Archive for the ‘Learning Hebrew’ Category

Late Biblical Hebrew (Job)

November 29, 2020

10 years ago I did a series of 5 posts in the severely-neglected Learner’s Guide aspect of the blog on the subject of Late Biblical Hebrew (the link will take you to the beginning of the series).  I promised a 6th post on Late Biblical Hebrew focusing on the book of Job, which somehow never got written.  But now — since I am reading the prose framework of the book of Job with students starting tomorrow — I’m finally writing that promised post.

Ezekiel 14 tells us that Job was well known as a righteous individual by the prophet’s time (ca. 600 bce).  Because he is mentioned in connection with Noah and Dan’el,* the assumption is that Job, like them, was (1) not an Israelite, and (2)by now a figure lost in the mists of time.  [*That spelling is not a mistake.  Ezekiel is not talking about Daniel, but about a character now known to us from Ugaritic poetry, which predates anything written in the Bible.  We’ll see shortly why this is significant.]

Because the language of the frame story of Job is relatively straightforward and easy to read — quite unlike the poetry — the question arises:  Was it written by the author of the poem, or did he simply take an old story and insert his poem into it?  We’ll look at that question here through the lenses of two different scholarly articles, one by Nahum Sarna (a teacher of my teachers) and one by Avi Hurvitz, from whom I myself was briefly privileged to learn.  Readers of the earlier posts in this LBH series will know that I highly value his careful linguistic analysis.

Nahum Sarna, in a well-known 1957 article called “Epic Substratum in the Prose of Job,” writes as follows:

Whether or not the prose and poetry of the book originally constituted a unity is outside the scope of this study. But it is certain that the prologue and epilogue belong to each other and are the work of a single author.…  If the narrative framework is the product of a single hand, is it late or early?

Without going into Sarna’s detailed analysis (those who are interested can find a copy of the article here), his comparison of the prologue and epilogue of Job to ancient Semitic epic poetry — including the story of Dan’el — led him to conclude:

The Hebrew prose, in vocabulary and style, is saturated with poeticisms and employs some unique forms explicable by reference to Ugaritic. The literary structure contains all the classic elements of repetition and schematization associated with that of the epic. The exploitation of numerals with special status conforms exactly to the epic pattern. The mythological motif and the sociological themes find close parallels in the Ugaritic literature. In the light of all this the detailed and consistent patriarchal setting must be regarded as genuine and as belonging to the original saga. In brief, the considerable amount of epic substratum indicates that our present narrative framework is directly derived from an ancient Epic of Job.

And now for a responsible opposing viewpoint.  In Part 4 of the LBH series, I describe the careful methodology used by Avi Hurvitz of the Hebrew University to identify a word or feature as late, based on three factors: (1) its distribution entirely or primarily in texts that must be from the Persian period or later; (2) its attestation outside Biblical Hebrew, which should let us trace how the word entered Biblical Hebrew and remained in later Hebrew usage; and (3) the standard equivalents that were used before the late feature entered the language.  An accumulation of late features would give us confidence in identifying that biblical text as late.  The 5th entry in the LBH series showed how this works with an example, the word מלכות in Psalm 145.

Hurvitz turned his attention to Job in a 1974 Harvard Theological Review article called “The Date of the Prose-Tale of Job Linguistically Reconsidered.”  He writes:

Sarna’s conclusion, that an “epic substratum” is pre-served in the Prose Tale of Job, relies on the occurrence of idioms which are ascribed to a language of remote antiquity.  However, all this does not imply that the prose narrative, in its extant version, is necessarily old. As was emphasized long ago, “it is a mistake to infer the age of the writer from the circumstances of the hero of the book.”

And here is his conclusion:

We believe that there is some exaggeration in the statement saying that “the prose tale in the prologue and epilogue is written in exquisite biblical Hebrew, on a par with the classic narratives in Genesis and Samuel”; or that “the author [of the Prose Tale – A.H.] uses perfect classical Hebrew with practically no trace of a later style.” It would appear that in spite of his efforts to write pure classical Hebrew and to mark his story with “Patriarchal coloring,” the author of the Prose Tale could not avoid certain phrases which are unmistakably characteristic of post-exilic Hebrew, thus betraying his actual late date.

Hurvitz lists seven different examples (some of them occurring multiple times) of Late Biblical Hebrew in the prose sections of Job. Here—briefly—are three:

• Thematic: השטן ha-satan, “the Adversary” (passim in chs. 1-2)
• Morphological: עד ad + the participle (1:18)
• Vocabulary: לקבל leqabbel (2:10)

Here I’ll discuss just the last of Hurvitz’s examples: the Piel verb לקבל from Job 2:10 (where it’s used twice).  Job asks his wife, “Should we accept [נְקַבֵּל] only good from God and not accept [נְקַבֵּל] evil?”

