The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Book 1. The Crisis of Sacred History
Biblical Language: Hebrew & Aramaic
The Hebrew Language
The language spoken by the Israelites was not called Hebrew in any known texts until the prologue to Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sirach, 130 BC). In Isaiah 36:11,13, “Judean” was the language of Judah while, in Isaiah 19:18, it is the “language of Canaan”). Hebrew is therefore Canaanite (Phœnician) even according to the most respected prophet of Israel. Proof is that it is closely similar to the language spoken at an earlier time in the Phœnician town of Ugarit. This seems conclusive evidence that the Israelites were the same stock as the Phœnicians, and so cannot have been invaders from Egypt.
Moreover, the variety of Phœnician later called Hebrew has never been found in any texts from the second millennium BC. It is not simply that nothing has been found in the Hebrew language and script, but that nothing has been found that could be considered as Hebrew written in any other script. Thus, none of the Amarna letters are written in Hebrew even though some of them seem to be from places in the southern Levant. This is another serious obstacle to the idea that Moses led the Israelites into Canaan at the time of the Hyksos expulsion from Egypt. But even a later exodus led by the prophet around 1200 does not identify itself through Hebrew texts or inscriptions. Words that also appear in Hebrew can be found, but they simply indicate that Hebrew is a later dialect derived from Canaanite and has similar words to that and other Semitic languages.
The language spoken in the Palestinian hills could have sounded much different from that of Tyre and Sidon. Anyone familiar with the UK knows that even today the broad Glasgow accent is incomprehensible to anyone outside of Glasgow. Others, like Geordie, used to be the same, not many years back. Thus the rural dialect of Canaanite could have sounded quite different from the urban dialects. The shibboleth story (Jg 12:16) admits to regional varieties of speech.
There appears to have been different styles of language even within Jerusalem.
Even so, “there is as yet no epigraphic evidence for such wider assumptions” as that northern Israelite speech was peculiar. The bible says that Amos the shepherd from the southern kingdom preached in the northen one implying that they were sufficiently close dialects to be mutually understood. Despite this, scholars can identify distinct features that are northern ones. This scholarship is based on a minimum of hard evidence and a maximum of pious fancy posing as scientific analysis.
Much of dialectal speech is in the variant propnunciation of vowels, and this might have been a practical reason why vowels were not used in written Canaanite. Even so, in transcribing strange accents, though, much depended on the ear of the scribe, and so transliteration cannot have been regular.
Biblical Hebrew is a curiously stunted language with only about 8000 known words in its vocabulary compared with a practical minimum of about 20,000. The reason is, of course, that biblical Hebrew is not a real language at all, but was devised for devotional reasons, and mainly restricts itself to devotional subjects. It is a particular subset of Canaanite, deliberately resurrected by the third century priests who were writing and compiling the bible.
Biblical Hebrew is relatively free of foreign words, fatuously called “loan” words as if they were borrowed for a while then returned. In an analogous fashion, fundamentalist Christians claim Christianity has not “borrowed” from other religions. No, it has stolen from them! Hebrew does not even have many Egyptian words, a surprising fact for a nation that even the myth claims spent several hundred years as slaves for the pharaohs, and known history tells us was an Egyptian colony for centuries until about 900 BC. There are more foreign words in Hebrew from Babylon, a place where only some of the Jews lived for only about half a century. More important, B S J Isserlin says (The Israelites) is that “Phœnician style and diction influenced Hebrew writers”. More astonishing scholarship, considering the languages were the same. It is said merely to maintain the pretence that Hebrew was somehow—presumably because God ordained it—different from Canaanite. Here the meaning is that biblical phrases have been found in Ugaritic Canaanite.
In spite of the great distance in space and time, Ugaritic lierature is astonishingly close to that of ancient Israel.
The parallelism that denotes Hebrew, Ugaritic and Akkadian poetry is so close in the Ugaritic to the Hebrew that the same word pairs are common, and even whole phrases appear in both.
Hebrew poetry is part of a continuum covering the late Bronze age and Iron Age Levant.
