New Qumran Website

•September 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The joint undertaking of Google and the Israel Museum to publish the corpus of Dead Sea Scrolls online has yielded its first fruits. From a friend I received this link: See also the recent news update by BBC.

The Language and Textual Affiliations of the Pesharim

•September 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

One of the great things of working in Leuven, is having been able to attend the Sixth International Symposium on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Ben Sira (September 19-21, 2011). In one of the sessions, Prof. Gary Rendsburg of Rutgers University presented a paper entitled “The Nature of Qumran Hebrew as Reflected in 1QpHab” (2011), in which he reacted on a recent article by Ian Young (2008). Rendsburg convincingly showed that there is more to say to the appearance of Late Biblical Hebrew elements in the Habakkuk pesher than Young had suggested. During the presentation, it was one of the characteristics of Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH) enumerated by Rendsburg which attracted my attention in particular, as – to my mind – it may not only shed light on the linguistic affilations of the pesher scroll, but also on its text-critical and text-historical value.


LBH and its preference for Noun Groups

Basing his arguments on the work of Frank J. Polak (for instance 1997; 2003), Rendsburg pays attention to the preference of Late Biblical Hebrew for so-called Noun Groups. This feature is related to the generally more nominal style of LBH vis-à-vis Standard Biblical Hebrew (SBH) and occurs in two types: (a) non-construct phrases (X + Y) and (b) construct phrases. Compare the following examples from 1QpHab adduced by Rendsburg, with the Biblical evidence adduced by myself:

Type (a)

(1a) בעשק ומעל (Habakkuk pesher [1QpHab] 1:6)

(1b) בעשק (Ps. 62:11, Isa. 30:12, Mal. 3:5)

(2a) הון ובצע (Habakkuk pesher [1QpHab] 9:5)

(2b) הון (many instances, for instance in Prov.)


Type (b)

(3a) כול דברי עבדיו הנביאים (Habakkuk pesher [1QpHab] 2:8-9)

(3b) כול רזי דברי עבדיו הנבאים (Habakkuk pesher [1QpHab] 7:5)

(3c) בקץ מועד מנוחת יום הכפורים (Habakkuk pesher [1QpHab] 11:6-7)

From the examples above, it can be adduced that LBH indeed tends to employ more intricate noun groups than SBH. Examples (1) and (2) go to show that Biblical expressions (the b-sentences) may be augmented in LBH with other nouns fitting the context well. Furthermore, the sentences under (3) mention some complex construct phrases from 1QpHab. Of course, the linguistic affiliations of LBH could not be discussed in detail here, but these examples at least go to show the general tendency of what I shall dub for the time being the Polak-Rendsburg argument.


Nouns out of Nowhere: Textual Problems in Qumran

Now we turn to the possible implication of the Polak-Rendsburg argument. In my MA thesis, as well as earlier papers (Hartog 2009a; 2009b; 2011), I have dealt with the text-critical affiliations of several of the Qumran texts, both biblical scrolls (1QIsaa and 11QPsa) and commentary texts (4QpNah). One of the phenomena hard to account for was the occurrence of nouns which fit well into the context of the verse cited/copied, but were not found in MT. Cf. the examples below:

(4a) ולא יישן בלילה (Psalms scroll [11QPsa] III)

(4b) וְלֹא יִישָׁן (Psalms 121:4 MT)

(5a) ה׳ אלוהיכמ (Psalms scroll [11QPsa] V [reconstruction by Flint])

(5b) ה׳ (Psalms 129:8 MT)

(6a) כי תחת יפי בשת (Isaiah scroll [1QIsaa] IV)

(6b) כִי־תַחַת יֹפִי (Isaiah 3:24 MT)

(7a) מחנק ללביותיו טרף (Nahum pesher [4QpNah] 3-4 I)

(7b) וּמְחַנֵּק לְלִבְֹאתָיו (Nahum 2:13 MT)

All these examples bear witness to the occurrence of a particular Noun Phrase in the Qumran scroll which is not found in MT. To be sure, in the papers from which I have taken these examples, I have treated all of them as text-critical and text-historical phenomena, and I have been able to explain them as such. Yet, I cannot help but wonder whether or not linguistic developments play a role here as well: if it is indeed true that the Qumran scrolls – especially the Pesharim, which are naturally more detached from the Biblical language than the Biblical scrolls – bear witness to quite some LBH elements (as argued by Rendsburg) and if one of the features of LBH is indeed its preference for Noun Groups, could it be that the addition of contextually fitting nouns in the scrolls are the outcome of this linguistic preference? The question remains tentative, but, to my mind, is certainly a fitting subject for further research.



