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Is there a difference in the Hebrew between the earliest Old Testament books and the relatively newer books? In other words: are there linguistic differences (syntax, grammar, word usage) in older books like Job, when compared with more recent books like Isaiah?

I am particularly interested in this because of any light it might shed on our modern process of periodically updating our translations to keep pace with current usage of language. Languages are never static. The writing, editing and compiling of the Old Testament canon spans a vast window of time -- long enough for the language(s) it was written in to change dramatically. Do we have any reference points that show how much the language usage was updated during the various redacting processes that the various books went through?

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Caleb, this is a very good question, and I am interested in the answer. –  dleyva3 Aug 26 '11 at 20:59
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I'd love to answer this question. I know for sure the answer is yes. The structure of the Hebrew language in Genesis 1 is quite different from that in Genesis 2, for example. Just look at the names used for God. Most of Job has a different and more ancient kind of Hebrew than, for example, most of the Deuteronomic History (Sa, Ki). But, @Caleb, it's gonna take a while to get together sources for all this to give a good answer. –  user116 Aug 28 '11 at 13:37
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@OllieJones: I have until I go home to meet my Lord. If I haven't heard from you by then I'll ask Him. –  Caleb Aug 28 '11 at 19:51
    
Here's a lecture that touches on this question about the changing nature of the Hebrew language: "The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?" –  metal Apr 11 '13 at 2:11
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2 Answers

Biblical Hebrew seems to have gone through three eras: Archaic Hebrew (1000 BC to 800 BC), Standard Biblical Hebrew (800 - 600 BC), and Late Biblical Hebrew (600 - 200ish BC). The Hebrews scribes preserved these different eras as they copied the Hebrew Bible in such a way that a trained person can see the different linguistic layers as they read through the ancient texts.

For more reading: Biblical Hebrew - WikiPedia

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We currently use Hebrew Masoretic Old Testament Text which dates to around 9th/10th century AD. This Hebrew in Hebrew Masoretic Text is very different from the Hebrew used by Moses in Old Testament Period. Also, Hebrew Masoretic Text contain vowel markings. There were no vowel markings in Old Testament Period.

It must be noted that Aramaic became the language of Jews after Babylonian captivity. The books began translated into Aramaic language. Notice the fact that there are no Hebrew versions of books like 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, and Judith. But there are versions of these books in Greek (Septuagint) and in Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh (published in Ceriani's book "Translatio syra pescitto Veteris Testamenti ex Codice Ambrosiano").

There are scholars who admit that Aramaic was the language of Jews during Maccabean period. Here is an example from Book of Maccabees.

1 Maccabees 12:36-37 (Septuagint) - "And making the walls of Jerusalem higher, and raising a great mount between the tower and the city, for to separate it from the city, that so it might be alone, that men might neither sell nor buy in it. Upon this they came together to build up the city, forasmuch as part of the wall toward the brook on the east side was fallen down, and they repaired that which was called Caphenatha."

According to Book "City of Jerusalem" by Colonel C. R Conder (Pg. 100), Caphenatha is Aramaic word for a "heap." Notice "tha" in Caphenatha. "tha" in Caphenatha is Aramaic definite article on a feminine noun in an emphatic state (Introduction to Syriac by Wheeler Thackston, Page 44).

Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh is first century Old Testament written in Aramaic. This was the Old Testament used in First Century Israel due to the fact that Aramaic was the spoken language of first century Israel (Acts 1:19, Antiquities XX XI).

Let me point out the confusions and errors in Hebrew Masoretic Old Testament Text solved by Peshitta Tanakh. This will also give a visual idea of how many variations and errors are there in Hebrew Masoretic Text.

Here are some of the errors and contradictions in Hebrew Masoretic Text cleared by Peshitta Tanakh.

  1. Exodus 6:20 (KJV) - And Amram took him Jochebed his father's sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were an hundred and thirty and seven years.

    Exodus 6:20 (NIV) - Amram married his father’s sister Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses. Amram lived 137 years.

    Exodus 6:20 (1917 JPS Tanakh English translation of Hebrew Masoretic Text) - "And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bore him Aaron and Moses. And the years of the life of Amram were a hundred and thirty and seven years.“

    Is this true? Well, Let’s look at Peshitta Tanakh (Aramaic Old Testament) and also Septuagint.

    Exodus 6:20 (Samuel Bagster & Sons' Translation from Septuagint) - "And Ambram took to wife Jochabed the daughter of his father's brother, and she bore to him both Aaron and Moses, and Mariam their sister; and the years of the life of Ambram were a hundred and thirty-two years.“

    Exodus 6:20 (George Lamsa’s translation of Peshitta Tanakh)- "And Amram took his uncle’s daughter Jokhaber, and she bore him Aaron, Moses, and Miriam; and the years of the life of Amram were a hundred and thirty-seven years."

