Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Documentary Hypothesis and Linguistic Dating of Biblical Hebrew: Circular Reasoning

In the Introduction to The Bible with Sources Revealed,  Richard Elliott Friedman argues that linguistic dating of Biblical Hebrew supports the Documentary Hypothesis:

When we separate the texts that have been identified with the various sources, we find that they reflect the Hebrew language of several distinct periods.
The development of Hebrew that we observe through these successive periods indicates that:
  • The Hebrew of J and E comes from the earliest stage of biblical Hebrew.
  • The Hebrew of P comes from a later stage of the language.
  • The Hebrew of the Deuteronomistic texts comes from a still later stage of the language.
  • P comes from an earlier stage of Hebrew than the Hebrew of the book of Ezekiel (which comes from the time of the Babylonian exile).
  • All of these main sources come from a stage of Hebrew known as Classical Biblical Hebrew, which is earlier than the Hebrew of the postexilic, Persian period (known as Late Biblical Hebrew).
This chronology of the language of the sources is confirmed by Hebrew texts outside the Bible. The characteristics of Classical Biblical Hebrew are confirmed through comparison with inscriptions that have been discovered through archaeology, which come from the period before the Babylonian exile (587 BCE). The characteristics of Late Biblical Hebrew are confirmed through comparison with the Hebrew of later sources such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.1
Despite the power of this evidence, it is practically never mentioned by those who oppose the hypothesis.
A major problem with Friedman's assertion is that linguistic dating of Biblical Hebrew relies in large part on the Documentary Hypothesis being true.  Further, linguistic dating of Biblical Hebrew also relies on the Primary History being history.  That is, perceived differences in Biblical Hebrew are first used to identify different Biblical sources (e.g., J, E, P and D), and then the chronology of events depicted in the Primary History is used to date those sources relative to one another.

Ian Young and Robert Rezetko argue that Biblical Hebrew cannot be linguistically dated and that the what many Biblical scholars refer to as Early Biblical Hebrew and Late Biblical Hebrew actually coexisted and were the result of distinctive styles of literary Hebrew through the biblical period.

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