An Archaic Form in Deuteronomy.

Via Alex Foreman’s Facebook post, I discovered Tania Notarius (who studies ancient Northwest Semitic verbal syntax) and her paper “Lexical Isoglosses of Archaic Hebrew” (Hebrew Studies 58 [2017]: 81-98), which represents the kind of philological study (based on historical linguistics) I love. It focuses on Archaic Biblical Hebrew, which she describes as “a stage of the linguistic development that chronologically precedes the Biblical Hebrew of the formative period (Classical / Standard or Early Biblical Hebrew); in this sense it can be called proto-Hebrew.” After a couple of introductory sections, she says “In what follows, I will deal with words that belonged to Classical Biblical Hebrew vocabulary, but in a meaning different from their archaic usage,” and turns to פְּלִילִים in Deut 32:31:

The verse has a long history of interpretation. The LXX translates it as “lacking in understanding” (ανόητοι). Targum Onkelos translates “judges, arbiters” […] However, the interpretation of פְּלִילִים as “judges” is doubtful even for Exod 21:22. Speiser made a strong case for the meaning “estimate, considerations” in both cases: Exod 21:22—“according to estimate (of the miscarriage harm)”; Deut 32:31—“even in our enemies’ estimation.” His interpretation of the latter case, however, looks forced (why should the speaker care about the enemies’ estimation?), as was noticed by Tigay.

The etymology of the root pll, however, has not been systematically considered in this respect. The root pll belongs to the oldest layer of the Semitic lexicon and is attested in all the branches of Semitic, but with broad semantic scope, disclosing the depth of semantic splits.

Primarily, the root pll denotes a physical condition and change of state (“be scorched, parched”; “break,” “defeat”). The Ugaritic root pll ‘be cracked, parched’ is evidence for this meaning. […]

On the other hand, the basic meaning of the physical condition (“be scorched, parched”) prompted the meaning of emotional and cognitive condition and activity (“estimate,” “intercede,” “supplicate”; “control”); such a semantic shift is typologically substantiated and is very typical for Semitic languages. […]

Additionally, the root develops the semantics of motion (“go in front,” “get away,” “descend,” “flee”), particularly in South Semitic: compare Geez fll, falla, falala ‘descend, prolapse’; Jibbali fll ‘to make off, get away, run away’; Mahri fll ‘make off, get away, flee’; this usage is once attested also in Sabaic.

Out of this semantic spectrum פְּלִילִים in Deut 32:31 is best explained according to the meaning of physical condition and change of state; the form can be interpreted as either a stative verbal adjective or passive participle—“scorched, parched; broken, defeated.” The following verses 32–33 confirm the imagery of dryness, parching, and destruction […]

The proper interpretation of פְּלִילִים (Deut 32:31) points to a usage non-typical for Classical Biblical Hebrew, but rooted in the oldest layer of the Central Semitic lexicon (shared with Ugaritic and Arabic). This usage is a lexical isogloss of Archaic Biblical Hebrew and goes back to the stage of the early literarization of the song; strikingly it was preserved at the stage of early perception.

I’ve just provided the bare bones of the argument (though I couldn’t resist including the South Semitic forms); if you have JSTOR access, by all means read the whole thing — there’s another section on כֵּן ‘was’ (Judges 5:15). I am completely incompetent to judge how plausible it is, but Foreman accepts it, and that’s good enough for me.


  1. What does Foreman say? I don’t have FB and can’t read hid post.

  2. J.W. Brewer says

    Three different approaches to Englishing the second half of the verse (all from translations done in the last half-century):

    1. Even our enemies themselves being judges.
    2. even our enemies concede.
    3. our enemies are fools.

    I don’t know if the “fools” one is based on a different theory on what Hebrew lexeme is actually in the Hebrew text or is simply a divergent translation-in-context of the same lexeme.

