October 23, 2008

One More Time: Anson Rainey and Hebrew Origins

Anson Rainey has published a rehash of his theory about both the origin of the Hebrew language and the people who spoke that language. This time, like one of his earlier efforts, he writes in Biblical Archaeology Review (34:06, Nov/Dec 2008). His earlier BAR effort is no long available but I wrote about it at the time. As far as I know, his only published scholarly work directly on the subject is "Whence Came the Israelites and Their Language?" Israel Exploration Journal, 57, 2007, 41-64, but he did give a paper at last year's SBL meeting in San Diego, "Redefining Hebrew - A Transjordanian Language." I also posted on it. Jim Getz offered insightful comments at the time.

As the good and now resurrected, Bishop N. T. Wrong quite correctly says, Rainey's most recent effort "is a confused and misleading piece of popular apologetics." And in my view, Rainey's more scholarly efforts are no more than that also. Go take a look at Wrong's rightful dismantling of part of Rainey's thought process and then go over to Jim West's place and see what a wholesale dismissal looks like.

I do have one small problem with Jim's comments. Jim says, " . . . Anson Rainey argues for the same, well worn, tired, and really unhelpful notion that the biblical text relates accurate and intentionally historical facts from the entrance of Israel into the Promise Land." What troubles me is that a text, just about any text, can relate accurate historical evidence without that being the intention of the text. But then, I don't have a theological need to conflate historical evidence and intention. Let me be clear, with a few well-known exceptions and even then without consideration of the smaller details, very little in the biblical texts can be seen as "accurate historical fact." But that doesn't mean that one can not glean some historical evidence from it.

I'm not even sure that Rainey is completely wrong. What I think is that he may be seeing a part, how big a part I do not know, of a far more complex picture. He then reproduces that partial picture as if it were the whole picture. The available evidence from all sources, linguistic, archaeological, and, yes, textual, leaves us with a problem, so underdetermined by that evidence, that we may never be able to recover a complete picture or even a very compelling one.

But what I am sure of is that a preconceived notion of Hebrew origins motivates Rainey. His use of a highly select set of Hebrew/Aramaic isoglosses to the complete exclusion of (or even reference to) important Hebrew/Phoenician isoglosses, isoglosses that he certainly knows, are indicative of an apology rather than a research project.

Posted by Duane Smith at October 23, 2008 8:10 PM | Read more on Hebrew Bible |

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Having leapt into Rainey's latest article, I have now read the background to all of this. Still, his argument doesn't make any more sense.

BTW, and only because you have abnormal interests:
In your last post on Rainey's proposal, you should have zahav not z-h-h and preterite not preterit. Now I feel so anal.

Posted by: N. T. Wrong at October 24, 2008 12:27 AM

Yes, you should feel anal but you are also correct. Thanks, I've fixed these errors and fired the copyreaders and the proofreaders here at Abnormal Interests!

Posted by: Duane at October 24, 2008 8:45 AM

Although, I see 'preterit' and 'preterite' are used by different grammars. Must depend on where you grew up.

Posted by: N. T. Wrong at October 24, 2008 2:41 PM

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