Hebrew Linguistics and Biblical Criticism: A Minimalist Programme

Vincent De Caën


This paper introduces a programme in historical
linguistics with important implications for biblical criticism. Traditionally,
grammatical variation in the Bible has been interpreted in light of
nineteenth-century historical-literary criticism. In this light, such variation
appears erratic and random. To date we have developed a somewhat vague
distinction between “early” and “late Biblical Hebrew” (EBH vs LBH). The
programme outlined here proposes to let the Hebrew language speak for itself, to
let natural diachronic processes explain the distributions independent of the
literary paradigm. The results should suggest a new alignment of texts and
sources. The paper has two parts. The first, polemical part situates the
programme within recent, indeed controversial, departures in biblical studies.
The second part works through a problem that has hitherto resisted explanation
to showcase the methodology and to indicate the anticipated results. As a first
approximation a fivefold stratification is proposed, considerably refining the
traditional taxon “early Biblical Hebrew” (EBH). The most interesting conclusion
is the priority of Deuteronomy within the five books of Moses. Another result is
the sorting of composite books like Psalms by linguistic criteria. The programme
is expected to yield a three-volume study: morphology, syntax, lexicon (in that

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