  3. J.W. Brewer says

    I am separately struck by the phrasing “a usage non-typical for Classical Biblical Hebrew.” Is this supposed to mean something subtly different than “a usage atypical for Classical Biblical Hebrew” would? It looks like Prof. Notarius is not an L1 Anglophone, so it may just be an ESLism, but I don’t want to just presume that.

  4. Notarius blogs in Russian on biblical topics, here.

  5. What does Foreman say?

    Foreman sez:

    Hell yes. Notarius using good old comparative Semitic philology provides a very convincing solution to the problem of what the hell that word in Deuteronomy 32:31 means. The entire verse then belongs in the mo[u]ths of the Israelites’ enemies in context, and the problem of who the hell is saying this goes away. That’s whassup.

  6. Foreman on Twitter:

    So verses 29-31 can be translated as

    Were they wise, they’d dwell on this
         with sense of their latter days:
    “How could one run a thousand down
         or two drive a million out,
    Had their Rock not sold them out,
         their Yahweh given them up?
    No their Rock is not like our Rock,
         but our enemies are broken.

    Me, I looked at the paper and am not convinced at all. More later.

  7. > On the other hand, the basic meaning of the physical condition (“be scorched, parched”) prompted the meaning of emotional and cognitive condition and activity (“estimate,” “intercede,” “supplicate”; “control”); such a semantic shift is typologically substantiated and is very typical for Semitic languages. […]

    I would need more elaboration of this development. It feels like the part of the map where the cartographer didn’t have a lot of details, so he drew in some outlandish mythological beast.

  8. Yes, that bothered me as well.

  9. >This usage is a lexical isogloss of Archaic Biblical Hebrew and goes back to the stage of the early literalization of the song; strikingly it was preserved at the stage of early perception.

    By literalization I assume she means putting an ancient tradition into letters/writing, though I think of the word as being more about interpreting something literally, which could somehow relate to what she’s doing with pll. What makes this “song of Moses” a song? I hear a storefront Baptist preacher lifting a short line of prose into tune. But presumably there are features in Hebrew that make it poetic or otherwise songlike?

    Along the line of ‘going back to an early stage’, another section I found interesting is this one:

    >When Elyon divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the boundaries of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For Yahweh’s portion is his people.

    Though the classical and modern Hebrew interpretation seems to be that Elyon is another epithet of Yahweh, it sounds more explicitly polytheistic, with Elyon, a powerful real god and the highest one rather than the mere idol of foreigners, allocating a portion of land to Yahweh and his people.

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    But presumably there are features in Hebrew that make it poetic or otherwise songlike?

    Yes, very much so, as with Biblical Hebrew poetry in general.
    One that survives translation is the organisation into couplets that “rhyme” by meaning rather than sound, e.g.

    A wise son maketh a glad father:
    but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.

    (You get this even in Akkadian. It must be a very old thing.)
    There are also characteristic differences of syntax, like omission of the article, unusual word order, and poetic tense usages. Above all, there is a good bit of distinctive poetic vocabulary (e.g. enosh for ish “man.” I can always tell when I get to a passage of poetry in the Tanach because I suddenly can’t understand the Hebrew any more.

    One of the fascinating things about the discovery of Ugaritic is that it has revealed that much of the poetic diction of Biblical Hebrew goes back to a pan-Canaanite poetic register (and beyond, if you don’t count the speakers of Ugaritic as Canaanites – they didn’t, themselves.)

  11. I can always tell when I get to a passage of poetry in the Tanach because I suddenly can’t understand the Hebrew any more.

    If you stare at it long enough, it “pops out” eventually. It’s like getting used to hearing a language spoken in a very divergent accent, only here you need to assimilate the odd syntax and usage of morphology, as opposed to phonology.

    I find the poetry of Elazar Hakalir infuriatingly incomprehensible, and it only goes back to the 7th century CE.

