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Re: The Language Question

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> I might add that the issue of the life of Hebrew in the second temple
> period is thoughtfully discussed in the standard work on the history of
> Hebrew, Angel Saenz-Badillos' _A History of the Hebrew Language_
> (Cambridge, 1993). T. Muraoka's important criticisms (in Journal for the
> Study of Judaism, 1995) do not detract from this book's excellence. 

I really like Saenz-Badillos myself.  But on the issue of the life/death
of Hebrew, SB equivocates, mixing together the somewhat romantic ideas of
Chomsky ("Hebrew is too lively to have died") with the obvious fact of
its demise.  The laments of the medieval grammarians are proof enough
that it was no longer in use by their time.  Rabin thinks that, for all
practical purposes, it may have died out as early as c. 200.

I don't claim to have any special knowledge in this area.  But it seems
to me that the exact manner, speed, and mode of its demise is open to
debate.  Most of what is said along these lines lacks rigor, often re-
ducing to Chomsky-like notions that dead languages are stuff creations
that aren't used for funerary inscriptions or popular literature.  Syriac,
Geez, Latin, etc. were all used long after their actual demise - in
liturgy, inscriptions, letters, and so on.  Latin was the common edu-
cated language of the church and of Europe in general - really until the
last century (though in practical terms, the vernaculars surpassed it
in the eighteenth century).  It is lively, and not always stiffly clas-
sical - often deliberately not so (the question of whether to classi-
size or whether to use a more "modern" form was hotly debated many times

What convinces me that Hebrew was alive into Mishnaic times is that the
form of the language used there isn't a direct lineal descendent of
classical Hebrew - or even an Aramaized version of it.  But this is old
news.  Segal argued this case sixty years ago, and won.

   -Richard L. Goerwitz          ***  ***         r-goerwitz@uchicago.edu