Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Vort: Loanwords in Kohelet and Pseudepigrapha

Sticking with the "authorship" theme there are a few books of the Tanach that very clearly have author attributions that are not likely at all. Rather, they very much seem like they were written by much later individuals but attributed to an earlier important personage. These fall into the genre of writing called, "pseudepigrapha" which means works that are attributed to another, usually mythical or historical, person.

Why Pseudepigrapha?

It's fairly easy to understand why authors would attribute works to someone other than themselves. Mainly, by attributing the work to a well known individual, be it Moshe or Avraham or whoever, then it becomes more likely that the work will receive attention. We see this happen all the time with religious writings. The entire book of Mormon is attributed to mythical individuals. The Zohar, "discovered" in the Middle Ages, is attributed to Moshe. In fact, there are tons of works from 200-400 CE that were attributed to other individuals. You can see a list here. Most of these were rejected from the Biblical canon but some made it in.

Kohelet Claimed Authorship

Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) doesn't have an explicity claim of the author. However, two sentences in the first paragraph are used to give the usual attribution to Shlomo (Solomon) (Eccl 1:1,12)
1 The words of Koheleth, the son of David, king in Jerusalem....,12 I Koheleth have been king over Israel in Jerusalem
Now, it is entirely possible to interpret "son of David" as descendent of David and therefore Kohelet could have been written by a later individual. Indeed this is the opinion of the Gemara in Bava Batra 15b which attributes the book to the time Hizkiyahu (Hezekiah). Of course both of these are impossible and we'll see why now.

Persian Loanwords

The reason Kohelet cannot be written at the time of Shlomo is that it includes words that would not have been known to anyone at the time. The words are Pardes (cognate with English Paradise) which literally means garden and appears in 2:5 and Pitgam which means decree and appears in 8:11. Pitgam also appears several times in the book of Esther, set in Persia.

Jews living in Israel had absolutely no contact with Persia until the Babylonian exile. They knew of the empire to the east of the Assyrians and Babylonians, which was the Median empire until the conquest of Cyrus in 550 BCE. However, there is no strong influence of Persian culture until the conquest of Babylon and the next few centuries when the Persians controlled Israel. It's during this period that we start seeing the strong influence of Persian culture on Judaism.

For Hizkiyahu or Shlomo to have used Pardes or Pitgam would be akin to a Jew during the Persian period using the word Sanhedrin or Afikomen which are derived from Greek, or like a Jew in the 1st century using the word Shvitz or Schlepp. In other words, the loanwords provide markers for the earliest possible date of the work, and in this case we can very confidently date Kohelet to the Exilic period at earliest.


  1. Shkoyach Kefira! Are there other examples in Koheles of later vocabulary?

    Also, the loan world argument has been used in reverse to claim that Mishpotim wasn't 'borrowed' from Hamurabi because it lacks loan words. What are your thoughts on that?

    1. For general arguments about dating texts using linguistic markers, I generally follow the procedures of Hurvitz, which I described in brief in Parshat Beshalach.

      The absence of loanwords is never used to date a text. Rather, what one looks for is for specific new words where in earlier texts, different words are used. Arguing from the absence of specific words is a really poor argument. It might be somewhat better if you can show that other texts from the time period do have Babylonian loan words, but they don't. At worst it's a strawman argument. No one is saying that the Israelites copied Hammurabi's law. All they're saying is the legal framework and some of the individual statutes are directly from the generic Mesopotamian law code genre, oh which Hammurabi is the most famous and most complete.

  2. Thanks, I've tried reading some books on linguistics, I even read one on Akkadian by a YU professor. While the overall concept is fascinating, the details and minutiae are daunting and boring. I have yet to see any coherent defense of the overwhelming linguistic evidence for late composition and multiple authorship of the torah.

    1. Haha, I find linguistics details to be fascinating and I love reading about them. The only book I read in depth was Hurvitz, and he makes a couple general arguments which I summarized in parshat beshalach. The main idea is that there are really three distinct branches of Judaism, "old", "standard" and "late". The vast majority of the Torah is standard, none of it is late. The early stuff is consigned to some of the songs. Kohelet is late (as are stuff like Ezra, Nehemiah, Job, etc.) Usually I don't take linguistic arguments further than that, as it's the most agreed upon.

      Hurvitz's other main argument that he wrote a lot about is comparing Yehezkel to P and arguing that P predates Yehezkel. This is a support for Friedman who thinks P is from Hizkiyahu. This argument is more suspect, yet I recorded a bunch of the things Hurvitz uses for P.

      I'll just list some of them. P uses plural suffix -tam, Yehezkel uses -tehem. P uses heikim, Y uses kiyem, P uses nikdash, Y uses hitkadesh, P uses reiach nichoch, Y doesn't ever use that, P uses isheh, Y uses olah. and so on.

    2. Thanks Kefira, I like what friedman has done with developing DH, and especially J and P, but as you often say, much of it is very speculative. I especially like Friedman's research on particular wording only found in one author. Like Sheol, yefas toar, kevod yahwe etc. (and of course the ones you list above)

  3. I'm interested to hear what Are Roster and co have to say about this one. I am familiar with all the standard kiruv arguments against biblical criticism but this one is hard to argue against.

    My guess is they will deny the Persian provenance of those words (based on their extensive knowledge of Persian) and accuse anyone who makes this argument of making up facts in order to serve their atheist agenda (as opposed to religious people who are completely objective).