  12. Notarius does not try to match the usage of pll here to any other of its occurrences in the OT. She right away tries to fit this one occurrence to her divergent interpretation, and not successfully, in my opinion.

    pll has several meanings, not necessarily connected: “to judge”, “to foresee” (in piʽel), and “to pray” (in hitpaʽel). The other usages of plîlî / plîlîm (Ex. 21:22, Job 31:28) and other forms (Sam. I 2:25, Ezekiel 16:52) imply not simply considering and judging, but condemning. That fits straightforwardly in this verse. The context is, God considers how it would reflect on Him if He let the sinning Israelites get what was coming to them, and what the bad guys would say about His prowess and loyalty to His wards. “Our enemies were condemned” fits very naturally here, without the need to set up an exotic hapax.

    Notarius comes up with a wide range of semantic possibilities, and then fashions a meaning that might fit here, without any external support. Again, I find her explanation unconvincing.

    (On the other hand, her interpretation of כֵּן kēn in the Song of Deborah seems quite plausibe.)

  13. ktschwarz says

    Ryan (at 11:28 am), you quoted Notarius on “the early literalization of the song”, and questioned “literalization”. But you must have been retyping rather than copy-pasting, and misread the word; what she wrote (quoted in the OP) is “literarization”, with an r. This is a scholarly term which Notarius doesn’t seem to expect the reader to recognize, since she defines it, a bit earlier in the linked paper, and distinguishes it from putting into writing:

    These debates turn the scholarly focus from the moment of writing to the moment of literarization—a moment when a poem is shaped as a literary piece, either in its oral or written form. Definitely, the literarization of a text does not mean that further transmission, whether oral or written, precludes textual flexibility; however, professional poets, reciters, and scribes would always have access to the authentic literary piece.

    … The stage of early literarization, dating approximately to the beginning of the monarchic period or a bit earlier, presupposes poetic composition by professional poets followed by their oral, sporadically written, transmission. The decisive point at which the poems were committed to writing must have occurred several centuries later, around the end of the monarchic period, as part of the general First Temple period literary process.

    (Italics in original.) Not in any general dictionary.

  14. I should add: my using plîlîm as a passive, ‘judged, condemned’, rather than the usual active interpretation does need some justification, but I do think I’m going in the right direction.

  15. >literarization

    Thanks. I did type, correctly. Then saw it and changed it because I thought I’d typed wrong. 🙂

  16. The concern that this brings to mind is that some propose that there were no versions of Torah, nor any TaNaK books, before Alexander the Great.

  17. David Eddyshaw says

    Even that view is surely compatible with the idea that the Tanach as we have it incorporates some much older materials.

    (The Song of Deborah is another bit that is generally thought to be pretty old.)

    Even pretty hardcore Biblical literalists often accept that the books as we have them are at least in some cases later compilations from earlier materials. You wouldn’t get drummed out of the Brownies for saying “Deutero-Isaiah.”*

    And on the other hand, are there any people out there who really think the entire Tanach was created de novo after Alexander? If so, I have a bridge they may be interested in buying …

    * I’m told that there are people who hold that Moses wrote the (past tense) account of his own death at the end of Deuteronomy. As the source critics say (in German) “there’s nowt so queer as folk.”

  18. What if Alexander wrote the Tanakh? Eh? What then? (And behold, a new heresy was created…)

  19. David Eddyshaw says

    It explains everything

    [The Merge of Higher Criticism]

  20. Huh, I didn’t realize there was an online bilingual text of the Alexander Romance.

  21. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s a wonder Alexander found the time for all this Hebrew composition, what with destroying Thebes, defeating Darius and what have you.

    I suppose excellent time management is really the key to world conquest, There are important life lessons for us all here.

  22. David Marjanović says

    it sounds more explicitly polytheistic, with Elyon, a powerful real god and the highest one rather than the mere idol of foreigners, allocating a portion of land to Yahweh and his people.

