Friday, March 24, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Orality of Torah

There’s another reason why I believe Torah originated orally, or rather there are two interconnecting reasons.
First, we know that Hebrew didn’t have a writing system until some centuries before 800 BCE, the date of the oldest confirmed Hebrew writing.  I said long ago that cultura non facit saltus, so there had to be generations or centuries of development before 800 BCE and the first recognizably Hebrew written text.
But as I said a long time ago, the northwest Semitic languages began to break away from Akkadian by 2000 BCE.   That’s at least a 1000-year gap from speaking a Semitic language that was incomprehensible in Sumero-Akkad, to a Hebrew language that also had a writing system.
In the interim, we have two mileposts.  We know that Hebrew writing developed out of one form of the Ugaritic syllabary, itself an adaptation of Akkadian cuneiform to a western Semitic language.  Ugarit was destroyed not long after 1200 BCE by the Sea Peoples.  The generations of adaptation that produced the Hebrew syllabary had to precede that.  Luckily we know that the Israelites spent centuries in the Holy Land before then, providing the time for development.
By 1100 BCE we have evidence in the hilltop settlements that there was indeed a separate Israelite culture that not only differed from the lowland K’naani culture, but deliberately held itself aloof, and that culture had at least one common feature throughout its settlements.  That implies a system of laws.
The Israelites might have had a syllabary for writing those laws down, but archaeology has not found samples of them yet.  Because the hilltop settlements were built on bare ground and not tells, and because of the evidence of isolation represented by the pottery, there’s no chance of confusing such samples with other cultures of the time.  They would be a marvelous find – but we haven’t found them as far as I know (March 2017).
Humans have had language for dozens of thousands of years and writing only for thousands.  In the interim, they had to communicate their laws somehow.  Before the Jews had a writing system, their ancestors had to transmit laws orally, not in writing.  And they had to do it in their own language because by rules 1 and 2 of SWLT, no other language could catch the nuances of their culture.
And I just hinted at the other reason why Israelites had to transmit their laws orally.  That’s for next week.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Thursday, March 23, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- Construct State

Genesis 1:2.
 
ב וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם:
 
Translation:     The earth was empty and chaotic and dark above the depths; a spirit of Gd was wafting back and forth above the water.
 
Vocabulary in this lesson:
 
הָיְתָה
was (f.s.)
תֹהוּ
empty
בֹהוּ
chaotic
חשֶׁךְ
dark, darkness
עַל
on, over, above
תְהוֹם
depths
רוּחַ
spirit, wind
מְרַחֶפֶת
waft, 3rd f. s., piel form (repetitive)
עַל־פְּנֵי
above
פְּנֵי
face, construct state, masculine plural
 
All right, here’s the table for the construct state. Masculine and feminine nouns work differently and I’m going to give you both.
 
indefinite
construct
Person/gender
בֵּן
בֵּן
Masculine singular
בָּנים
בְּנֵי
Masculine plural
 
 
 
פָּרָה
פָּרַת
Feminine singular
פָּרוֹת
פָּרוֹת
Feminine plural
 
Notice the change in the feminine singular and the masculine plural construct.
 
I’m going to stop here so that you have a week to memorize this table. You will see forms like this over and over again and I refuse to rush you.
 
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Saturday, March 18, 2017

LOUD, PROUD AND 60!

(keyn ahora as we say in the Tribe)

Yes, that is a six not a five, six zero, sixty!

WOOOOHOOOOO!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Oral tradition of Jewish literature

The reason that Talmud is known as Torah she-b’al-peh meaning Oral Torah, is because up until the time of Rabbi Judah the Prince, it was transmitted orally.  Individual students might make written notes; that was permitted as a reminder.  (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 6b, including Rashi’s note.)  But study and usage were oral, either in class or in action in the courtroom.

