Friday, September 29, 2006

Paleo-Hebrew Script Hypothesis

Disclaimer: everything that follows stands likely to be completely baseless...

Where did the paleo-Hebrew script found in the DSS come from? What is its purpose? What does the form of the script itself communicate historically?

Contrary to what I previously imagined, the paleo-Hebrew of the DSS is not an ancient version of the Hebrew script. The pre-exilic script--specifically the script originating from Iron Age II as witnessed in numerous places such as the Siloam inscription and LMLK seals/seal impressions--is completely different. This script is referred to as Old Hebrew or Phoenician. Post-exilic Jews abandoned this script for the square Aramaic script used to this day. But at some point, despite this universal abandonment of the Old Hebrew and acceptance of the Aramaic, entire scrolls of the Hebrew bible were written in what some have called an "archaizing" script--a script that maintains attributes of the square Aramaic while reflecting the ancient forms of Old Hebrew (so-called paleo-Hebrew). Other scrolls deviated from the standard script in favor of this paleo-Hebrew only when it came to the divine name.

Why change the common script to reflect ancient forms instead of going back to Old Hebrew? What is so unique that this script should be the primary choice for the most holy name of God in documents that clearly would not otherwise care about it? What would cause a scribe to copy an entire scroll in paleo-Hebrew?

Apparently, the Greek of the NT was once considered a unique script, perhaps a holy or spiritual script, which only appeared in the NT. Now we know that it is simply a much more vulgarized form of the classical Greek (so I hear). What if the paleo-Hebrew script served a similar purpose? What if the form of the script was meant to communicate a particular world-view? What if it was meant to be a kind of holy script looking forward to or proclaiming the fulfillment of the eschatalogical hopes of some in the post-exilic period--that the exile was finally ending, that the gentiles were finally being destroyed, that Yahweh was returning to Jerusalem?

The changing of the square script to reflect the Old Hebrew could be seen as an attempt to show that the former days of Yahweh's dominion in which a similar script was used were returning or being established. The use of the script for only the divine name in several documents suggests to me that it was meant for the place of honor and royalty--even if the scribes knew the season was not immediately upon them. Reasons to change the script and thus forecast the coming kingdom of Israel's god could be found in many places, such as the book of Daniel, which told of a series of kingdoms that would precede the kingdom formed by non-human hands. Such a script need not be an official script, it could be appropriated by various sectarian groups and used toward their own eschatalogical ends. Scribes could have used it in the Hasmonean or Herodian periods to help authenticate the supremacy and divine intent of the rule, which could also be a reason for its rejection among the common populace and, thus, a relatively short lifespan.


Blogger Beyond The Rim... said...

Everything reflects God's influence in some why, to bring to bear his plan upon the earth, either as heralds of its coming or markers of its passing by. As the psalmist said, where can I go to escape you for where ever I go, you are. I would add, where ever I look I see evidence of you...

5:58 AM  
Blogger Beyond The Rim... said...

Sorry, "why" should be "way".

5:59 AM  

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