    Here’s the hypothesis. The details are again from Ugarit (i.e. El having 70 sons, each of whom is responsible for one people).

    Note that land is nowhere mentioned; it’s all about people directly.

  23. The five books of Torah, according to Russell Gmirkin, were “composed in their entirely about 273-272 BCE” in Alexandria.
    Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic Histories and the Date of the Pentateuch (2006) page 1.

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    Would Gmirkin be interested in a bridge? How can I contact him?

    (I presume that the Septuagint was the original version, and the Hebrew was translated from the Greek.)

  25. David Marjanović says

    “composed in their entirely about 273-272 BCE”

    Awfully precise. Boldness points for that alone.

    Would Gmirkin be interested in a bridge?

    Very long, across important straits, rail and road, mafia-quality concrete… picturesque mud volcanoes all around…

  26. >Note that land is nowhere mentioned; it’s all about people directly.

    In the Ugarit version? The biblical passage doesn’t explicitly mention land, but גְּבֻלֹת (boundary, area) and חֶבֶל (rope, measuring line, a district so measured) both seem to imply land.

  27. If I remember my Biblical Hebrew lessons correctly (a very big if) the roots with the same 2nd and 3rd letters come from biliteral roots and it makes sense to look at other roots starting with the same letters, especially the one ending in hey. פלה is not a very common root. Strong says “a primitive root; to distinguish (literally or figuratively):—put a difference, show marvellous, separate, set apart, sever, make wonderfully”. Maybe “our enemies” are divided (I doubt that they are marvelous). The rest of the *פל family also tends toward division meaning (from Strong). פלג divide; פלח slice, break open, pierce, etc., פלט slip out, escape. There are of course *פל roots that go in different directions.

  28. The ever-ingenious Naftali Torczyner (later Tur-Sinai), commenting on פְּלִילָה plîlâ in the Ben Yehuda Dictionary, which he edited, suggested a connection between pll in the sense ‘foresee’ and the Arabic فأّل faʔl ‘omen’ (see Lane’s dictionary, here.) The formal route would be something like *pʔl > *pʔll > pll. One can speculate about a semantic connection like divination — judging — condemning.

  29. The Song of Deborah is another bit that is generally thought to be pretty old.

    Frolov (here, paywalled) argues against every linguistic point used to claim a special antiquity of the SoD. Overall, there’s been a hard debate as to whether linguistic features can distinguish older strata of Hebrew within the OT. Notarius is among the proponents of the method. The debate is surveyed by e.g. Pat-El and Wilson-Wright and by Felushko.

  30. From the latter:

    In contrast, especially since the early 1990s, numerous linguists, Hebraists, and Hebrew Bible scholars have challenged that thesis. In large part, they reject the idea that typology indicates chronology and argue rather that it is indicative of authorial/editorial style and of genre.

    I’m too lazy to read, or even skim, the entire dissertation to get the details, but my guess would be that such arguments are made by people who for other (religious/cultural) reasons don’t like the whole idea of Biblical chronology. I mean, it seems to me that linguistic features should be a pretty good way to distinguish older strata. But again, I know nothing.

  31. David Eddyshaw says

    Interesting articles: thanks, Y.
    Felushko’s eirenic conclusion seems sensible.

    it seems to me that linguistic features should be a pretty good way to distinguish older strata.

    The difficulty is that the Biblical Hebrew poetic register of itself has archaic elements (something which immediately strikes anyone who tries to read BH poetry), so it is difficult to disentangle stylistic features from actual retained older features. One side of this debate essentially maintains that it is not so much difficult as impossible.

    It’s rather as if all those Victorian poems with their “thees” and “thous” were assigned to the seventeenth century on that basis.

    “Impossible” seems to be overstating the case though. “More difficult than you might naively think, and in many specific cases not admitting a definite conclusion” is more like it.