  • P.B. Hartog, “Scribal errors in 11QPs-a: een vergelijking tussen de tekst van 11QPs-a en de Masoretische Tekst van het boek Psalmen” (Term Paper Hebrew University, 2009a)
  • P.B. Hartog, “Instead of Beauty… A Comparison between MT and Q in Isaiah III-V” (Term Paper Hebrew University, 2009b)
  • P.B. Hartog, “Scribe or Scribbler? An Inquiry into Variant Readings between the Nahum Pesher from Qumran (4QpNah) and the Massoretic Text of the book of Nahum” (MA Thesis Leiden University, 2011)
  • Frank H. Polak, “Style is More than the Person: Sociolinguistics, Literary Culture and the Distinction between Written and Oral Narrative,” in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology (ed. Ian Young; London: T&T Clark, 2003), 38-103
  • Frank H. Polak, “On Prose and Poetry in the Book of Job,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 24 (1997): 61-97
  • Gary A. Rendsburg, “The Nature of Qumran Hebrew as Reflected in 1QpHab” (Presentation at the Sixth International Symposium on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Ben Sira; Leuven, 2011)
  • Ian Young, “Late Biblical Hebrew and the Qumran Pesher Habakkuk,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 8 (2008), article 25

Wind or Spirit in John 3:8?

•August 30, 2011 • 3 Comments

Last Sunday, I heard a sermon on being born again which found its inspiration in John 3:1-17. One of the thoughts advanced in this sermon intrigued me in particular. This idea was related to John 3:8, which most modern translations translate with KJV: ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.’ That is to say, the Greek word πνεῦμα has been translated by ‘wind’ when it first occurs in this verse, but with ‘Spirit’ when it is found a second time. Now, in the sermon referred to above, the thought was developed that, with the first employment of the word πνεῦμα, both meanings coincide and constitute a double entendre, suggesting that, here, the Greek word could have both meanings, e.g., ‘wind’ and ‘Spirit.’ Even though both semantic values are attested for this noun (Liddell-Scott entry 33941), I tend to reject the meaning ‘Spirit’ for the first usage of the Greek noun πνεῦμα in John 3:8.


‘The wind blows where it wishes’

To shed more light on the meaning of the phrases τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ […] αλλ᾿οὐκ οἶδας πόθεν ἔρχεται καὶ ποῦ ὑπάγει, which KJV translates with ‘the wind bloweth where it listeth […] and thou canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth,’ it may be helpful to look at its origins. In this regard, it is illustrative to accept the idea that John 3:8 paraphrases a certain text or texts from the Hebrew Bible. For instance, Ecclesiastes 3:6 reads:

סֹבֵב הוֹלֵךְ הָרוַּח וְעל־סְבִיבֹתָיו שָׁב הָרוַּח

‘the wind goes around and the wind returns to its going around’

In this text, the idea of the wind turning ’round ‘n ’round on paths untraceable to human beings is expressed. Almost the same words are found in Psalms 78:39, where it says:

רוַּח הוֹלֵךְ וְלֹא יָשׁוּב

‘a breath, going and never returning’

In this latter text, however, the Hebrew word רוַּח could better be translated with ‘breath,’ as it deals with human beings, than with ‘wind,’ e.g., the natural phenomenon. Texts like Ecclesiastes 12:7, however, go to show that within one and the same context (in this case the book of Ecclesiastes), the noun רוַּח, when employed together with the verbs הלך and שׁוב, could mean both ‘wind’ and ‘Spirit.’ Cf. also Psalms 146:4. It appears, thus, that the Hebrew Bible provides evidence for both the meaning ‘wind’ and the meaning ‘Spirit’ for the Hebrew noun רוַּח and, by implication, its Greek counterpart πνεῦμα.


