Elisha Qimron

3 01 2007

I attended a small and informal lecture today, given by the notable Elisha Qimron. Recognised as one of the leading scholars in Dead Sea Scrolls-related research, Qimron spoke to approximately ten people from the University of Sydney (amongst whom were Dr Ian Young and Dr Shani Berrin) before flying back home to Ben-Gurion University. The title of his lecture was “The Form ואבנה in Early Hebrew”, although this was something of a misnomer. Rather than referring to the word as ואבנה, Qimron should have referred to it as ואקטלה/ונקטלה, for he was really concerned with non-apocopated 1st person forms of the wayyiqtol wci altogether. Not only that, but his overall drive was of more relevance to Qumranic Hebrew in particular than to Early Hebrew in general: especially as the latter term tends to be used these days to refer to the pre-Biblical variety.

Qimron’s point was basically to verify the theories of Bergsträsser and Rainey in relation to these forms. According to those scholars, 1st person forms (whether singular or plural) of the verbal stem in question were always apocopated in Early Hebrew – by which I do refer to the pre-Biblical variety. Later forms of Hebrew, such as feature throughout most of the Bible as well as throughout the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Dead Sea Scrolls (forgetting the Mishna), feature ever-increasing numbers of non-apocopated forms which were formed off the modal (ie: cohortative) system. 2nd and 3rd person forms were, apparantly, always non-apocopated and the 1st person was the curious exception to this particular grammatical “rule”.

To prove this, Qimron compiled a table of data. His methodology, so far as tabulation was concerned, was not too dissimilar from my own and so I couldn’t help suppressing a smile when he related the inclusion/omission of the final heh in III-yodh forms to the usage of the locative-heh with certain nouns. Nonetheless, I felt that his method of classification left a little to be desired, and seemed to be structured in order to specifically prove his point. Of the various III-yodh forms that appear throughout the entire Tanakh, Qimron separated them into four categories. The first was the Pentateuch, the second Former Prophets, the third LBH (by which Qimron referred to Megillot, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles) and the fourth was ‘Everything Else’. The most striking information was also that concerning which Qimron could not postulate an explanation: the difference between the Pentateuch and Former Prophets.

Of the twenty-one relevant forms in the Pentateuch, eighteen were apocopated and three were non-apocopated. Comparing these to LBH texts, where eighteen were non-apocopated and seven were apocopated, Qimron attempted to justify the assertion that the apocopated forms were of greater chronological primacy. Nonetheless, Former Prophets were odd: seventeen forms altogether, of which fourteen were non-apocopated! Still, Qimron’s overall focus was the Dead Sea Scrolls. Looking only at non-Biblical texts (although this included the infamous 4Q364, or ‘Rewritten Pentateuch’), twenty instances of non-apocopated forms appeared and absolutely no apocopated forms appeared at all. Apparantly (from the extent of Qimron’s research), there are also no apocopated forms within the Samaritan Pentateuch.

Qimron’s conclusion: Bergsträsser and Rainey are both correct in assuming the apocopated form of the 1st person wayyiqtol wci to be the original form and that the non-apocopated form was developed on analogy with the modal system. Personally, I do not see why one needs to postulate a modal development (despite the similarity of forms) when one only needs to explain the development as being cognate with both 2nd and 3rd person forms. I did not ask this question at the time, favouring instead to ask him about a particular issue that he referred to only very quickly at the end.

Remarking at the close of his lecture that this development indicates that the “converted forms” [sic] were in full use in the second-temple period, Qimron noted that this proves that the language was by no means artificial. Being endeared to the theory that Biblical Hebrew was a purely literary language, I naturally took this issue up during question time. My argument was that the very fact that Mishnaic Hebrew famously features none of these forms (and was thus excluded from his data) is evidence to the fact that it represented a different form of the language. The prevalence of dialectic elements within the same should indicate that it was the vernacular: could not the abundance of non-apocopated forms within the Dead Sea Scrolls indicate that this was an (exaggerated) approximation of a literary norm, ie: “Biblical” Hebrew? He answered by way of suggesting that Mishnaic Hebrew might have been geographically, rather than functionally, different – but I remain unconvinced. Especially because, when Ian Young questioned him regarding the same inner-Biblical possibilities (by means of explaining the differences between the Pentateuch, the Former Prophets and the “LBH” corpus), he dug in his heels and insisted on chronology.

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