  32. Giving estimated dates in the diachronic history of Hebrew is often countered by claims of possible archaizing. OK, but there had to be something to archaize to. Such as the Ketef Hinnon silver scrolls. Such as the Deir ‘Alla inscription. Some materials tend to last longer than skin or papyrus. If one went primarily by what material is extant, it would look as if an ancient household contained not much food, clothing, or furniture, but lots of pottery!

    Relatively few Qumran mss have yet been dated by C14, and some already done are not yet published. Statistically, the oldest one likely hasn’t yet been tested. Yet Gmirkin proposes they traveled from the Library of Alexandria–needing a Greek prompt to have written tradition–to Qumran in few years.

    And this article proposes that paleo-Hebrew Qumran TaNaK mss have been dated far too late:

    Langlois, Michael. “Dead Sea Scrolls Palaeography and the Samaritan Pentateuch.” In The Samaritan Pentateuch and the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by Michaël Langlois, 255–85. Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology 94. Leuven ; Bristol, CT: Peeters, 2019.

  33. J.W. Brewer says

    The other factor to consider was mentioned recently by David E. in the context of I think medieval Welsh legal manuscripts, viz. the possibility that the process of manuscript copying may lead to the silent reduction of archaisms as the copyist silently “updates” the text, possibly not thinking of the changes as an “alteration.” In religious texts there may be a taboo against this, but it may be difficult to know when that taboo arose and hazardous to retroject it back into earlier periods where we have little or no evidence. In a tradition much more recent than that of the Masoretes (who were not yet on the scene even in the days of Alex. the Great, I believe), I am often struck by the fact that the spelling (and punctuation etc.) in printed editions of the King James Version slowly and silently evolved for the first century and a half after the original 1611 printing, with typesetters for each new printing generally feeling competent to adjust and modernize without bothering to get a synod of bishops to bless what they were doing. Then taboos arose, or something, and the spelling froze with that used in a 1769 printing.

    In any event, failure to allow for this phenomenon might lead texts as we have received them to be dated as later than their original form was.

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    Felushko discusses this very point (among many others,)

    It is indeed an aspect that I (at least) hadn’t really thought about in this context.

    Of course, as you point out, the effect of this would be to give a spurious appearance of lateness to a text which in reality dated from a period prior to what the language might suggest (the opposite of what Gmirkin wants us to swallow,)

    Personally, I’m delighted to discover that the issues are significantly more complicated than I had thought; though the total corpus of BH is so limited that makes you wonder if there is actually enough material for research to lead to answers secure enough ever to command a consensus.

  35. I mean, I don’t know how it works in Hebrew, but it’s not that hard to tell fake “working in an archaic register” from the real thing in English or Russian.

  36. David Eddyshaw says

    Part of the evidence that a Middle Welsh text derives from an Old Welsh original can be when a scribe can plausibly be shown to have misunderstood the original. Ifor Williams ingeniously exploited this in trying to identify which poems in the Llyfr Taliesin may go back to the historical Taliesin, court poet of Urien.

    I know that there have been efforts along these lines in BH, for example with the enclitic particle -m(a) (attested in Ugaritic) having supposedly been mistaken for the masculine plural noun flexion.

    If valid, that’s the kind of thing that can’t be explained as deliberate archaising.

  37. J.W. Brewer says

    Is convincing “archaizing” easier in a learned language or a somewhat formalized-cliched register not used for everyday conversation? Obviously there are “tells” that distinguish (most/much?) medieval Latin from the Latin of earlier eras, but how easy is it to distinguish a 10th century Latin text from a 13th century Latin text on purely linguistic grounds, even through 3-4 centuries is usually enough in a vernacular language?