‘So is everyone born of the Spirit’

A second approach to the meaning of the first πνεῦμα in John 3:8 discusses the meaning of the word οὕτως . In this verse, the use of this particle expresses the metaphor or comparison employed. As with all metaphors, a certain phenomenon A is described as being like a certain phenomenon B. It may thus be useful to determine what are the exact values of these two letters. As far as ‘phenomenon A’ goes, it seems clear that the compared entity is ‘everyone born of the Spirit’ (πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος). In what regard is this phenomenon similar to phenomenon B, e.g., the ‘πνεῦμα‘? In the sermon of last Sunday, it was suggested that the ways of the Spirit from which someone has been born anew cannot be traced, just as those of the wind are inexplicable. In other words: it could be said of both the ‘wind’ and the ‘Spirit’ that their ways cannot be understood by mere humans. Thus, the word πνεῦμα could refer to both the ‘wind’ and the ‘Spirit’ in the description of John 3:8.

However, the above explanation fails to do justice to the metaphor employed, as it provides a picture in which the ‘wind’ is like the ‘Spirit.’ Instead, the metaphor developed in John 3 compares ‘everyone born of the Spirit’ to another entity, as has been argued above. To my mind, this entity is to be considered the ‘wind’ as a natural phenomenon, whose movements are inexplicable, but whose sound could be detected. The simile which connects these two entities, is that it is possible to detect whether or not someone has been born of the Spirit, even though the way in which this has happened, is beyond human understanding, just as the wind could be heard, but its movements not traced. By employing this metaphor, Jesus responds to Nicodemus’s literal and perhaps somewhat superficial reaction on Jesus’s words in verse 4.



All in all, it appears to me that the meaning of the first πνεῦμα in John 3:8 should be ‘wind,’ and not ‘Spirit.’ Jesus employs the natural phenomenon of the wind in response to Nicodemus’s seemingly superficial attempt to make sense of Jesus’s words in John 3:4. The metaphor expresses that the way in which someone is born again, cannot be traced, but it can be detected if someone has been born of the Spirit, just as the sound of the wind can be detected, but its ways are hidden for the human eye.

Honour Where Honour is Due

•August 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

In 1757, the Amsterdam physician of Ashkenazi Jewish descent Michael Jacobus de Vries submitted a dissertation to obtain the title Doctor of Medicine (De Vries 1757). In this dissertation, De Vries treats a then-widespread disease known as ‘phrenitis,’ which is nowadays considered a lost ailment (Schlesinger, in: Horstmanshoff-Schlesinger-Hartog in press). What is particularly interesting for our purposes, however, is not the medical ramifications of De Vries’s work, but the inclusion of an auctori encomium, or ‘laudatory poem to the author,’ at the end of the work. This encomium has been composed in Biblical Hebrew and could best be considered an amalgam of scriptural verses, larded with citations from the broader tradition of Jewish literature. In translation, the encomium reads as follows (taken from Hartog in prep.).

How beautiful are thy feet! I shall bless and glorify your name.
To goodness your feet shall run and evil shall not dwell in your tent.
Your soul faints for medicine – crying: “Grace, grace!”
In the evening you do not lay down your hands from persisting in your study.
In the morning you sow your seed, your wisdom is within you.
Intelligent and wise and honoured like you there is no one within a great congregation.
By day and night you meditate and not one time did you do differently.
My prayer is to the Ruler of All, in whose hand it is to support everything.
He shall be nearby in your counsel and shall send healing in your medicine.
10 In every undertaking of your hands, his righteous right hand shall support thee.
11 He shall prolong thy days and thy years and he shall fulfill all your wishes.
12 Glory and honour they shall give thy name, and your brothers shall bow down for you.
13 Thus are my word, my hope, my expectation, and my wish.

In citing Scripture and the rabbinic tradition, the composer of De Vries’s panegyric displays several interpretative attitudes towards the Hebrew Bible. I shall illustrate two of these attitudes and techniques by paying attention to (1) the application of biblical verses in a more profane context and (2) the splitting up of a biblical verse, thus constituting an intelligent inclusio.


(1) Biblical verses in the profane context of the encomium

A major difference between Scripture and the Renaissance encomium dedicated to Michael J. de Vries is that the first tends to deal with the greatness of God, while the second aims at pointing out the particular qualities of the young doctor. In light of this different setting of the two works, it should be surprising to find biblical verses cited in the encomium, which become detached from their original God-orientated meaning, and are applied to enhance the fame of the Amsterdam scholar. A first example of this interpretative tendency may be found in the second line of the panegyric, where the biblical expression ‘to dwell in someone’s tent,’ which occurs twice in the Hebrew Bible (Psalms 15:1 and 61:5) and in both instances expresses the intimate relationship between God and humans, is applied to express the non-existing relationship between the doctor and evil. In other words: a biblical expression of God’s dealing with human beings is transformed into an expression of the just way of life of one particular human being, in which God does not play a role anymore.