Aramaic influence is also evident, but since it became the official language of trade and diplomacy from the Persian period, that is hardly surprising, except that it tends to suggest a date after the Persian conquest. If the incidence of Aramaic words is taken as a sign of lateness, then Jeremiah and Ezekiel are fingered as late.
The supposedly objective criterion for the dating of texts is language and this is universally taken by biblicists as showing that the Torah is written in “standard Biblical Hebrew,” which is assumed to have been the language of the monarchy. The Phœnician 22 letter alphabet was current in the Levant by 1000 BC. The biblical scholars have no hesitation, though, in calling an ostracon found at Izbet Sartah near Tel Aviv and dated in the eleventh century Israelite. The same is true of the tenth century Gezer calendar, even though the scholars cannot deny that it is written in “non-standard” Hebrew. More honest scholars demur.
Scholars who wish to date the Torah, to the “exilic” or post-“exilic” period, typically ignore the linguistic evidence, the biblicist “scholars” tell them. The trouble with the linguistic evidence presented by biblicists is that it is circular, if not utterly tortuous. The biblical internal chronology dates the grammar and syntax of the books and that dates the text, but the revisionist proposal is that the text is wrongly dated in the first place! Essentially, all of it is post-Persian, and the supposed earlier works might have been written or at least comprehensively edited among the last, in fact. The whole system could be almost on its head. Dating text has to be done using external sources, not in the biblicist circular fashion.
D N Freedman, a well-known Christian scholar of the W F Albright school of deception complains about the doctoral thesis of some student called D W Goodwin. This young man had the temerity to suggest that Freedman and Frank Moore Cross had a “common desire, even passion”, for dating certain biblical poems “early in Israel’s history”, meaning in the second millennium. Freedman and Cross being notables found themselves with considerable space in a learned journal called Biblica to refute this upstart. They describe the charge as a “hidden theological or historical motivation” yet accept that “there might be an element of truth” in it “to the extent that they shared W F Albright’s scholarly views.” These were, among others, that “archaeology provided a solid base and viable framework on which biblical history could be recovered and reconstituted”. Nevertheless, they denied the charge, and called Dr Goodwin sloppy.
Of course, “biblical” history does not need to be recovered and reconstituted. What they mean is that they want to prove the scriptures are true, and because they are committed to the idea that they are God’s words, there is only one outcome. Freedman can get a collection of books that he knows has been multiply edited up to at least 200 BC, and find in it poems that he can date without a blush in the thirteenth century BC. Israelite slaves in Egypt were writing poetry between making bricks for Rameses’ palaces. Or they were writing poems while they were following a sentient column of smoke through the Sinai desert.
The poems he considered are biblical, so he is telling us that these poems, or some of them, were written before 1200 BC! The Song of Deborah is eleventh century, however, and is “one of the oldest surviving examples of Israelite poetry”. He dates it to this time because she was a supposedly a judge, and so it was in the time of the Judges, assumed to be in the gap in history between Joshua and David. The “giant among twentieth century biblical scholars” can deduce these wonders despite the fact that he confesses to us that few of the original archaic forms have remained in the Masoretic text.
Freedman is a specialist in Hebrew and its dialects. He can distinguish between the Hebrew dialects of Israel and Judah. He seems not to tell us what dialect the original Israelites spoke but it is surprising that he has not. He tells us that Phœnicians did not indicate final vowels in their script but Hebrews did. A lot of questions present themselves here. Were Phœnician and Hebrew fixed and unchanging? The answer is obviously not, and Freedman himself plots changes in both languages to earn his living. Did every Phœnician city follow the same writing practices? Plainly they did not and doubtless other cities did not either. Cities in the north were multicultural and the cultures must have reflected in the orthography.
Phœnician and Hebrew Varieties
Freedman is the expert but seems to find Phœnician remarkably uniform compared with Hebrew. Since Hebrew is essentially a dialect of Phœnician, one wonders to what extent, even great men like Freedman can be so comfortable with their assignments. It must be God’s guiding spirit. Freedman knows his Phœnician and can distinguish it throughout time and space from the Hebrew that he also knows.