Distribution.  There are 9 occurrences of this root in Piel outside of Job: one in Prov 19:20 and all the rest in Esther, Ezra, and Chronicles, all of them from the Persian period.

Attestation outside Biblical Hebrew. This verb is “widely used in post-exilic Hebrew, in Tannaitic and Talmudic literature alike” (and of course in Modern Hebrew as well).  It’s also found 3 times in the Aramaic portions of the book of Daniel.

Standard Equivalents.  What verb was used in Standard Biblical Hebrew where LBH uses קבל?  The answer is לקח.  This verb is usually translated nowadays as “take,” but in SBH it can also mean “get.”  “Taking” a bribe is לקח in Deut 16:19, but the Aramaic translation of the Torah uses קבל in that verse.  And compare Ezra 8:30 (LBH) with Num 31:54 (SBH) or 2 Chr 29:22 (LBH) with Exod 24:6 (SBH) to see how the later texts say something similar but with the “new” verb instead of the “old” one.

There’s much more to say about Late Biblical Hebrew, which I hope to return to in later posts.  In the meantime, those who are interested in Job can look at the marvelous translation of it by Ray Scheindlin that I recommended long ago; the marvelous new translation of it by Ed Greenstein, whom I’ve mentioned many times on the podcast; and my own discussion of it in The Bible’s Many Voices (261-272).

How to PRINT the Hebrew Alphabet

September 3, 2020

One thing that learners of Hebrew often have difficulty with is learning how to write the Hebrew alphabet.  (And you do need to learn how to write, for everything

– from making flashcards and vocabulary lists

– through writing down verb conjugations in order to learn them

– to translating into Biblical Hebrew as your study goes deeper.

But Biblical Hebrew is always printed in a font with serifs:

The same text in a sans-serif font would look like this:

בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃

But students see the letters as they’re presented in textbooks and in the Bible itself and try to copy the serifs.  It’s almost as tedious for me to read as it is for them to write.

So I’ve created a little Zoom lecture that shows you how to print the Hebrew letters in a quick and readable way.  I can’t post the video to WordPress, but if you email the Bible Guy (via the link in the right sidebar) I will send you a link to it.  (Click on the “Bible Guy” banner at the top of the page to see the sidebar.)

You will have to prove you’re not a robot to send me an email, so it may take a while before I see it; please be patient.  If you are a robot, just leave me a robocall. 🙂

Hebrew Letters Used as Numerals

July 9, 2020

If you want to navigate the Hebrew site of Israel’s 929 Project (as I recommended in my last post for those who want to listen to the Bible read in Hebrew) …

Or if you want to read a Bible printed in Eliahu Koren’s beautifully designed Bible font

One thing you’ll need to do is to learn how to count using Hebrew letters.  In Biblical times and for long after, the ten symbols from 0-9 that we use today had of course not yet been invented.  (We call them Arabic numerals, but I believe they were actually invented in India; Arabic today uses a slightly different set than the one we’re familiar with.)

So — not in the Bible, but toward the end of the 2nd c. BCE, shortly after the latest texts in the Hebrew Bible were written — Hebrew started using letters as numerals.  It’s an idea that they took over from the Greeks.  (See here.)

Here is a handy guide to the Hebrew letters used as numerals that are used to refer to chapters and verses in the Bible and to other traditional texts.  It’s p. 73 of the Guidebook to my Teaching Company course on Biblical Hebrew..

How to Navigate the 929 Website

July 9, 2020

The 929 project started as an all-Hebrew project to get Israelis reading a chapter of the Bible every day, on a schedule where everyone would read the same chapter every day.  There’s now an English companion site, which you’re invited to look at here.

The English site is easy enough to navigate.  If you don’t read Modern Hebrew there’s only one reason to visit the Hebrew site: to listen to Omer Frenkel read the text of the Bible to you in his newscaster accent.

Unfortunately, as of this writing, when you click HE in the upper right corner of the screen to switch to the Hebrew site, it automatically opens the current day’s chapter.  So navigating on the English site to the chapter you want to listen to is not an option.

Bible Guy to the rescue!  Click here for a visual guide [not as elegant as it might be, but efficient] explaining how to navigate to the chapter you want on the Hebrew site or on the 929 app.  Happy listening!