Another example of this interpretative technique employed by the composer of the encomium is found in the third line of the poem, where it says: ‘your soul faints for medicine.’ This phrase is clearly based on Psalms 84:3, where Scripture reads: ‘my soul longs, nay faints for the courts of the Lord.’ By altering the pronominal suffix (‘my soul’ becomes ‘your soul’) in this verse, the encomium applies this verse to the young doctor. What is, however, more of importance is the move which leaves out entirely the ‘courts of the Lord.’ These are replaced by the reason for the fame brought to the encomium‘s honorand, e.g., his dedication to medicine. Lastly, the treatment of Psalms 40:9 in line 5 of the poem may be referred to. Here, Scripture reads: ‘your law (tôrâ) is within you.’ This phrase is cited literally in the b-colon of line 5, but there it is translated: ‘your wisdom is within you.’ This has to do with a semantic shift the word tôrâ underwent in this, and other, encomia. Where the word would refer to a God-given law or teaching in Scripture, a more profane meaning is attested in Renaissance laudatory poems, where tôrâ came to indicate the quality bringing about the honour received by the honorand, e.g., ‘wisdom.’ In the exact same meaning, the word is used in, for instance, the encomia by Drusius (1609).


(2) Psalms 1:2 employed as an inclusio

From both a formal and a semantic perspective, it is clear that line 6 stands at the exact centre of the encomium. This line is the only one exhibiting the form of a tricolon, even though it is a dicolon, just as all other lines, and sets apart the phrase kamôkā ‘like you.’ Furthermore, the contents of this line, reading: ‘intelligent and wise and honoured like you there is no one within a great congregation’ could and should be conceived of as a summary or the pointe of the entire poem. These observations, defining line 6 as the central line of the panegyric, go to suggest that the lines embracing it, e.g., lines 5 and 7, should also constitute a thematic similarity, resulting in the A-X-A’ poetic scheme, which is so current in Hebrew poetry. And indeed, the phrases ‘in the morning you sow your seed’ and ‘by day and night you meditate’ seem to suggest at least a thematic relationship between these two verses, which both mention the activities of the young doctor at the specific times of day and night.

Yet another, more intricate and, therefore, more intelligent, technique is employed by the composer of De Vries’s encomium in order to illustrate the close relationship between lines 5 and 7. In the a-colon of line 7, Psalms 1:2, which, in Scripture, reads: ‘he shall meditate his law (tôrâ) by day and night,’ is cited literally, the encomium employing the exact same Hebrew words as Scripture does. However, one element which is extant in the biblical reading of Psalms 1:2 is absent from line 7 of the encomium, e.g., the tôrâ or ‘law,’ which is meditated upon. A solution to this problem is, however, found in line 5, where the b-colon, as we have already seen, reads: ‘your wisdom (tôrâ) is within you,’ thus providing the missing link in the citation from Psalms 1:2 in line 7, and, thus, establishing the close relationship between lines 5 and 7, which have to be read together in order to constitute a complete scriptural citation.


Some last remarks

Some of the interpretative moves employed by the composer of the encomium in honour of M.J. de Vries have been discussed above. Even though our discussion has been limited and, for instance, has not treated issues of Renaissance encomium writing generally or Christian vs. Jewish Hebrew encomia, it may safely be concluded from the above that Hebrew Renaissance encomia provide an interesting and oft surprising field of study, and are by no means to be considered simple and ill-conceived collections of biblical phrases, but, rather, are to be valued as exponents of creativity in their own right, in which various forms of rereading, reinterpreting, and reformulation of Scripture could be detected.



  • Johannes Drusius, Lachrymae Johannis Drusii junioris, tribus carminum generibus expressae, in obitum Josephi Scaligeri, Julii Caesaris à Burden filii (Franeker: s.n., 1609)
  • P.B. Hartog, “Honour Where Honour is Due: A Hebrew Encomium from an 18th-century Medical Dissertation” (in prep.)
  • H.F.J. Horstmanshoff, F.G. Schlesinger, and P.B. Hartog, Michael Jacobus de Vries, “Over Phrenitis” (tentative title; Leiden: s.n., in press)
  • Michael Jacobus de Vries, Dissertatio media inauguralis de Phrenitide (Utrecht: Joannes Broedelet, 1757)