Indeed he knows two Hebrew varieties. The Israelite dialect of Hebrew followed the Ugaritic and the Phœnician while the Judahite dialect followed the Aramaic and the Arabic. Essentially, he finds some variation in such as endings and the use of certain consonants as vowels and decides that some are northern and others are southern. The northern means Israel and the southern means Judah. 2 Samuel 22 is northern, while Psalms 18, the same poem, is southern. The error is the usual biblicist error of assigning discoveries on the basis of the bible and nothing else. If the bible was written as a book for the whole of Abarnahara, then it would be hardly surprising if it did not contain dialects and regional variations in the official language that was chosen for it. That two can be picked out relatively easily does not verify that there were countries called Israel and Judah, and should not be assigned to them without external verification. That gets difficult indeed to do because the biblicists insist on having dates that are stretched out to suit their biblical history.
From an examination of the Masoretic text, Freedman concludes that the scriptures we have date from the century after the “exile”, the fifth century. His practical limits are 400 to 100 BC but he can hardly bear the late start, so adds that it “could be” earlier. He notes that some of the Yahud seals that are found in good quantities have a “waw” for the “u” while others do not. This mixture he calls a transitional practice and uses it to date the stamps around the return from “exile”, the absence of the “waw” being the pre-“exilic” practice. Again from the bible, he sees the natural transition as the “exile”, and therefore assigns his transitional forms to it. All we know is that purely consonantal writing was earlier and the introduction of the intermediate vowel-consonants came later. Freedman admits that the present Masoretic text of the bible cannot be earlier than about 400, well after the “exile” when any transtitional forms should have been edited out.
Freedman’s co-worker, Frank M Cross, has studied palaeography to date some 4Q scroll fragments of Exodus, 2 Samuel and Jeremiah. They are 225 BC +-50 years. If the principles of recording these manuscripts are those of the Masoretes, and they show no transitional traits, the Masoretic graphological discipline must have started much earlier, he says. In fact, 4QSam(b) does retain older forms including the spelling of David as “dwd”, not “dwyd”, the normal Essenic practice. From this, Freedman deduces that 4QSam(b) is fourth century despite the palaeography! So, the Masoretic method was inaugurated in about the fourth century and was established as the standard by about 200 BC. It suggests that Masoretic graphological practices began when the Persians began to establish Judaism from the end of the fifth century BC. Since this was also about the time that Aramaic was introduced as the official script of the Persian empire, the connexion of them all seems sensible enough.
A result of the Persian occupation and the changes they introduced was the indication of vowels. The fact that dialect changes had already led to the disappearance of diphthongs in one case—the Phœnician—meant that the vowel-consonants like “yodh” and “waw” had already diisappeared and the pure vowels that remained were not shown. In the other dialect, taken to be the Aramaean, the diphthongs remained and so the vowels had a “waw”, a “he” or a “yodh” to indicate them. Originally, Hebrew and Phœnician both omitted final vowel letters, but Hebrew changed around the tenth century—or was it the fifth?
Job is an extremely strange biblical book. W F Albright dated it to no later than about 500 BC. That would make it conventionally one of the last biblical books, but still dated to the beginning of the second temple period when even biblicists will accept that modern Judaism began. It therefore had a minimum of half a millenium to make its mark on the rest of the scriptures. It made none. It neither mentions them nor is mentioned by them. Furthermore, even Albright was happy to accept that in style and literary affinities—vocabulary, syntax, poetic and mythological allusions—the book was Phœnician. Its cosmology and cosmogony are Phœnician. Place names are Phœnician, and lastly the skepticism of the book suggests a worldly influence typical of Greeks and Phœnicians.
Psalms 29 is also Canaanite. The references and places in it are all in the north of the Levant—the north of Abarnahara. The sons of El have to praise Yehouah. Sons of El could mean the worshippers of El, so here could be a psalm from the period of transition from El worship to Yehouah worship. The name Yehouah occurs no less than 18 times in an eleven verse poem. He is also given various other attributes, qualities and names.
Dwd or Dwyd?
