The Language and Textual Affiliations of the Pesharim

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

~ by pbhartog on September 30, 2011.

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