Late Biblical Hebrew — מלכות (malchut)

As I said in my last post, Avi Hurvitz’s method of identifying a feature of Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH) combines three elements:

(1) distribution
(2) attestation outside Biblical Hebrew
(3) standard equivalents

This time, we’ll look at just one example from Hurvitz’s demonstration that Psalm 145 (which makes up most of the “Ashrei” prayer that is such an integral part of Jewish worship) is a late text: the word malchut, “kingdom.”


Outside of Psalms (where there’s no historical context, which is why we need linguistic tools to date these texts) malchut occurs 80 times in Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Esther, and Ecclesiastes (all late); 3 times in Jeremiah (written immediately before and during the exilic period); and just 3 times in texts that are considered early: Num 24:7, 1 Sam 20:31, and 1 Kgs 2:12.

Attestation outside Biblical Hebrew:

Malchut appears some 50 times in Biblical Aramaic. The two other Biblical Hebrew words used for “kingdom” or “kingship,” melucha and mamlacha, never appear in Aramaic. With one possible exception from Elephantine (which may be a scribal error), neither is found in Aramaic at all, and the same is true for Mishnaic Hebrew and rabbinic literature in general. It’s worth noting that the ending -ut, which generally (not always) indicates an abstract noun, is found even in the earliest biblical texts (see Exod 14:25 for an example); but its real growth occurs only in LBH. So the history of malchut matches the history of the -ut ending that it features.

Standard Equivalents:

As noted in the last section, the Standard Biblical Hebrew (SBH) equivalents of malchut (מלכות) are melucha (מלוכה) and mamlacha (ממלכה). Here are just a couple of the numerous comparisons Hurvitz provides between SBH texts with one of those words and an otherwise matching later text that uses malchut. These are in Hebrew, of course, because the English translations would be essentially the same:

1 Chr 17:11
והקימותי את-זרעך אחריך אשר יהיה מבניך והכינותי את-מלכותו
והקימתי את-זרעך אחריך אשר יצא ממעיך והכימתי את-ממלכתו
2 Sam 7:12

2 Chr 7:18
והקימותי את כסא מלכותך
והקמתי את-כסא ממלכתך
1 Kgs 9:5

You’ll notice that the later Chronicles texts are also likely to have extra vavs and yuds, serving as vowel markers, than the earlier texts from Samuel and Kings.

Hurvitz’s full discussion demonstrates conclusively that the word malchut for “kingdom” or “kingship” is a feature of LBH. Since, like many features characteristic of LBH, it does occur sporadically in earlier texts, it’s important to remember that a single LBH feature is not enough to demonstrate that an entire text is late. For the rest of Hurvitz’s discussion about Psalm 145, you’ll have to turn to his Hebrew book, בין לשון ללשון. But he has published a number of scholarly articles in English.

Another example, also based on Hurvitz’s work, will be along shortly.


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