Freedman examines the books of the bible in respect of the spelling of David, and finds astonishing consistency. In 1073 instances of the name, 788 are spelt “dwd” and 285 are spelt “dwyd”, but there are only five cases in three books when “dwyd” is used when “dwd” is dominant (183 times), and there is only one case when “dwd” is used when “dwyd” is dominant (8 times) and even this arises by taking all the minor prophets together. 271 cases of “dwyd” occur in the books of the Chronicler with no cases of “dwd”, and 575 cases of “dwd” occur in Samuel with no cases of “dwyd”. In just three books there is one or the other.
Freedman says not much can be deduced from the odd instances but he finds enough to talk about from them to fill a few pages. His conclusions are predicated, as ever, on the “exile”. “Dwd” is pre-“exilic” and proves the books containing it are pre-“exilic” while “dwyd” is post-“exilic”, explaining its use by the Chronicler. The four mixed cases are transitional. Ecclesiastes is accepted as post-“exilic” but has a single case of “dwd”. Freedman says it is a deliberate archaism. Song of Songs has a single case of “dwyd” but is supposed to be Solomonic. That is because this edition is post-“exilic” but the original was not. Proverbs is considered post-“exilic” but has a single case of “dwd”. That is because it reflects a tradition rooted in the Davidic court so tradition has preserved the “dwd”. Ruth, thought to be a late romance, has two cases of “dwd”. The use of “dwd” here proves the book to be pre-“exilic”. Kings has 93 cases of “dwd” to 3 of “dwyd”, and Ezekiel has 4 cases of “dwd” to one of “dwyd”. These show that these cases are transitional. There is no reason to be humble before the great man here. This is all utter bollocks! Freedman is like his God. He makes rules then immediately feels free to break them.
Take a look at the Dead Sea Scrolls. The practice of the Essene copyists was to use “dwyd”, and “dwyd” is found in books that have only “dwd” in the MT. 4QSam(a) dated to about 100 BC has “dwyd” as has other fragments of Samuel, but an earlier version 4QSam(b) has “dwd”. It seems the Essenes had no compunction about using “dwyd” when “dwd” in the bible is the norm, yet if “dwyd” is the later form why were all biblical instances not changed to “dwyd?” Freedman wants it to be respect for the original text when the book was published. Thus early books retained “dwd” even when copied in the late period. This even though Freedman claims that some texts are transitional. Why did the transition not continue, then? Evidently it did at Qumran, but nowhere else.
The plain answer to this puzzle is not a question of the “exile” and peculiar respect for an ancient name in some instances, but not others. There were two schools of scribes, one of whom stuck to the ancient “dwd” and the other used “dwyd”. To judge from what Freedman tells us, one school used the Masoretic discipline while the other school was the Essenes. The Masoretic discipline with its “dwd” orthography lasted while the Essenes disappeared. It seems the writers of the New Testament transliterated the word David into the Greek using “dwyd”, and that is how we spell it still.
Why then is there any cases of “dwyd” remaining in the bible, when it seems the successful school of scribes preferred “dwd?” The answer must be that Chronicles was accepted into the canon after the Jewish war. At that point, the rabbis who took control of copying treated the scripts they had as sacred and so did not harmonize the spelling. The Chronicler was therefore copied by Essenes, if not written by them.
A Chomskyan Approach
Younger analysts are trying to be more objective. Vincent de Caën, of the University of Toronto, says Hebrew grammar has been taken to be a constant, and that must be false, because any natural language must change.
Because Hebrew was God’s language and God never changes, it was easy and perhaps logical to assume that Hebrew had a uniform character and personality and was not subject to either internal or historical development and change.
De Caën says it is shocking that, after two centuries of intense study of Hebrew, no better distinction has been found in it other than a vague classification into early and late biblical Hebrew. Biblical Hebrew is several dialects in the bible, but the number of them is in single figures. Linguistic variation in Hebrew must be taken seriously. The variation that is noticed is considered intractable and random. For biblicists, the absolute dating of texts and sources is chiselled on stone tablets, and these are used to date the variations that are bothered about. But if these texts have been misdated and their dates are really jumbled up, the natural changes will appear random or intractable. Some books such as Ecclesiastes and the Hebrew of Qumran, as well as the Hebrew of the sages and rabbis, can be dated accurately and this is the key that unlocks a rigorous dialectology of biblical Hebrew.
