NAPH: A Sneak Preview

1 07 2007

The National Association of Professors of Hebrew is holding their 25th “International Conference on Hebrew Language, Literature and Culture” at the University of Sydney, from the 2nd to the 4th of July. I am to be helping out behind the registration desk for those three days but there are a few papers that I am interested in attending, and one that I am to be delivering myself. The two papers that are most crucial to me, vis-à-vis my current research proposal, are those that are to be delivered by my supervisor, Dr Ian Young (“Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew?”) and one of his PhD students, Ms Robyn Vern (“A Re-Evaluation of the Linguistic Evidence for the Antiquity of Moses’ “Song of the Sea” in Exodus 15″). Others that I would like to attend, if I am able to get away from the registration desk, are those given by Dr Shani Berrin (“A Literary Fugue in Leviticus 25-27: Divine Sovereignty, Sabbath Observance, and Reverence for the Sanctuary”), Mr Luis Siddall (“A Geographic Analysis of the Injunctive in the Amarna Letters from Syria-Palestine”) and Assoc. Prof. Ghil’ad Zuckermann (“Hakhanút ptukhá veikár shkiná batakhtoním: Ideologically Manipulative Secularization of Hebrew Terms in Socialist Zionist Israeli”).

I have been rather consumed of late with preparations for the paper that I am to be delivering on the afternoon of the first day. Entitled, “The Biblical Hebrew Locative-Heh: A Fresh Look at the Evidence”, this is effectively a restatement of the research that I conducted for my Honours thesis last year, coupled with some more recent research that I have conducted on the same topic. The abstract for my talk reads as follows

A common belief in regards to Biblical Hebrew is that the language altered over time in such a fashion that books of the Bible, if approached properly and with an eye to syntactic detail, may be dated on the basis of their linguistic features. By analysing the forms within Chronicles, and comparing them to the forms within core-EBH texts like Samuel and Kings (not to mention pre-/extra-Biblical inscriptions) one can generate a yardstick of sorts to categorise these features diachronically. That same yardstick can then be utilised to determine the possible relative dates of other texts within the Biblical corpus.

Formed by the addition of a long /a/ vowel and a heh to the ends of certain nouns and adverbs, the Biblical Hebrew locative-heh is one of the many features assumed to have changed in its function over time. Scholars have traditionally argued that this feature enjoys greater popularity in the EBH literature and that its increasing redundancy and ultimate disappearance altogether is a feature of the LBH texts. This belief, as part of the mainstream conception that books of the Bible can be linguistically dated, has been seriously questioned in recent years.

I am analysing various case-studies that feature the locative-heh with a noun in Chronicles, the LBH text par excellence. The results of my analysis demonstrate that this feature is not reduced within Chronicles in any respect. Previous studies that have attempted to conclude that the feature is reduced within Chronicles (such as those made by Joosten and Austen, amongst others) have failed to take into account the individual lexical items with which the suffix is ‘failing’ to occur. Those items, time and again, are nouns that either never take the suffix at all within the Hebrew Bible, or only ever take it very rarely. They can thus not be deemed true zero-instances.

While only dealing with a broad sample, I intend to argue that the locative-heh has neither lost its semantic value over time nor been replaced by the preposition. This analysis is thus part of a broader collection of analyses, all of which constitute a movement in scholarly circles away from the widely-entrenched misconception that linguistic features can be utilised to date texts of the Bible.

The concluding sentence highlights a certain ambitiousness to which I once succumbed but of which I am no longer so certain. I do not expect that I shall ever entirely disprove anything to myself, let alone to others, and the hegemonic principles of linguistic dating have much to be said for them. I do believe that those same principles are in thorough need of revising and it is in the context of such revision that I hope my future research takes its stand.

A more comprehensive preview than this of the upcoming conference is not currently possible, although I shall write in greater detail afterwards of any sessions that I am able to attend.

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One response

10 07 2007
John Hobbins

When the call for papers for the conference came out, I thought, how nice it would be to go. Family and work commitments, however, made that impossible.

Keep us posted about Young and Vern’s papers especially. They sound very interesting.

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