    1. It's Are Roster:
      It's not one of the ikrim to believe that Koheles was written by Shelomo or Chizkiya, so I don't see the need to say anything. I would note, however, that, since we don't know much about ancient Persian languages, we have to be open to the possibility that we influenced their language, rather than the reverse (this is speculative on my part, maybe we do know a lot about ancient farsi). Furthermore, since the "Anshei Keneses Hagedolah" might have edited it, making some slight emendations, there's no longer any evidence that the core wasn't written by Shelomo. Finally, since Koheles was written at the end of Shelomo's life, after he'd interacted with foreign women (including the Queen of Sheba, who some argue was Persian) there's no need for us to be intimidated or to back down based on these finds.

      What I do wonder, however: If the Torah is of late authorship, why no mention of Persia?

    2. > would note, however, that, since we don't know much about ancient Persian languages, we have to be open to the possibility that we influenced their language, rather than the reverse (this is speculative on my part, maybe we do know a lot about ancient farsi).

      We know some. Granted a lot of stuff was destroyed by the Mongols, yet we still have various inscriptions from the Achaemanid period. However, this isn't really about one language "influencing" another, any more than you would say that Malay influenced English by giving us the word "ketchup." It's also imminently clear that pardes and pitgam are not Hebrew origin, they have no Semitic root (and can't since Semitic roots are all three letters.) There's not really a reasonable argument this way.

      > Finally, since Koheles was written at the end of Shelomo's life, after he'd interacted with foreign women (including the Queen of Sheba, who some argue was Persian)

      This account, including the mysterious "queen of Sheba" is all very obviously fictional, but that's another story.

      >What I do wonder, however: If the Torah is of late authorship, why no mention of Persia?

      Because very few, if any people, think it was written *that* late. Areas where you expect Persia to possibly appear, like Bereishit 10, were probably written earlier, when the kingdom was known as Medea. (and that's exactly how it appears in Genesis 10).

    3. There is an argument here for an earlier interaction with Medea which would explain how persian loan words entered (the authors agree with your conclusion about kohelet but disagree with hurvitz's method). I am curious as to your thoughts

    4. @Jack

      The authors of the articles do bring up good points. On their broad argument I generally agree. There is a very strong tendency of biblical scholars to overstate their claims. Hurvitz is no exception. This is one reason that I really try to bring up topics that have broad agreement, and if I find something that is fringe but interesting, I explicitly state it as so.

      So is it possible to use linguistics solely to determine whether some language feature is dialectic instead of diachronic? Probably not. It's just one tool in the toolbox. You'd be silly to rely on it solely, but you'd also be silly to ignore it entirely. I think I agree with the authors on that point.

      When it comes to the topic of Persian loanwords in detail, I disagree with them a bit more. While it's technically possible that the Israelites encountered displaced Medeans during the first temple period, I just don't see this as likely. The words I used, pitgam and pardes are both extremely popular in the Persian period and in later Hebrew writing, but non-existent before.

      The other loanwords are more questionable, but I am not an expert in Ancient Persian to really offer a rebuttal here. I will note that their use of "dat" in Deut 33:2 is a bit troubling for their case. In the MT the word is written as one word with the preceeding word "aish." It's not clear at all what's going on here and the most obvious candidate is a corruption. The meaning of the word as "law" is highly questionable and cannot at all be determined from context. However, one could certainly see how later translators confused it with a Persian word later! I'm not sure the presence of this word really helps their case. Similarly, the translation of *raz* as secret makes no sense in the context of Isaiah 24:16. I can't offer any information regarding the verse in Nahum, as I'm not at all familiar with the scholarship on that book.

      But in general, we don't ask the question whether it's *possible* that these Persian loanwords entered the Hebrew language during the first temple period. Surely these things are possible. Rather we ask if it is probable. And it certainly is not likely.

  4. The answers I used when I was a kiruv professional were that all languages stem from loshon hakodesh, therefore you'll find Persian and other languages in the torah, and that the neviim spoke 'the 70 languages' and thus added bits and pieces of various languages into the torah. After initially learning the truth about the torah and the evolution of Judaism, I curiously sought out rabbis, rosh yeshivas and Internet apologists to hear whether they had defenses of traditional judaic belief, but found none. The more time passes and apologists come and go, I have yet to see anything other than desperate, illogical, dogmatic arguments that inevitably descend into name calling and immaturity. But I get it! I was also once 'married' to and brainwashed by the traditional / orthodox system. I would have been here making those same desperate arguments.

    1. I also heard the claim all language stems from Hebrew. I was skeptical - consider all the other continents. Chinese dialects from Hebrew ? I have not found a single academic linguist who argues Hebrew is at the root of all language. People of faith base their opinions on what their Rabbis tell them to believe or what their alleged holy books tell them to believe. They deny what is before their very own eyes. How sad to have to live with such cognitive dissonance. How sad to see them ignoring/distorting/chastising/denying any academic discipline that confronts their dogma. How sad to watch them distort their own holy books to make it fit facts. Bye the way I have to read Spinoza again - he had a discussion on the authors of other sacred books of the Tenach.

    2. Kocker, which translation of Spinoza do you recommend? I find many of the books very difficult to read.

      As far as the OJ brainwash, it's sad for people like us who seek truth and freedom, but for many, it provides structure and freedom from having to make one's own decisions, and from having to think for one's self.

  5. M Rose writes "...but for many, it provides structure and freedom from having to make one's own decisions, and from having to think for one's self." Good point. Some of Spinoza's works may be very difficult to follow. But A Theologico-Political Treatise as provided in that link should be OK more than less. This link I think is same book