Thursday, July 02, 2015

Review of Schniedewind, A Social History of Hebrew

MARGINALIA REVIEW OF BOOKS: Present and Future of the Hebrew Past – By Aaron Koller.
In some cases, the search for relevance produces work that is overwrought and unfounded, but in others, new life is breathed into old texts through the application of novel methodologies and approaches. William Schniedewind’s A Social History of Hebrew: Its Origins through the Rabbinic Period is an excellent example of the latter. Drawing on sociolinguistics, in addition to historical linguistics and other tools of “old-fashioned philology,” Schniedewind sets out to write a social history of a dead language. He does not aim to describe the grammar of the language in full or to trace features of the morphology or syntax through the centuries. Instead, he wants to use language as a key to unlocking an ancient society.
I once heard Frank Moore Cross tell the apocryphal anecdote at the beginning of this review. Many years ago I presented an SBL paper that dealt with some of these questions: DIALECTOLOGY IN BIBLICAL HEBREW: A NORTH ISRAELITE DIALECT? SYNCHRONIC AND DIACHRONIC CONSIDERATIONS.