Back in April, Douglas Mangum at Biblia Hebraica et Graeca had a tantalizing post briefly discussing The Invention of Hebrew, by Seth L. Sanders (2009), which Mangum calls the book that “best deals with the question of how, why, and when the Israelites started writing Hebrew and how that impacts our theories of biblical composition.” Now he’s posting a Q&A with Seth Sanders (Part 1, Part 2). It’s full of interesting stuff; among other things, he talks about an article by Sheldon Pollock, “Cosmopolitan and Vernacular in History”:
Pollock makes a very basic point: in most times and places people didn’t read or write the language they spoke. The norm is for there to be a universal, supposedly timeless, written language, what he calls a cosmopolitan language, one implicitly intended for everyone no matter who or where they were. Latin is an example.
So why does Israel’s language and literature outlast its polity? What Pollock points out is that local literatures are actually invented, usually in reaction to these cosmopolitan literatures. A light bulb goes on and people say, “Hey, why don’t we write about our place, our culture?” And what’s so remarkable is it seems to have happened in Western Europe around the 10th century CE when people moved from Latin and invented written German, French, and Spanish and in South Asia, when people moved from Sanskrit to Tamil and Javanese. I realized that maybe Hebrew was part of a similar movement but almost 2,000 years earlier. It means that the Bible may have a different historical significance than we’ve assumed.
I love this kind of thing. Thanks for the link, Paul!