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

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