The Varieties of DSS Hebrew as Reflected in Syntax, and the Sociolinguistic Situation Underlying Qumran Hebrew Variety

Hebraists unanimously agree that the Hebrew language of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) includes Late Biblical, Samaritan and Tannaitic Hebrew features as well as Aramaic traits, even though there is no consensus concerning the nature of the language of the DSS so far. Morag, Ben-Ḥayyim, and Qimron allege that the DSS reflect a spoken variety; in contrast, Kutscher and Blau state that DSS Hebrew is a literary variety with interferences from spoken Hebrew and Aramaic. Furthermore Tov, Dimant, and Schniedewind suggest that one-third of the scrolls displays hallmarks of a sectarian or an anti-language. All these hypotheses require further qualifications. DSS Hebrew does not reflect a single variety, but at least three distinct dialects that differ typologically. Morag identifies three varieties: General Qumran Hebrew (GQH), to which the majority of the scrolls belongs; Qumran Mishnaic, the variety attested in Miqṣat Maʿaśe ha-Torah (4QMMT); and the Hebrew idiolect of the Copper Scroll (3Q15). My contribution aims to challenge the GQH label, since it alone fails to account for the variation embedded within most of the scrolls attributed to that category. GQH, therefore, should not be understood as a monolithic entity, but rather as an umbrella term for a variety of genres, scribal schools, scripts, traditions, and idiolects. I will analyse a sample of three syntactic features, each of which will either be in binary opposition with its Classical Biblical Hebrew (CBH) counterpart, viz. presence or absence (according to Hurvitz’s method), or in varying degrees of contrast, viz. predominance of one feature coexisting with its parallel CBH feature (in the vein of Hornkohl). The three syntactic features will be culled from a sample of narrative, poetical, halakhic, and historical sections of GQH. Additionally, these literary genres will be calibrated by the macro-differentiation between biblical and non-biblical DSS, even though biblical and non-biblical excerpts of the same literary genre often exhibit more parallels than biblical texts belonging to different genres. Where necessary, I will take different scribal schools, scripts, traditions, and idiolects into account. Given that the lexicography, including the phraseology, of 4QMMT theological sections is influenced by CBH more than that of 4QMMT halakhic section (as noted by Qimron), among GQH texts, the investigation of the Damascus Covenant (DC), which includes both historical and halakhic sections would be intriguing. Since Qimron identified more CBH lexical elements in DC historical section than in DC halakhic section, it would be interesting to compare the syntactic features of these two sections. It can be inferred from documentation found at Qumran that the alleged Essene community, to whom the DSS belonged, was educated and trilingual, with Hebrew being its predominant language. The multilingualism in Qumran is not surprising since multilingualism prevailed in Palestine in the Late Second Temple Period. An outline of the sociolinguistic situation in Qumran among Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek is beyond the scope of my contribution, but I will formulate a tentative hypothesis on the sociolinguistic relationships among Qumran Hebrew varieties, with special regard to the texts belonging to the purported GQH.