    Lamsa wrote "uncle’s daughter“ instead of writing the daughter of his father's brother. Aramaic word "Doda" that refers to an uncle on father's side.

    Let’s also look at John Wycliffe’s translation.

    Exodus 6:20 (John Wycliffe’s translation) – “Forsothe Amram took a wijf, Jocabed, douytir of his fadris brother, and sche childide to hym Aaron, and Moises, and Marie; and the yeeris of lijf of Amram weren an hundred and seuene and thretti.”

    Here is a site for Wycliffe's translation of Exodus.

    Compared to Peshitta Tanakh and Wycliffe’s translation, the difference with Septuagint is that it says the years of the life of Ambram were a hundred and thirty-two years.

    Peshitta Tanakh and Wycliffe’s translation agree with Hebrew Masoretic Text about Ambram’s age.

  2. Genesis 2:2 (1917 JPS Tanakh English translation of Hebrew Masoretic Text) - “And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made.”

    Let’s look at Septuagint.

    Genesis 2:2 (Translation from Septuagint) – “And God finished on the sixth day his works which he made, and he ceased on the seventh day from all his works which he made.”

    Genesis 2:2 (George Lamsa’s translation of Peshitta Tanakh) – “And on the sixth day God, finished his works which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his works which he had made.”

    In Hebrew Masoretic Text, it says "seventh day" (in Genesis 2:2), is in contradiction to Exodus 20:11 (in Hebrew Masoretic Text) where it says "six days."

    But Peshitta Tanakh has no such contradiction.

  3. Exodus 20:7 (look at the differences below)

    Peshitta Tanakh - "You shall not swear falsely in the name of MarYA your Alaha, for MarYA will not consider him innocent who swears falsely in his Name... for MarYA made the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is with them in six days, and rested on the seventh day; for that reason, Alaha blessed the seventh day and made it holy {or, sanctified it}."

    LXX - (Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord thy God will not acquit him that takes his name in vain... For in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, and the sea and all things in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it. - Brenton)

    Hebrew Masoretic - You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain; for Yahweh will not allow to go unpunished he who takes his name in vain... For in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all which is in them. And he rested on the seventh day; thus, Yahweh blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.

    KJV (King James Version) - Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain... For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

  4. 2 Kings 8:26 & 2 Chronicles 22:2

    2 Kings 8:26 (Hebrew Masoretic Text) - "Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Athaliah the daughter of Omri king of Israel."

    2 Chronicles 22:2 (Hebrew Masoretic Text) - "Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Athaliah the daughter of Omri."

    2 King 8:26 of Hebrew Masoretic Text, it says Ahaziah was 22 years old. But in 2 Chronicles 22:2, it says Ahaziah was 42 years old.

    Does Peshitta Tanakh has this contradiction?

    2 Kings 8:26 - Lamsa Translation of Peshitta Tanakh

    Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri king of Israel.

    2 Chronicles 22:2 - Lamsa Translation of Peshitta Tanakh

    Twenty-two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Athaliah the daughter of Omri.

    Peshitta Tanakh clears the contradiction found in Hebrew Masoretic Text.

    Did Joram marry the daughter of Ahab or the sister of Ahab?

    2 Kings 8:16-18 (Hebrew Masoretic Text) - "And in the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab king of Israel, Jehoshaphat being the king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah began to reign. Thirty and two years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Ahab; for he had the daughter of Ahab to wife; and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD."

    2 Kings 8:24 (Hebrew Masoretic Text) - "And Joram slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David; and Ahaziah his son reigned in his stead."

    Through this, we know that Athaliah was the wife of Joram and their son was Ahaziah. But in 2 Kings 8:26 & 2 Chronicles 22:2, it says Athaliah was the daughter of Omri and Athaliah was the mother of Ahaziah. But in 2 Kings 8:16-18, we read Athaliah was the daughter of Ahab. In 1 Kings 16:29-30, we know that Ahab was the son of Omri.

    What does Peshitta Tanakh say about this contradiction?

    2 Kings 8:16-18 (Lamsa Translation of Peshitta Tanakh) - "And in the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab king of Israel. Joram the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, began to reign. He was thirty-two years old when he began to reign; and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Ahab; for the sister of Ahab was his wife; and he did evil in the sight of the LORD."

    Unlike 2 Kings 8:16-18 of Hebrew Masoretic Text, Peshitta Tanakh points out that Joram married a sister of Ahab. Through this, the contradictions in Hebrew Masoretic Text are cleared by Peshitta Tanakh. Ahab was the son of Omri and Athaliah was the daughter of Omri.

  5. Was Jehoiachin 8 years old (2Chronicles 36:9) or 18 years old (2Kings 24:8) when he began to reign?

    2 Kings 24:8 (Hebrew Masoretic Text) - "Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign; and he reigned in Jerusalem three months; and his mother’s name was Nehushta the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem."