Typically, when questions are sharply formulated, it is learned that even elementary phenomena had escaped notice, and that intuitive accounts that seemed simple and persuasive are entirely inadequate.
Minimalism is Noam Chomsky’s programme in linguistics based on the theory of generative grammar.
Anyone familiar with the range of current scholarship will know that the gap between the biblical Israel and the history of Palestine is widening, and that “new scholarly constructs are in the process of emerging”.
Minimalism is the quest for theoretical economy in biblical history. Biblicists use “Minimalism” as a term of abuse for the Enlightenment horrors of criticism, skepticism and disbelief fought by the church for centuries, and still! Biblical minimalism is the right and duty to be methodologically sound and non-theological in investigating late Iron Age Palestine and the Persian province of Yehud, by whatever method, independent of the biblical image of “ancient Israel”.
If the scientific approach is minimalism then the biblicist one is “Maximalism”. Maximalists think a literary devotional work, the bible, is historically true. Plainly, they do not believe in God, since, if they did, they would not want to hide the truth as it emerges. But they always have and now cannot be honest. They have no choice, to preserve their bacon, but to continue to lie harder than before.
Vincent de Caën follows Chomsky and Davies in that the future of historical studies of Canaan is a “Minimalist Programme”. As a student of Hebrew, De Caën wants linguists and literary critics to join with the growing number of archaeologists and historians who approach the study of the history of the Levant with a scientific rigour undistorted by the burden of faith, or the worry of where it might lead. He wants, for the first time, to let the Hebrew language “speak for itself, for it has a great deal to say”.
Hebrew, being a natural language, can be studied in terms of universal grammar. Chomskyan generative grammar is a mathematical model of language, but one which models psychological reality. A universal grammar is a general model that accounts for typological variation in natural languages. It can show how language acquisition works, how a speaker moves from an infantile state to a full-blown adult competence in a given language.
The Natural Evolution of Hebrew
De Caën presumes that Hebrew developed continuously from the late Iron Age to the destruction of the Second Temple. This is a natural even if not a justified assumption, and if anyone contradicts it, they must show some acceptable reason why not. De Caën also takes the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls described by Elisha Qimron in 1986 as the end of development of the biblical strand of Hebrew. So, De Caën examines sequential forms of Hebrew verbs starting from the Hebrew of Qumran, and noting two processes at work, loss of stem-final vowel and suffixation.
In the standard references, this is a nuisance to be ignored, or is explained away as an intrusion from the later, degenerate idiom and not worth further investigation. In fact it offers the chance to begin a site survey of an “archaeology” of Hebrew grammar, De Caën says. The solution involves setting aside the canonical, medieval reading of Hebrew. Then, reading the consonantal text alone, the h found in both rules is ambiguous, being either [e] or [a]. Finally, from generative grammar, rule ordering, gives the sequence:
At first, the first-person sequentials show no inflectional endings. The final “h” of the glide-final form (b) is a vowel letter indicating the stem-final [e]. The first rule to apply is apocopation, the cutting away of the final vowels. This rule applies across the board to all such forms, but crucially catching the first-person sequential of glide-final roots (b). The second rule of suffixation applies to all first-person forms, indicated by the orthographic “h” (both a and b), but this “h” now represents a final [a], not [e]. The elegance and simplicity of this account is that both rules apply without exceptions. They apply serially. Linguistic logic dictates a prima facie bizarre prediction: the final “h” must disappear but then return!
De Caën tests his idea using “uncontroversially” dated books.
De Caën gives cross tabulations of the phenomenon from the books of the bible. Using whole books is admittedly a rough measure but serves as an initial approximation. The books used are prophetic in the first instance (Amos and First Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel), supplemented by Persian Zechariah and Job and Hellenistic Ecclesiastes. This crude distribution gives promising enough results to encourage a closer investigation of books by pericopes.
Already it confirms a Wellhausian-type of documentary hypothesis, but with the order D, JE, P—Deuteronomy is the first! Accepting the initial dating of the reference books, Torah books, the psalms, and the historical books can be tentatively dated.