    Until let’s say the earlyish 20th century, it was reasonably common to translate suitably numinous texts from other languages into an archaized Elizabethan/Jacobean register of English intended to evoke the KJV and similar texts. It’s easy to find instances where it was done unconvincingly, but I daresay some were better at it than others and there must be examples where it is genuinely difficult to distinguish a late 19th-century translation of some classical text from an early 17th-century translation. And this is in a language with a lexicographic history sufficiently dense that you can not infrequently say “well X might have sounded like an old-fashioned lexeme to Victorian ears but in fact it’s documented that it never appeared in English before the 1730’s so this can’t be an actual Jacobean text but must be a later text in an archaizing style.”

    How confidently (absent external evidence) do scholars think they can date pre-modern texts in Classical/Literary Chinese, where an archaizing style was thought desirable from quite early?

  38. David Eddyshaw says

    And it’s a good bit easier to do this in your L1 (or in a language which you know very well indeed, as with Hat and Russian.) But BH has had no native speakers for a couple of millennia now.

    I doubt if I would be much good at recognising that someone was speaking French with a slight German accent that would be immediately obvious to an L1 French speaker. (Though I am good at picking up that someone is speaking French with an English accent.)

  39. the beginning of the monarchic period or a bit earlier… professional poets… sporadically written… several centuries later, around the end of the monarchic period… the general First Temple period literary process.

    looking at passages like this, basted together with “must have” and similar constructions that indicate disinterest in external evidence (and conscious hedging), i find myself wondering how much of what’s being presented as linguistic argument depends on recasting scriptural interpretation as historical evidence (or, often, historical axiom). there’s a kind of circularity (…scripture treated as history used as evidence for textual interpretation to establish the meaning of scripture to be treated as history…) that’s somehow regarded as permissible in dealing with the tanakh in ways that it wouldn’t be elsewhere.

    leaving aside the divine sashenka’s role in its composition (surely now provable through the judicious use of LLM software, to the delight of mendenhall the elder), that’s the part of a lot of purported textual analysis of the tanakh that makes me skeptical. but i’m inclined to take that text – because of its genre(s), its extended and layered evolution, and the array of manifestly contradictory and aggressively imposed agendas explicitly expressed in it – as requiring substantially more external evidence to be relied on as a witness to anything except itself (and that only as of the time of an extant document containing a given section) than other texts.

  40. A clear and interesting paper, Joosten’s Pseudo-classicisms in late biblical Hebrew, points out telling imperfect archaisms, some in Qumran, a few in Late Biblical Hebrew.

  41. The standard Jewish history (if understand it) claims that Hebrew was not a vernacular language since after the Babylonian captivity. In other words, all of Torah/Pentateuch in it’s received form is already composed in a literary/liturgical/sacred language (obviously with the reuse of materials written earlier).

  42. D.O.: Mishnaic/Tanaitic Hebrew was very clearly a vernacular language, and a clearly vernacular Hebrew was used in Bar Kokhba’s letters; that brings it up to maybe 200 CE. Beyond that, check out Benjamin Suchard’s post — today’s! — about the possibility of spoken Hebrew surviving several centuries past that.

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    A clear and interesting paper,

    Interesting and plausible. Thanks again, Y.

    I was interested by the “shadow of death” example particularly (where I did know the facts.)

    I was recently subjected to a startlingly ignorant sermon on Psalm 23, where the preacher (who seems unable to read the textual footnotes in a good English translation, let alone an actual commentary) based his whole sermon on the extraordinary idea that the “shadow” reading was a modern euphemism because Kids These Days don’t want to think about death.

    It does increase one’s respect for Gmirkin’s Alexandrian librarians to realise that they managed to forge the Pentateuch out of Greek materials in error-free long-obsolete Hebrew, had the ingenious idea of rendering it badly into Greek (a language they knew well) to increase verisimilitude, and then managed to impose the entire ritual framework on their fellow-Jews, to whom it was all new. Badass librarians if ever there were.

  44. rozele: …scripture treated as history used as evidence for textual interpretation to establish the meaning of scripture to be treated as history…

    In mathematics, it’s called fixed-point iteration. Works ok when it works.

