How did Biblical Hebrew die?

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dihydrogen monoxide

Senior Member
Slovene, Serbo-Croat
How did Biblical Hebrew become a dead language? Did Jews during Roman times not speak at anymore or was it spoken in few areas in Roman Empire? I would imagine Jews that became Christian spoke Biblical Hebrew, or am I wrong? Were Jews at the time bilingual in Aramaic and/or Biblical Hebrew? If we talk about languages that emerged from Proto-Semitic it's interesting that only Arabic and Aramaic survived (although used in rituals).
 
  • berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Under Persian rule, replacement of Hebrew my Aramaic, the lingua franca of the empire, for everyday use was a gradual process that was probably already completed at the time of the Alexandian conquest. Hebrew remained in use as a liturgical and literally language. There are more living Semitic languages than Arabic and Aramaic, e.g., Mehri, Tigrinya, Amharic and others.
     

    dihydrogen monoxide

    Senior Member
    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    After the fall of the Roman Empire did Jews speak Hebrew or Aramaic, I assume after the fall Aramaic wasn't lingua franca anymore. How come the revival of Hebrew didn't come much earlier than 20th century, I would assume someone from the fall until 19th century wanted Hebrew to be spoken again, but never happened.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    After the fall of the Roman Empire did Jews speak Hebrew or Aramaic, I assume after the fall Aramaic wasn't lingua franca anymore. How come the revival of Hebrew didn't come much earlier than 20th century, I would assume someone from the fall until 19th century wanted Hebrew to be spoken again, but never happened.
    Well, after the Muslim conquest, Arabic became the new lingua franca. Before that, Greek shared the role as lingua franca with Aramaic in the Roman/Byzantine territories and Aramaic remained unrivalled in the Persian territories where the "Baylonian Talmud" was written.

    Subsequently, diaspora Jews basically spoke the languages languages of their host countries. Hebrew retained its role as liturgical and literary language but revival of Hebrew as a profane language probably required a non-religious form of nationalism such as Zionism. For pius Jews the idea was offensive to say things like "Can you give me some toilet paper?" in the language of the Torah.
     
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    I understood that the change came during the Babylonian exile, when the Jews of Judaea were taken in captivity to Babylon and their descendants returned some 60 years later, speaking the Aramaic that they had learned there. The northern kingdom of Israel had already been dispersed by the Assyrians, so Aramaic had no real competitor.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    It is unlikely that this happened so early. We have no direct and independent evidence but from the post-exile books of the bible and other Jewish literature it seems that the process was much more gradual and happened mainly after the Persian conquest as the return to the land of Israel from exile (which had probably only concerned the Jewish elite and not the entire population). It was only under Persian rule that Aramaic truly became the lingua franca of very large parts of the Middle East.
     
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    Abaye

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    Biblical Hebrew has never died, it evolved. There's continuity of speaking Hebrew for some 3500 years. The use of Hebrew as a mother language diminished since 6th century BC, no agreement about the process' endpoint. Some scholars say that Hebrew was used only is schools, not in the street, from the time Israelites returned from the Babylonian exile at the end of 6th century, other say Hebrew was still in everyday use and evolving in both Babylon and Israel for several centuries, continually superseded by Aramaic. The Mishnah (oral tradition) was written down ~200 AD when it was feared that the level of Hebrew knowledge won't suffice for transmitting the ancient wisdom by mouth. The failed revolts of 66 AD and 132 AD against the Romans apparently weakened Hebrew, yet there are documents written in colloquial Hebrew authored during these revolts. Conversion to Christianity during this period must also have been bad for Hebrew.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The failed revolts of 66 AD and 132 AD against the Romans apparently weakened Hebrew, yet there are documents written in colloquial Hebrew authored during these revolts.
    You probably mean the Bar Kokhba letters. I wouldn't take that too seriously. That could well be just the romanticism of a devoted nationalist. There is no other evidence that Hebrew payed any role as a colloquial language.
    Some scholars say that Hebrew was used only is schools, not in the street, ...
    Yes, probably, much like Greek and Latin in European high schools and univeristies.
     

    Abaye

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    You probably mean the Bar Kokhba letters. I wouldn't take that too seriously. That could well be just the romanticism of a devoted nationalist. There is no other evidence that Hebrew payed any role as a colloquial language.
    The dead sea documents are written in colloquial Hebrew style which is not a carbon copy of earlier or later Hebrew. There must have been a process of language development that created this way of expression. See (my translation for) a paragraph taken from a research of the scrolls:
    One of the big questions about relations of Hebrew and Aramaic is what happened to Hebrew during the period ending in the the Bar Kokhba revolt (of 132-135), and in this regards the Hebrew scrolls found near the Dead Sea are a big treasure: they attest colloquial Hebrew, not stylistic, not decorated, not formal, not restrained by timeless literary styles. This testimony is of the time after the 2nd temple destruction (of 70), when the Jewish community coped with huge suffer, aggressive Roman rule, and the need to reformulate the spiritual life and faith of the Jewish community in the land of Israel lacking a temple.

    Why would conversion to Christianity favour Aramaic over Hebrew?
    Conversion to Christianity was a demographic disaster for the Hebrew people in times that the language was seriously weakening, a disaster which, unlike through wars, wasn't accompanied by nationalist notions and attempts to strengthen the language, compared to the attempt that have happened during the revolt of 132-135.
     
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