Another interesting case is the alternation between [-athu] and [-attu] when the 3ms object /hu/ is suffixed to the 3fs past tense ending in inflectional /at/. We would correctly predict the movement [athu] > [attu]. The distribution of such forms is:
Books (Proverbs, Samuel), known to be composite, will straddle the dividing line. [-attu] should be found in the late Proverbs. Yet, the putatively early [-athu] appears in Proverbs 31:12 within a few verses of the expected form [-attu] in Proverbs 31:1. Inspection shows a block of material ascribed to king Lemuel, prima facie from an earlier anthology. This is where the ex hypothesi earlier [-athu] appears. [-attu] is in the editorial superscription, from the latest stratum of the book. This is what was expected and shows the usefulness of the method for source criticism.
Zechariah tentatively, based on one distinction, seems a transition from Persian I to Persian II. Further study should bear out the transitional nature of Zechariah.
The forms in [ihu] cluster in the latest stratum and are expected at Qumran. Since they would have been expected as early constructs, Schniedewind (1999) thought they were an attempt to reconstruct “preclassical” forms, for ideological reasons, because it looked like a deliberate archaism:
It remains difficult to explain the reappearance [of the he] in Qumran Hebrew.
It fact, the apparent regression can be explained, by rule ordering. In the latest period, the systematically anomalous forms in [iw], the result of an earlier (preclassical) process, viz the elision or syncopation of /h/, were regularized by analogy with such forms as [uhu], [ohu], [iha]. The invention of an “antilanguage” is to save God’s theoreticians who, to keep their predetermined literary and linguistic history, have to find the data otherwise inexplicable.
Vincent de Caën concludes that the convergence of critical history, anthropology and archaeology together with historical linguistics is striking, even at this early stage. The method is novel and might be promising, but seems too circular as long as it confines itself to biblical books. De Caën says he has much more to say, and it will be interesting to see it.
The Aramaic passages that appear in Ezra and Daniel turn out to be strong evidence that these books, if no others, were written in the Hellenistic Age. They were, of course, originally thought by Christian and Jewish scholars to have been written in an ancient form of Aramaic in use in Babylon and Persia in the time of the “Jewish Exile” and “Return”.
From the middle of the nineteenth century, Aramaic epigraphic texts and papyri have been found, notably those of Elephantine, in upper Egypt, dated to the fifth century BC, which obviously are earlier than the Aramaic of Ezra, though Ezra was supposedly written at the beginning of that century. Many Christian and Jewish believers have villified this revealing discovery. Despite their so-called scholarship, they will never allow it to speak counter to their beliefs, and all too many will use anything, however unscholarly and unscrupulous, to uphold their mythical beliefs in the face of scientific truth.
Honest scholars question the authenticity of Ezra. Daniel is considered the work of an author not well versed in the Aramaic language. So, the Aramaic of the Old Testament is not historically credible.
The Aramaic of Ezra should be that of the Achaemenids, the Persian kings, while Daniel, written in the time of Antiochus IV shortly before the middle of the second century BC, should be in Palestinian Judaic Aramaic. Proper scholarly inspection shows Ezra to have elements later than the Persian Period and Daniel to have elements from before the second century BC. Something is odd about the supposedly ancient biblical Aramaic.
Giovanni Garbini, in a paper on the website of Ian Hutchesson, cites the example of kl-qbl, meaning “since,” an expression in common use from the second century BC in Judaic Aramaic, but absent from Persian Aramaic, which used simply l-qbl (accumulation of particles shows lateness). On this basis alone, biblical Aramaic is a late creation of those who spoke Judaic Palestinian Aramaic.
The expression “a decree went forth,” (Dan 2:13) implying from the mouth of the king, is an erosion inconceivable in the Persian period and confirms Daniel as a much later writing than it pretends to be.
Phrases in Daniel prove that the author was not familiar with the correct Aramaic of the Persian period that he was trying to imitate. The impression received from reading the “decree of Darius” (Dan. 6:8-14) is that the author had only a vague and confused idea of Achaemenid administrative prose. He has put together archaic words and phrases for the sake of readers unfamiliar with Persian Chancellery Aramaic but contented with a veneer of antiquity.
