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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Chronology and Periodization of Biblical Hebrew

All spoken languages develop over time and thus it is only natural that Hebrew too underwent changes during the lengthy biblical period, which stretches from sometime in the second millenium BCE almost down to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. In addition to differences in style and language between some biblical books, and between the literary sources (J, E, P, and D) that make up the Torah, scholars are able to discern four linguistic periods:

Early Biblical Hebrew. It is not known when Hebrew was first spoken and when it developed into a language that was distinct from other Canaanite languages. The earliest stories in Genesis, e.g., the account of creation and the flood, are not datable linguistically, since they are written in the same language as other stories from the First Temple period. The earliest datable Hebrew is an agricultural calendar found at Gezer, which is assigned to the latter part of the 10th century BCE. There are two sources from the 15th to 13th centuries BCE that hint at what proto‐Hebrew may have looked like—the language of the Ugaritic tablets from Ras Shamra in Syria and the Canaanitisms in the El‐Amarna tablets found in Egypt. The former tablets include mythological stories of Canaanite gods that are echoed in motifs and language in the Bible. The latter include letters written by Canaanite‐speaking scribes in the area of modern‐day Lebanon, Syria, and Israel to the Pharoah in Egypt; the language of the tablets is Akkadian, yet the scribes inad vertently inserted features of their own Canaanite tongue and sometimes deliberately glossed Akkadian words with their Canaanite equivalents. Neither Ugaritic nor El‐Amarna Canaanite, however, is a linear ancestor of Hebrew.

The oldest Hebrew in the Bible is found in several poems that are replete with archaiclooking features of morphology (e.g., the remains of case endings such as the final o‐vowel in ḥayto ʿeretz “wild beasts” [Gen. 49.11 ]), syntax (the frequent absence of the definite article and the relative pronoun), and vocabulary. Among the most striking archaic poems are the Blessing of Jacob (Gen. ch 49 ), the Song of the Sea (Exod. ch 15 ), the Balaam parables (Num. chs 23–24 ), the Song of Moses (Deut. ch 32 ), the Blessing of Moses (Deut. ch 33 ), the Song of Deborah (Judg. ch 5 ), as well as some psalms (e.g., Ps. 29 ). Many terms in these poems occur only once in the entire Bible (hapax legomena) and thus it is often difficult to pinpoint their precise meaning.

Classical Biblical Hebrew. This language, which includes most of the books of the Bible from Genesis through Kings as well as portions of the Latter Prophets and the Writings, is the Hebrew of the First Temple period. In general, when one talks of biblical Hebrew, one refers to the language of this period. Perhaps the most salient feature of the language is the use of verbal forms with the vav conversive (vav ha‐hipukh), e.g., va‐yakom vaℐyelekh “and he arose and went” (Gen. 24.10 ), yaʾaleh…ve‐hishkah “would go up…and water” (Gen. 2.6 ). Other noteworthy features include lengthened and shortened modal forms, e.g., ʿeshmera “I want to keep, allow me to keep” as opposed to regular ʿeshmor “I shall keep,” yehi “let there be” as opposed to regular yihyeh “there will be.”

Transitional Period between Classical and Late. The destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian Exile are a watershed in the history of biblical Hebrew. Postexilic Hebrew differs markedly from preexilic Hebrew. The language of the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel demonstrates features of Hebrew from both the First and Second Temple periods, and thus reflects a period of linguistic transition, e.g., Ezekiel's use of both classical Hebrew shesh and late biblical Hebrew butz for the cloth “byssus.” One of several grammatical peculiarities of this period that is particularly noticeable in the language of Jeremiah and Ezekiel is the frequent spelling in the consonantal text of the 2nd‐person feminine perfect ending in ‐ty, e.g., lmdty (= limmadti) “youtaught” (Jer. 2.33 ) as opposed to regular ‐t: lmdt (= limmadt).

Late Biblical Hebrew. The Hebrew of the Second Temple period, the language of Es‐ ther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Chronicles, clearly reveals a late composition. The contrast in language is apparent when comparing passages in Chronicles to parallel passages in Samuel and Kings. The verbal system of Late Biblical Hebrew is marked by the gradual disappearance of the classical verbal forms with vav conversive and the lengthened and shortened verbal forms. The language is also characterized by the adoption of loanwords from Aramaic (e.g., zman “time” as opposed to classical Hebrew moʾ;ed; maddaʾ “knowledge” as against classical daʾat) as well as some from Persian (e.g., pardes “park,” pitgam “decree”). The Hebrew of the period also evidences features that reflect Tannaitic Hebrew, the early stratum of Mishnaic Hebrew, e.g., nulledu “they were born” (1 Chron. 20.8 ) reflecting the stem nufʾal, a combination of nifʾal and puʾal as against classical biblical noledu (nifʾal).

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