    Y, spoken doesn’t necessarily mean vernacular (just like written is not always literary). As we know, science seminars are conducted in some countries in English even outside the Five Eyes countries (including Israel). I don’t pretend to know anything, but Jews having two vernaculars seems to be a bit strange, no?

  45. J.W. Brewer says

    Thus the notably prissy and euphemistic:

    Between the desire
    And the spasm
    Between the potency
    And the existence
    Between the essence
    And the descent
    Falls the Shadow

    Come on Tom, why can’t you tell us what you’re really thinking about?

  46. D.O., Bar Kochba’s letters were clearly vernacular. They were short missives exchanged with his forces during the time of the rebellion, with spelling errors absent from literary sources but reflecting the spoken language. The mishna is full of snippets of spoken conversation as well.

  47. David Eddyshaw says

    having two vernaculars seems to be a bit strange, no?

    Commonplace in Africa.

  48. @Stephen Goranson: I’m open to what Langlois is writing, and I wish I knew more about early Hebrew palaeography (and wish that figures were given to illustrate his arguments.) However, he treats radiocarbon dating cavalierly, misreading the data, and accepting it when it suits him but dismissing the methodology when it does not. I don’t like that.

  49. Y, thank you. It’s long past my knowledge area and I won’t bother you with additional stupid questions.

  50. Whether Langlois is correct, or not, in his dating of several paleo-Hebrew Qumran TaNaK mss to earlier than the Gmirkin-asserted c. 273-272 date (though, as far I know, Langlois has not mentioned Gmirkin in publications) is fair game.
    I will say that most paleo-Hebrew texts have not been C14-tested and published, yet.

    I have been in favor of more tests at least since my “Radiocarbon Dating the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Biblical Archaeologist, 54/3 (September, 1991).

  51. D.O., bother?? me?? It’s not like I’m a biblical scholar or anything. Plus, I’m shameless about asking basic questions about other topics here, so it’s all fair.

  52. Yes, we all learn by asking stupid questions and/or making stupid errors. At least I do.

  53. As we say in Germany, there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers (sometimes).

  54. J.W. Brewer says

    Surely anyone with reasonable fluency in the relevant language can figure out how to recast a stupid answer as what is, as a formal matter of syntax, a question, however rhetorical or self-serving. I am skeptical that the stupidity would automatically melt away as a result of this tweak. Although maybe what they say in Germany has some sort of additional implicit qualifier (such as applying only to questions posed in good faith – I can’t remember how to say that auf Deutsch although some bot is suggesting “in gutem Glauben gestellt”).

  55. Friendly advice: you live better if you don’t lawyer popular sayings, jokes, friendly advice, or anything your wife tells you. 🙂

  56. The methodology of dating texts through linguistic features is also considered by Elan Dresher here, with a fairly extended comparison to (and contrast with) the situation in Old English:

  57. the basic meaning of the physical condition (“be scorched, parched”)…


  58. David Marjanović says

    Although maybe what they say in Germany has some sort of additional implicit qualifier

    Alas, no. Es gibt keine dummen Fragen, nur dumme Antworten.

  59. J.W. Brewer says

    @Hans: It’s more I feel like there are some out there who would treat the claim about “keine dummen Fragen” as a challenge to be met, or a barrier to human achievement to be surpassed.

    @David M: Well, the lack of an *explicit* qualifier doesn’t by itself resolve my speculation about an *implicit* qualifier …

  60. That the Song of Deborah is not older than the surrounding prose seems pretty hard to sustain. There are both structural and linguistic reasons for this. The chapter is part of a doublet, something that is not a typical feature of Judges; it is followed by another telling of much the same story, featuring the victories of Deborah and my namesake. That suggests that the compilers (perhaps from the time of Josiah) wanted to preserve a pre-existing poetical form. Moreover, the language of the song is not merely poetic, but it includes more archaisms than the surrounding verses, suggesting the same thing.