A Hebrew play on words detected as underlying an inexplicable part of the Aramaic Daniel implies it was composed in Hebrew. Thus the Aramaic parts of the book are after the middle of the second century BC and have their origin in a re-edition of an original Hebrew text, in which the Aramaic version of the text was aimed at giving the antique atmosphere of the Persian period, exactly as the author of Ezra had done with his Persian Chancellery Aramaic.
Among the difficulties of Ezra 4:7-11 is that of the names mentioned in verse 7 as authors of a letter to Artaxerxes. They are, in verse 7, Bishlam, Mithridates and Tabael (following the Masoretic). But instead Rehum and Shimshai (Ezra 4:8-9) write the letter to Artaxerxes and recieve his reply (Ezra 4:17). Who then are Bishlam, Mithridates and Tabael?
Biblical commentators tell us that these three are the authors of a lost letter. Yet ancient versions like the Septuagint do not agree with the Masoretic on the number of the supposed authors of the letter. The Septuagint has only one author, Tabael, who wrote “alone to Mithridates.” The Vulgate has two authors, with three names, Beselam-Mithridates and Tabael. The Syriac has two authors, Mithridates and Tabael, who write “alone.” 1 Esdras has six authors, the original three with Rehum, Shimshai and Beltethmus. Flavius Josephus in book 11 of Antiquities of the Jews omits the names. So much for the infallibility of the bible stories.
Garbini’s linguistic analysis proves that Tabael alone wrote—“on the outside” (the real meaning of the apparent other names, Aramaic words not understood by the author) of the folded and sealed papyrus of the diplomatic letter sent to the king—an official abstract of the contents.
The words bshlm mtrdt (“on the folded wrapping”), despite their irrelevance, and misread as proper names, show ignorance of their proper meaning. Nevertheless, such details, though misunderstood by the author of Ezra, imply he had access to original documents. The next verse says what he wrote: “Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe have written this letter against Jerusalem to king Artaxerxes.” Such short declarations are found on the outside of various letters of Arsame, Satrap of Egypt.
So, Tabael was the Persian official who approved the correspondence sent to the sovereign, after having determined that it met the official protocols. The word used of the official approval is “nishtawan”, a Persian bureaucratic term. Including the “nishtawan” (Ezra 4:8) as if it were a part of letter proper (Ezra 4:9), shows that the author did not understand its purpose. None of those who transmitted the biblical text understood it because the bureacracy of the Persian chancellery had been forgotten when the book was written or re-written—if it was re-written after the destruction of Nehemiah’s library in the Maccabaean war. If Persian officialese had been forgotten, the book could not have been written in any period other than the Hellenistic period.
The word gmr, used only once in biblical Aramaic (Ezra 7:12), is found at the end of the first sentence of the letter to Ezra from king Artaxerxes.
Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, scribe of the law of the God of heaven gmr.
The root gmr in the Aramaic of the first millenium BC means “to complete” or “perfect”. Suffice it to say that conventional explanations, such as that it stands for “perfect peace,” “peace” being a common salutation (Ezra 4:17), are refuted by Garbini who shows that it is a title or attribute of Ezra himself—“the Perfect”. Ezra is a “perfect scholar of the law of the God of heaven.” In Talmudic Aramaic the verb gmr acquired the meaning “to learn the traditional law by heart”.
The heading of the letter echoes the eulogising of Ezra in the preceding verses, implying that the letter is merely a literary composition and so of dubious historical value. The letter simply is not like the authentic letters of the Achaemenid Chancellery. That is not to say no such letter was sent, but that this is a literary attempt to reconstruct it, not a transcription of the original.
The bilingualism in Daniel was meant to imitate Ezra, but while the author of Ezra had access to original documents that served as models for the authors, even if they did not understand them, Daniel seems to have been based principally on Ezra. The feeble Aramaic of the dream of the statue (Dan 2:37ff) shows the Aramaic translator of Daniel trying to imitate old fashioned Persian Chancellery Aramaic, using Ezra as his model. The Aramaic of Ezra is an ignorant interpretation of poorly understood Achaemenid Chancellery Aramaic, but the Aramaic of Daniel merely copies Ezra.
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