    2 Chronicles 36:9 (Hebrew Masoretic Text) - "Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign; and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem; and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD."

    It says Jehoiachin was eighteen years old in 2 Kings 24:8 and Jehoiachin was eight years old in 2 Chronicles 36:9. What does Peshitta Tanakh say about this contradiction?

    2Chronicles 36:9 (Lamsa translation of Peshitta Tanakh) - "Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem; and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD."

    2Kings 24:8 (Lamsa Translation of Peshitta Tanakh) - "Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Nehushta, the daughter of Eliathan of Jerusalem."

    Both 2 Chronicles 36:9 and 2 Kings 24:8 says Jehoiachin was eighteen years old. This contradiction in Hebrew Masoretic Text is cleared by Peshitta Tanakh.

  6. 1 Samuel 13:5

    1 Samuel 13:5 (Hebrew Masoretic Text) - "And the Philistines assembled themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea-shore in multitude; and they came up, and pitched in Michmas, eastward of Beth-aven."

    There are 30,000 chariots. But there are only 6000 horsemen? There is something strange here.

    Let's look at Peshitta Tanakh.

    1 Samuel 13:5 (Lamsa Translation of Peshitta Tanakh) - "And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, three thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude; and they came up and encamped in Michmash, east of Beth-el."

    In Peshitta Tanakh, it says there were 3000 chariots instead of 30,000 chariots in Hebrew Masoretic Text. This makes much more sense.

    In Peshitta Tanakh, it says Beth-el. But Hebrew Masoretic Text has Beth-aven.

    There are other confusions and variations in Hebrew Masoretic Text cleared by Peshitta Tanakh.

    Unlike Hebrew Masoretic Text from 9th century AD, these books are part of Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh from first century AD - Daniel (with Bel and Dragon, Prayer of Azariah, Song of Three, Susanna), Judith, Wisdom (of Solomon), I Maccabees, II Maccabees, III Maccabees, IV Maccabees, Esdras, Sirach, I Epistle of Baruch, II Epistle of Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah, Apocalypse of Baruch, 4 Ezra, and Josephus' Jewish Wars Book Six in Aramaic (which explains about the destruction of temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD and mentions about the vision of chariots and soldiers in the sky right before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD). Many of these books are also found in Septuagint.

    Lamsa translation of Peshitta Tanakh is the only current available English Translation of Peshitta Tanakh. His translation is alright. It’s not great.

    The sad thing is many people still haven't focused on the importance of Peshitta Tanakh which was used during the time of Jesus. It must be noted that we read about Feast of Rededication (which is Hanukkah) in Gospel of John 10. We also read that Jesus was in the temple during the time of Feast of Rededication. The story of how Feast of Rededication came to be is contained in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees.

    Some People may ask - Wasn't Greek the language of first century Israel?

    Well, let's look at what Jewish Historian Josephus says.

    Josephus wrote:

    "I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness; for our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations, and so adorn their discourses with the smoothness of their periods; because they look upon this sort of accomplishment as common, not only to all sorts of free-men, but to as many of the servants as please to learn them. But they give him the testimony of being a wise man who is fully acquainted with our laws, and is able to interpret their meaning; on which account, as there have been many who have done their endeavors with great patience to obtain this learning, there have yet hardly been so many as two or three that have succeeded therein, who were immediately well rewarded for their pains." - Antiquities of Jews XX, XI

    Jewish Wars (Book 1, Preface, Paragraph 1) - "I have proposed to myself, for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans, to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country, and sent to the Upper Barbarians. Joseph, the son of Matthias, by birth a Hebrew, a priest also, and one who at first fought against the Romans myself, and was forced to be present at what was done afterwards, [am the author of this work]."

    In Antiquities of Jews Book 3, Josephus points out that Hebrews called Pentecost "Asartha." Asartha is Aramaic, because Aramaic places the definite article at the end of the word, thus the 'tha' at the end of 'Asartha' is the Aramaic definite article on a feminine noun. This is the same thing with the Aramaic word Talitha (Mark 5:41).

    Also note the names of our New Testament English Bible - "Bar"tholomew, "Bar"abbas, "Bar"nabbas, "Bar"sabbas, "Bar" Jesus, Simon "Bar" Jonah, "Bar" Timaeus, etc.

    Aramaic word Bar means Son. In Hebrew, Ben means Son. Even Rabbis point out that "Bar" in Bar Mitzvah comes from Aramaic.

    In Josephus' Jewish Wars, one of the leaders who fought against Romans was Simon Bar Giora. Bar Giora means "Son of a proselyte" in Aramaic.

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I just commented on your other post. Welcome again. This is also long, but seems well informed. I will read this as well in the future and provide better feedback. –  fredsbend Apr 10 '13 at 6:50
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