    This does tie into the interesting question, however, which other people have already mentioned, about the relationship between poetry and archaism. How much archaic language in poetry survives because literature in verse form is resistant to change, versus how much poetry tends to be written using stilted, archaic diction and grammar? The two phenomena can feed off each other, of course, and how much does that happen?

  61. The narrow reading “parched” (as opposed to just ‘physical condition’) seems to hinge on interpretation of the Ugaritic hymn.

  62. It’s more I feel like there are some out there who would treat the claim about “keine dummen Fragen” as a challenge to be met, or a barrier to human achievement to be surpassed.
    Sadly, knowing humanity, you may be right.

  63. David Eddyshaw says

    As the saying goes “Just as I think I’ve made this idiot-proof, they come up with a better class of idiot.”

  64. David Marjanović says

    Oh, I’ve encountered stupid questions, absolutely.

    Just not on this blog. (The stupid people we do occasionally get don’t ask questions. They already know everything.)

  65. @Barak David: The article by Frolov that I linked to earlier goes over all the supposedly archaic linguistic features in the Song of Deborah, and concludes that none of them are in fact archaic. It then gives a long list of words in the song which elsewhere occur only in Late Biblical Hebrew, and in one case only in Post-biblical Hebrew.
    The song, in chapter 5, is not a retelling of the prose narrative in chapter 4 (the way you have e.g. two parallel accounts of the Garden of Eden). The two have a few things in common (Deborah raising an army, Yael killing Sisera), but mostly the two speak of different things, and the song presumes the narrative is already known to the reader/listener, and just embellishes it.

  66. David Marjanović says

    The song, in chapter 5, is not a retelling of the prose narrative in chapter 4 (the way you have e.g. two parallel accounts of the Garden of Eden)

    Those are very much not retellings of each other either. They have pretty much nothing in common and occasionally contradict each other.

  67. @rozele, I don’t think Notarius is disinterested in external evidence. In fact she mentions the Kuntillet Ajrud inscriptions as evidence that poetry was written early on (though I do think that particular claim is weak). A ton has been written about when literacy started in that part of the world, and in what genres, and she references a lot of it. I myself haven’t read up on the subject.

    Very unfortunately, there is little in biblical studies that stays divorced from ugly politics (in which I include religious fundamentalism). By and large, the biblical maximalists — those who do their archaeological and textual researches with one eye on some degree of biblical literalism — are not a majority, and are recognized by their work and by reputation. I don’t think Notarius is one of them.

  68. @DM, you are right, somewhat. God creating man and woman and giving them dominion over the animals is the overlap.

  69. Biology, that is.

    I would need more elaboration of this development.

    @Ryan, I think its description is inaccurate: if there was a meaning “parched”, it must have developed as a specialised meaning alongside other meanings from a root with basic semantics of splitting.

    (cf.ف_ل_ل#Arabic and also numerous *pl- words like these“)

    Or maybe I misunderstand her and she actually means parched gave derived meanings? And as I said above, I’m suspicious about this “parched”. One needs to look how well it is motivated for Ugaritic. Perhaps it is just “some verb applicable to ‘fields’ which sounds as PL”.

  70. Hm. Funnily pl- also means splitting in IE.

  71. And funnily English too has different versions of the suffix (“splice” where c comes from German mediated by Dutch).

  72. Y, thanks for posting that link to Frolov. I wouldn’t have read it otherwise—very necessary and enjoyable!

  73. The narrow reading “parched” (as opposed to just ‘physical condition’) seems to hinge on interpretation of the Ugaritic hymn.

    For LH readers who are curious to see Ugaritic pl in context, an easily accessible source is John C.L. Gibson, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 2nd ed. (1978), available here; see lines 25 and 26, and 36 and 37, on page 78. I should have thought the reference in Ugaritic is originally to the cracking and splitting of the ground. Cf. the derivatives under the root *pll here in the SED.

Speak Your Mind