Friday, March 3, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- clueless on steroids

Now here’s another take on how Lancelot Brenton, Rev. Fitzgerald, and everybody who has commented on Samaritan Pentateuch to date can’t possibly know what they’re talking about, and it relies on Rule 2, grammar.

Dr. Cook’s dissertation shows how everybody has tried to fit the usage of verbs in Biblical Hebrew into a tense-verb system and wound up contradicting themselves or other writers.
The answer is to realize that ancient Semitic languages, including Akkadian and Ugaritic, were aspect-verb systems. They had a perfect aspect which expressed completed actions. They had an imperfect aspect for incomplete actions, including the fact that as far as the characters in a narrative are concerned, the action isn’t over yet. Hebrew also had a progressive which could function as an adjective and as a present tense verb, being a kind of gerundive.
This system continues in Modern Standard Arabic, except that there is no explicit progressive aspect; Arabic has other grammatical ways of putting that concept across.
Because most commentaries on the Bible were published before 2002, those that examine grammar are going to talk tense and be wrong, instead of aspect which is correct for Biblical Hebrew.
What about the 80% identity between Samaritan Pentateuch andTorah? That turns out to be a complicated issue.
We don’t know what the Samaritans understand SP to say as far as grammar. We know how their tradition explains itself, if we read Mr. Benny Tsedaka’s English translation of their interpretation.
But in studying Samaritan scripture, I smacked up against Ze’ev ben Hayyim’s book which is an English translation of Volume V of his Literary and Oral Traditions of the Samaritans.
As soon as I say translation, you know you’re in trouble.  In fact, for one example, there are places where it talks about the “time” of verbs. Turns out that this word corkscrews through bad translations. In Arabic, the word used to mean “tense” is zaman. There’s a similar Hebrew word, z’man, but it means “time”. In Hebrew, the word for “tense” is something quite different. But if SP’s language represents a version of Biblical Hebrew, then it doesn’t have tenses in the first place.
In the second place, ben Hayyim constantly uses the terms “perfect” and “imperfect”. At the time he wrote (an issue of historical context), Hebrew was consistently described as a tense language.
What apparently happened was that some of ben Hayyim’s sources analyzed Hebrew in terms of Arabic. They would have used the terms perfect and imperfect because it was common in Arabic studies by the late 1800s, as shown in William Wright’s two-volume grammar.
While studying ben Hayyim’s work, I tried to figure out why it apparently had no relationship to the contemporary understanding of Hebrew. I thought it might have something to do with Assyrian, and found Friedrich Delitzsch’s grammar of Assyrian on Internet Archive. This was the book on Assyrian in Hermann Strack’s Porta Linguarum Orientalium series published in the 1800s. It didn’t work out.
To find what I think is the  answer, I had to learn some Arabic.  James Price’s very useful book from late in the 20th century was one source; I also found help in books and websites on Quranic Arabic. Many of the discussions in ben Hayyim’s book are more or less fractured representations of issues in Arabic grammar, and have nothing at all to do with Hebrew. Why they are so garbled might have to do with translation – or with ben Hayyim using sources that didn’t understand how Arabic grammar works – or how Hebrew grammar works.
In my Samaritan project, The Real Difference, I show that some of the differences between Torah and SP make sense when viewed through the prism of Arabic grammar.
So we don’t know what Samaritans understand about the grammar of SP, and paraphrases (cringe) of interpretations (shudder) of what may have been translations (fuhgeddaboudit) from grammarians who wrote in Arabic, don’t tell us. Even if Fitzgerald or Brenton had read his work, they would have been as clueless as they were in the first place.

One more rule and we're done with the scientific material in this part of the blog.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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