The components of Talmud are two: Mishnah, the post-Torah records of information needed to run Jewish culture; and Gemara, supplemental material from oral discussions and courtroom decisions.  There are two sets of Gemara, one developed in Babylonia and the other developed in the Holy Land.
The Mishnah plus Gemara from the Holy Land is called Jerusalem Talmud.  There  are 1700 numbered pages in the classic edition.
The Mishnah plus Gemara from Babylonia is called Babylonian Talmud.  There are 2700 numbered pages in the classic edition.
You’re going to object that Talmud breaks the rule as an oral communication because it is lengthy.  But don’t forget the fact that written material tends to be linearly organized, such as by subject.  Talmud is hard for most people to understand because its organization is associative.  The rule of association is personal to the people who transmitted it and relates to the particular subject under discussion, how the discussion got started, and the purpose for discussing it. 
Everybody who tries to understand Talmud has to put in a lot of work.  None of them were there when the discussion got started, some of them don’t live in a subculture which applies Talmud, and some people take up the study without a solid grasp on the underpinnings of Talmud in Torah and Mishnah.  Plus there’s a habit of trying to relate to it through translations instead of primary documents.
Now you’re going to object that Gemara is a commentary.  The answer is, it’s an in-culture commentary, developed specifically to clarify Mishnah, which is a commentary itself. 
Mishnah developed specifically to clarify the law in Torah, and to supplement it since experience in the courtroom showed that the Torah had gaps of information needed to decide court cases and teach courtroom procedure.
Those gaps occurred because Torah itself was an oral communication.  Oral communications suffer from problems with human memory; we easily forget what we don’t use on a regular basis.  Gd, being omniscient, would have known better than to try and tell the Israelites everything they would need to know in future millennia, because they would have forgotten what they didn’t use and didn’t understand, and they would have to recreate it anyway once they did need it.  Telling them that it was illegal to start a car on Shabbat would never have survived the millennia between establishment of Shabbat and invention of the car.  Even in writing – remember those lost Greek works? – it might have disappeared or – remember the Bamian statues? – been destroyed.
Torah law is much shorter and simpler than Talmud, but it has the gaps of information typical of orally transmitted material, and it also has an associative organization, the rule for which we do not know because the rule was not recorded at the time or passed along.  (I’ll take a guess at it at the end of this blog based on the statement of a rabbi which he made in audio lectures on Talmud.)
There are two reasons why things don’t get recorded.  One is that nobody records great secrets because they can get into unauthorized hands through carelessness or deliberate stealing.  The other reason is that nobody records things that are common knowledge.  Nobody imagines that they might be forgotten.
Things that were common knowledge, when the ancestors of the Jews began using Torah, dropped out of communications because they need not be said.  Once they dropped out of communications, it was a matter of time until they dropped out of memory.  When a case came into court where such information would have been useful, it was gone.  Then the court had to create a ruling that supplemented whatever they knew.  Torah explicitly permits this in Deuteronomy 17:8-12. 
Torah has gaps and an associative structure.  Because it is like Talmud in this way, I believe that its origin is oral, not written.  But wait, there's more.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Thursday, March 16, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- Construct State intro

Genesis 1:2.
 
ב וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם:
 
Transliteration: V’ha-arets haitah tohu va-vohu v’choshekh al-p’nei t’hom v’ruach elohim m’rachefet al-p’nei ha-maim.
Translation:     The earth was empty and chaotic and dark above the depths and a spirit of Gd was wafting back and forth above the water.
 
Vocabulary in this lesson:
 
הָיְתָה
was (f.s.)
תֹהוּ
empty
בֹהוּ
chaotic
חשֶׁךְ
dark, darkness
עַל
on, over, above
תְהוֹם
depths
רוּחַ
spirit, wind
מְרַחֶפֶת
waft, 3rd f. s., piel form (repetitive)
עַל־פְּנֵי
above
פְּנֵי
face, construct state, masculine plural
 
The next thing to notice in this verse is the phrase tohu va-vohu. You can use “and” here because of the clear conjunctive relationship between the nouns.
 
The only other time this phrase occurs in the Jewish Bible is Jeremiah 4:23. The material in Jeremiah is from just before the Babylonian Captivity of the middle 500s BCE.
 
And the grammar point: p’ney t’hom and p’ney ha-maim.  You have to get this absolutely straight because  you will see it over and over in the  Jewish Bible.  The term for it is “construct phrase”, and the first word is in a form called  “construct state”. 
 
There are three states a noun can be in; memorize this and I’ll wait until the next post to give you a table to memorize.
 
A noun can be termed “indefinite” when it has no definite article and is not in the construct state or in a construct phrase.
 
A noun can be termed in the construct state when it is associated with another noun and the one noun modifies or limits the meaning of the other noun.  More about that next post.  Construct state is by definition definite and both nouns in a construct phrase are definite.
 
A noun that has ha- in front of it, is definite.  There are definite nouns that are not construct that don’t use ha for purposes of “euphony” and I’ll point it out when we get there.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Friday, March 10, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- SWLT zero

Now we’re up to the zeroth rule of SWLT, which has a similar function to the zeroth law of thermodynamics.

