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Histoire de la langue Hebraique: Des origines a l'epoque de la Mishna, 4th ed.

Histoire de la langue Hebraique: Des origines a l'epoque de la Mishna. By Mireille Hadas-Lebel. Pp. 199. 11 illustrations and 2 maps. (Collection de la Revue des Etudes Juives, 21.) Leuven: Peeters, 1995. ISBN 90 6831 711 3. 900 BEF.

This fourth edition of Hadas-Lebel's survey of the history of Hebrew down to the Mishnah comes almost twenty years after the third edition of 1976. The bibliographies have been updated, and some use has been made of textual evidence that has become available in the meantime. The four chapters have as their subject-matter the Semitic languages in general, Hebrew script and phonology, biblical Hebrew (observing the familiar division into pre-exilic and post-exilic phases), and Mishnaic: Hebrew. Because of its perceived affinity with biblical Hebrew the language of the Qumran texts (minus the mishnaically-inclined Copper Scroll) is treated in the third chapter.

The discussion throughout is organized into short, manageable sections and is clear and generously provided with lexical and syntactical illustration. Serious attention is paid to external influences on the language in the chapters on the classical and mishnaic phases. Tangential matters such as the Protosinaitic inscriptions and the Amarna Canaanite glosses are usefully treated at appropriate points. The discussion of Qumran Hebrew in the third chapter, on the other hand, is thin, and references to the Bar-Kochba texts in Hebrew could be stronger on detail. Interestingly, in the section on pre-exilic Hebrew Ugaritic-type repetitive parallelism is cited as part of the cumulative evidence for the antiquity of such `early' poems as are found in Genesis 49 and 1 Samuel 2. In the final chapter the question whether Mishnaic Hebrew was a Schulsprache or a living language functions as a structuring device for much of the discussion.

This is an excellent survey which inevitably parallels much that is found in A History of the Hebrew Language by Angel Saenz-Badillos (1993), except that the latter extends to the modern period and, as a Spanish specialist might, Saenz-Badillos makes rather more of pronunciation and traditions of vocalization than does Hadas-Lebel. Otherwise, the case for translating this volume into English would be very strong. Since this is a fourth edition one may be permitted to note the mere detail that the biblical quotation in the second paragraph on page 77 is inaccurate and wrongly located (properly 2 Sam. 18:30).

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Author:Gordon, Robert P.
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1998
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