Mishnaic Hebrew

Mishnaic Hebrew

The term Mishnaic Hebrew refers to the Hebrew dialects found in the Talmud, excepting quotations from the Hebrew Bible. The dialects can be further sub-divided into Mishnaic Hebrew (also called Tannaitic Hebrew, Early Rabbinic Hebrew, or Mishnaic Hebrew I), which was a spoken language, and Amoraic Hebrew (also called Late Rabbinic Hebrew or Mishnaic Hebrew II), which was a literary language.

The Mishnaic Hebrew language or Early Rabbinic Hebrew language is one direct ancient descendant of Biblical Hebrew as preserved by the Jews after the Babylonian captivity, and definitively recorded by Jewish sages in writing the Mishnah and other contemporary documents. It was not used by the Samaritans, who preserved their own dialect, Samaritan Hebrew.

A transitional form of the language occurs in the other works of Tannaitic literature dating from the century beginning with the completion of the Mishnah. These include the halachic Midrashim (Sifra, Sifre, Mechilta etc.) and the expanded collection of Mishnah-related material known as the Tosefta תוספתא. The Talmud contains excerpts from these works, as well as further Tannaitic material not attested elsewhere; the generic term for these passages is Baraitot. The dialect of all these works is very similar to Mishnaic Hebrew.

Historical Occurrence

This dialect is primarily found from the 1st to the 4th century AD, corresponding to the Roman Period after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and represented by the bulk of the Mishnah and Tosefta within the Talmud and by the Dead Sea Scrolls, notably the Bar Kokhba Letters and the Copper Scroll. Also called Tannaitic Hebrew or Early Rabbinic Hebrew.

The earlier section of the Talmud is the Mishnah that was published around 200 CE and was written in the earlier Mishnaic dialect. The dialect is also found in certain Dead Sea Scrolls. Mishnaic Hebrew is considered to be one of the dialects of Classical Hebrew that functioned as a living language in the land of Israel almost 400 years after the birth of Jesus Christ.

About a century after the publication of the Mishnah, Mishnaic Hebrew began to fall into disuse as a spoken language. The later section of the Talmud, the Babylonian Gemara , published around 500 AD, generally comments on the Mishnah and Baraitot in Aramaic. (An earlier version of the Gemara was published between 350-400 AD.)

Nevertheless, Hebrew survived as a liturgical and literary language in the form of later Amoraic Hebrew, which sometimes occurs in the text of the Gemara. Moreover, the multi-lingual character of Jewish culture is emphasized by these texts, with scholars simultaneously reading the Mishah in Hebrew yet commenting in Aramaic to reach a wider audience, indicating the active use of both languages. These indications do not establish whether Aramaic was used because Hebrew had declined among Jews themselves or to reach a wider audience, similar to the writing of the Christian New Testament in Greek to reach throughout the known world.

Phonetics

Mishnaic Hebrew probably sounded much like Late Biblical Hebrew.

However, final /m/ is often replaced with final /n/ in the Mishna (see Bava Kama 1:4, "מועדין"), but only in agreement morphemes. Perhaps the final nasal consonant in these morphemes was not pronounced, and instead the vowel previous to it was nasalized. Alternatively, the agreement morphemes may have changed under the influence of Aramaic.

Also, some surviving manuscripts of the Mishna confuse guttural consonants, especially (א) (a glottal stop) and 'ayin (ע) (a pharyngeal fricative). That could be a sign that they were pronounced the same in Mishnaic Hebrew.

Verb tenses

The verbal system in Mishnaic Hebrew is similar to Biblical Hebrew, but with changes that appear in many other dialects of Hebrew, including the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Modern Hebrew. Missing in Mishnaic Hebrew is the conversive vav.

Past is expressed using the same form as in Modern Hebrew. For example (Pirkei Avoth 1:1): "משה קיבל תורה מסיניי". ("Moses received the Torah from Sinai".)

Continuous past is expressed using + , unlike Biblical and Modern Hebrew. For example (Pirkei Avoth 1:2): "הוא היה אומר" ("He often said".)

Present is expressed using the same form as in Modern Hebrew, i.e. using the participle (בינוני). For example (Pirkei Avoth 1:2): "על שלושה דברים העולם עומד". ("The world is sustained by three things", lit. "On three things the world is sustained")

Future is expressed using the future form or by עתיד + infinitive. For example (Pirkei Avoth 3:1): "ולפני מי אתה עתיד ליתן דין וחשבון".

The imperative (order) is expressed using a form similar to future in modern Hebrew. For example, (Pirkei Avoth 1:3): "הוא היה אומר, אל תהיו כעבדים המשמשין את הרב".

See also

External links

Further reading

  • Bar-Asher, Moshe, Mishnaic Hebrew: An Introductory Survey, Hebrew Studies 40 (1999) 115-151.
  • Kutscher, E.Y. A Short History of the Hebrew Language, Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1982 pp. 115-146.
  • Pérez Fernández, Miguel, An Introductory Grammar of Rabbinic Hebrew (trans. John Elwolde), Leiden: E.J. Brill 1997.
  • Sáenz-Badillos, Angel, A History of the Hebrew Language (ISBN 0-521-55634-1) (trans. John Elwolde), Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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