consistent pattern of meter in classical Hebrew poetry — at least any meter like that of other classical poetry (namely, Greek and Latin), based on accent and stress. The main thing is that classical Hebrew poetry has lines of different length and irregular stress, while classical Greek and Latin poetry has strict rules for line length and stress. Cross proposes that the main feature of Hebrew meter is syllable count.

I think I might have a few ideas as to why classical Hebrew poetry doesn’t follow the strict metrical rules of classical Greek and Latin poetry. The first is the obvious: Hebrew poetry developed earlier than Greek poetry (and way, way before Latin poetry) and in a different cultural context, the poetry of which didn’t value strict adherence to set metrical patterns.

The second is the grammatical: the noun cases of Indo-European languages like Greek and Latin make it relatively easy to change the word order of the poetry to fit the rules of meter and still have an intelligible text. Hebrew doesn’t have a case system — at least nothing like the Indo-European languages — so it’s more difficult to shift word order and still have intelligible verse.

The third is the practical: the more you deviate from standard word order, the harder it is to understand you. It’s a fairly open question as to how easily Sophocles’ or Horace’s original audiences could have understood their works when listening to them. Hebrew poets, I think, kept more or less to standard word order, with the twin results that their poetry was easily understandable at first listen and also did not follow a rigid meter.

Thus, to sum up, Hebrew poetry did not follow classical rules of meter for three reasons: 1) It developed at an earlier time and in a different cultural context than Greek and Latin poetry; 2) Hebrew lacks the noun cases that allow Greek and Latin poetry to stray from standard word order to keep meter; 3) Hebrew poets kept mostly to standard word order in order to have verse that was easily understood by ear.

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*Frank Moore Cross, “The Prosody of Lamentations 1 and the Psalm of Jonah.” Pages 99-134 in From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1998.

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Morton Smith, “II Isaiah and the Persians”

I recently read Morton Smith’s article “II Isaiah and the Persians,” which is quite enlightening for the study of Deutero-Isaiah. Smith argues that Deutero-Isaiah (specifically, Isaiah 40-48) is strongly influenced by Persian thought and, especially, Cyrus’ propaganda against Babylon.

Go check it out. You can find it in Journal of the American Oriental Society 83 (1963), 415-421, and Shaye J. D. Cohen, ed., The Cult of Yahweh, vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 73-83.

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