There are two systems of communication, one recorded on some medium other than the human brain, and the other recorded only in the human brain. The first I am calling “written” for convenience and the second I’m calling “oral.”
Written communications can survive for some time without human intervention.
Oral communications come to an end when humans stop relaying them by word of mouth.
Written material tends to be organized by subject matter or some other linear feature with the exception of written communications that replace speech, such as personal letters or diaries and journals, and the speech put into the mouths of characters in fiction or history.
Oral communications tend to be associatively organized, but there’s no rule for how oral communications perceive information to be associated. It depends on culture and subculture and the purpose of the communication, and also on factors inherent in the communicators.
Written communications preserve symbols of the language in which they are expressed. When the meaning of those symbols is forgotten, the written material becomes incomprehensible without a lot of work to figure out what the symbols mean.
Oral communications are comprehensible at the time they are made, to those who understand the language. They alter during transmission due to changes made by the transmitters, for reasons such as the frailty of human memory. At each step in transmission, the material becomes a little different from the previous step and may wind up completely different from the original expression. The contents are preserved best when all parties are part of the same culture or subculture, all attentive to and interested in the material, all speak the same language and all have good memories.
Transfers of material happen between these two forms of communication, but it works better in one direction than the other, from oral to written. There are written communications which it is impossible to transmit orally beyond one or two hops. After that the details drop out rapidly until nothing is left.
Transfer is harder from written to oral due to the nature of written material, which has a format and usually a content diametrically opposed to what transmits well orally.  I’ll have much more to say about this in the last part of the blog.
A Danish professor and his mentor studied this transfer phenomenon.  I will explain their work in detail in the last part of the blog instead of here, so as not to interrupt the points I need you to understand about translations and commentaries. Besides, only in the fourth part of the blog will I discuss the alternatives to understanding the work of Axel Olrik.
The attested oral origin of a major Jewish classic had consequences both for its structure and content and I’m going to have to spend a couple of weeks on that because unless you already know about this, I will have to explain some details.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Thursday, March 9, 2017

21st century Bible Hebrew -- Genesis 1:2; "to be"

Genesis 1:2.
 
ב וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם:
 
Transliteration: V’ha-arets haitah tohu va-vohu v’choshekh al-p’nei t’hom v’ruach elohim m’rachefet al-p’nei ha-maim.
Translation:     The earth was empty and chaotic and dark above the depths and a spirit of Gd was wafting back and forth above the water.
Letters in this lesson: (“oo”) ח, ך, ע, פּ, נ, וּ
 
Vocabulary in this lesson:
 
הָיְתָה
was (f.s.)
תֹהוּ
empty
בֹהוּ
chaotic
חשֶׁךְ
dark, darkness
עַל
on, over, above
תְהוֹם
depths
רוּחַ
spirit, wind
מְרַחֶפֶת
waft, 3rd f. s., piel form (repetitive)
עַל־פְּנֵי
above
פְּנֵי
face, construct state, masculine plural
 
All right. It won’t take 7 weeks to explain every verse, I promise.
 
The first word in this verse is vav plus ha-arets. We can translate this “and the earth” but let me get you started on a concept that will show up again in Genesis 2. We just said that Gd created earth and the first assumption somebody might make is that how it was created is the same as how it is now. Verse 2 says something quite different and in English, when that happens, we say “but”, not “and”. So here is your first example that a vav prefix doesn’t necessarily mean “and”.
 
Second, here is a crucial verb in every language, “be”, in perfect aspect.
 
Singular
Plural
Person/gender
הָיִיתִי
הָיִינוּ
First
הָיִיתָ
הֱיִיתֶם
Second/masculine
הָיִית
הֱיִיתֶם
Second/feminine
הָיָה
הָיוּ
Third/masculine
הָיְתָה
 
Third/feminine
 
Notice the vowel under the first letter in 2nd person plural, both masculine and feminine, and remember that in bara, there was a shva here.
 
Because heh is a guttural (what are the other three, do you remember?), it can’t do that. It needs a vowel. Why the vowel has to be “e”, is beyond the scope of this course.
 
Also notice that the second vowel is “i", not “a” as in bara.
 
Probably the most important thing in “be” in BH is that it’s not like “be” in other languages. In Western languages, “be” is usually classed as “irregular” meaning that compared to other verbs that look like it, it doesn’t conjugate the same.
 
The conjugation rules in BH partly depend on the root letters. In hayah, we have heh at the start and end, and heh is a guttural which works by different rules than other letters. Also, the middle letter is yod and that puts hayah in a verb root class called ayin yod. Once all the rules are adjusted, the conjugation of hayah falls out so it’s not an irregular verb.

Next: something on nouns.
 
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved