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(745 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A.
The English word shibboleth has its origins in an episode narrated in Judg. 12.1–6. The story there revolves around the Hebrew word שִׁבֹּלֶת šibbōlεṯ, meaning both ‘ear of grain’ and ‘flow, stream, torrent’ (15× and 4×, respectively, in the Bible). In Judg. 12.6 the form סִבֹּ֗לֶת sibbōlεṯ occurs as well, alongside the standard form of the noun. The use of both forms in this verse is prime evidence for the existence of regional dialects in ancient Hebrew, at least in the realm of phonology (in this case, a dialectal difference between Ephraim…

Cultural Words: Biblical Hebrew

(1,010 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A.
The ancient Hebrew lexicon contains a considerable number of Kulturwörter or Wanderwörter, that is, lexical items whose origins cannot be identified with certainty, but which are common to cultures throughout a particular region, as well as loanwords borrowed from various languages used over a wide area (from the Mediterranean to South Asia). No doubt Israel’s geographical location—as the land bridge between the two great cultural centers of Egypt and Mesopotamia, along with access to the Mediterranean Sea…

Foreigner Speech: Biblical Hebrew

(467 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A.
Foreigner speech appears in the Bible in two main contexts. First, the ancient Israelite authors employed ‘style-switching’ to reflect the speech of foreigners, in the following two settings: (a) when the scene shifts to a foreign land; and (b) when a foreigner is present in the land of Israel. An example of the former is Gen. 30–31, with the narrative set in the land of Aram; and an example of the latter is Num. 22–24, with Balaam the Aramean prophet in the land of Canaan (or to be more accurat…


(686 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A.
Alliteration is a literary device whereby the same or similar consonantal sounds are used to create an oral-aural effect in a sentence or verse. Because Hebrew words are based on a triliteral root system, consonants in first, second, or third position within a Hebrew word or root may participate in the alliteration (as opposed to, for example, Old English, where initial consonants alliterate). In Biblical Hebrew alliteration was used only occasionally (also in contrast to Old English and other O…


(1,946 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A.
Style-switching refers to the incorporation of non-Hebrew elements into a Hebrew text in order to convey foreignness in particular settings. Among the first scholars to identify style-switching in the Bible and to deal with the phenomenon in any detail were Rabin (1967), with reference to the speech of the watchman from Dumah in Isa. 21.11–12 (Addressee-Switching), and Kaufman (1988:54–55), with attention to the book of Job, the Balaam oracles, the Massa material in Prov. 30–31, and the aforemen…

Pentateuch, Linguistic Layers in the

(2,003 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A.
In modern biblical scholarship the Torah (or Pentateuch) has typically been viewed as composed of four main sources: Yahwist (J), Elohist (E), Priestly (P), and Deuteronomic (D), dated, respectively, to the 10th, 9th, 8th, and 7th centuries B.C.E. Although most scholars continue to date the Priestly source to the exilic (6th century B.C.E.) or even post-exilic (5th century B.C.E.) period, the linguistic evidence for the earlier date is compelling (Hurvitz 1974, 1982, and many others). Recently t…

Diglossia: Biblical Hebrew

(900 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A.
Diglossia refers to the use of two registers, one written or classical and the other spoken or colloquial, in a particular language (Ferguson 1959; 1991; some scholars have expanded the meaning of ‘diglossia’, on which see below, “Diglossia: (ii) Rabbinic Hebrew”; in the first section of the present entry we retain the original, more restricted connotation of the term). The prototypical example of diglossia, not only within Semitic, but in general, is Arabic, with its classical and colloquial va…

Biblical Hebrew: Dialects and Linguistic Variation

(1,708 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A.
During much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, scholars theorized the existence of different Hebrew dialects in ancient Israel (cf., e.g., GKC §2w), though only Burney made a serious attempt to identify specific evidence. In his commentary on Judges (1918:171–176), Burney isolated various northern features in the Song of Deborah (Judg. 5); while in his commentary on Kings (1903:208–209) he performed the same task with regard to the Elijah and Elisha narratives (most of 1 Kgs 17–2 Kgs 13). Nonetheless, these early efforts were sufficient to establish the basic picture…

Phonology: Biblical Hebrew

(6,248 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A.
Introduction This entry treats the phonology of Biblical Hebrew, though on occasion we will refer to data from beyond the domain of BH per se. The methodology utilized here is that of historical linguistics, especially since the relevant information covers more than a thousand years (for an earlier treatment, on which the current essay is largely based, see Rendsburg 1997; for amplification of some of the topics treated herein, see Kutscher 1982:12–30; for theoretical approaches to the subject Phonology, Generative and…


(722 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A.
Addressee-switching refers to the literary-linguistic device in the Bible whereby prophets included foreign elements in oracles (ostensibly) directed at foreign nations. To be sure, these texts were heard only by the Israelite consumers of ancient Hebrew literature, but the addition of such foreign elements no doubt added a hint of reality and authenticity to the speeches. The first to identify this device appears to have been Chaim Rabin (1967:304–305): “It is a feature of First Isaiah’s style that, when speaking of or addressing a foreign nation, h…

Morphology: Biblical Hebrew

(9,195 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A.
Introduction In presenting the morphology of Biblical Hebrew (BH), in the main we refer to Standard Judahite literary Hebrew, i.e., the literary variety used in Judah ca. 1000–600 B.C.E. (for an earlier treatment, on which the present entry is largely based, see Rendsburg 2007). Where the data permit us to witness distinct usages in other varieties of ancient Hebrew, such will be noted. Thus, we will refer occasionally to archaic Biblical Hebrew (ABH); Israelian Hebrew (IH), that is, the dialect …

Rotwelsch, Hebrew Loanwords in

(2,068 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A. | Jütte, Robert
Rotwelsch (or Gaunersprache, i.e., German for ‘language of swindlers’) is the term used for the argot employed by crooks, thieves, and vagabonds in the German-speaking portions of central Europe, with its home in southwestern Germany especially. The latter portion of the term, Welsch, suggests any foreign and unintelligible speech (as a comparison, note Yiddish Wellisch ‘Italian’); while the former portion of the term, Rot derives either from Rotwelsch Rot ‘beggar’ (perhaps ultimately from German rot ‘red’ > ‘false, faithless’), German Rotte ‘gang, band’, or Middle Dutch rot ‘fou…

Kinship Terms

(5,546 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A. | Smoak, Jeremy D.
The literature preserved in the Hebrew Bible provides a wealth of information about the lexicon of kinship in ancient Israel and early Judaism. The most explicit description of the various kinship units in ancient Israel is found in Josh. 7.16–18. The passage occurs as part of Joshua’s search for the member of Israel responsible for taking some of the sacred items to have been devoted to Yahweh following Israel’s defeat at the city of Ai. When Joshua calls up the different tribes for questioning about the incident, he proceeds to identify the guilty man, Achan, by calling out his שֵׁבֶט šēḇεṭ


(338 words)

Author(s): Rendsburg, Gary A. | Schwarzwald, Ora (Rodrigue)
For regional dialects of ancient Hebrew, with a focus on the division between Judahite Hebrew (in the south) and Israelian Hebrew (in the north), Biblical Hebrew: Dialects and Linguistic Variation. For Hebrew as a dialect of ancient Canaanite (with Phoenician, Moabite, Ammonite, and Edomite as the other main dialects), Canaanite and Hebrew; Phoenician/Punic and Hebrew; Amarna Canaanite and Hebrew; Ammonite and Hebrew; Edomite and Hebrew; Moabite and Hebrew. For written and spoken registers of ancient Hebrew during both the biblical and rabbinic periods, Diglossia. For other var…

Phoenician/Punic and Hebrew

(3,999 words)

Author(s): Guzzo, Maria Giulia Amadasi | Rendsburg, Gary A.
1. Introduction Hebrew and Phoenician (along with Punic, on which see below) belong to the Canaanite group of North-West Semitic (Northwest Semitic Languages and Hebrew), though no consensus exists on how closely related the two dialects/languages may be. According to dialect geography, Garr (1980) speaks of a dialect chain sweeping across all the Canaanite and Aramaic dialects (before the Persian period), with Phoenician at one linguistic extreme, Aramaic at the other and Hebrew as a minor lingui…

Negation: Pre-Modern Hebrew

(6,711 words)

Author(s): Naudé, Jacobus A. | Rendsburg, Gary A.
Biblical Hebrew possesses a series of negative particles, each used to negate a specific grammatical form or syntagma. Two different types of negators may be identified: (a) those used in sentential negation; and (b) those used in constituent negation (see especially Snyman 2004, based on Minimalist Syntax). For a different model, which posits three different types (item negation, constituent negation, and clausal negation), see Waltke and O’Connor 1990:657. Sentential negation implies that the negative form has scope over the whole subsequent phrase or sequence…