This is the first installment of a brief review I plan to write on Peter Enns’ Inspiration & Incarnation, which is a plea for a fairly liberal view of Scripture. For now I’ll reproduce a question I sent to Richard Hess and John Currid, along with their replies:
Peter Enns has made the following statement:
"The Hebrew language we know from the OT did not exist in the 2nd millennium...First, the Semitic alphabet, which formed the basis for not only Hebrew but also other Semitic languages...did not come on the scene until about 1700 BC and then only in a very rudimentary fashion, and it did not catch on right away...this is far from saying that the proper conditions existed for the production of a sustained literary product like Genesis, written in Hebrew by a wandering and enslaved people in the middle portion of the 2nd millennium.
Second, we have no extrabiblical evidence for the existence of Hebrew before the 1st millennium BC...Hence, to insist that someone living in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC would have communicated the stories of Genesis in a language that was identical to the Hebrew known to us from the OT is simply an assertion...but available evidence leads to the conclusion that they were not recorded in the present form until sometime in the 1st millennium," Inspiration & Incarnation (Baker 2005), 50-52.
Since ANE languages are your forte, I wondered what you make of his claims.
In the main, I would certainly support Peter's statements. I might date the invention of the alphabet a century or two earlier and I might question whether or not one could produced a "sustained literary product like Genesis" shortly after an alphabet was invented (I see no logical reason why one could not, even if they were "wandering and enslaved"), but it is true that there is little in the way of written Hebrew before 1000 B.C. and that the language that Genesis and most of the Bible was written in reflects the period of the Monarchy, more likely later than earlier (i.e., 8th and 7th centuries). Moses and others used a language and script that was no doubt a precursor of Hebrew, and for which we have clear epigraphical evidence. Whatever was written then was apparently updated in the later Monarchy, except perhaps poetry such as Exodus 15 and Judges 5, which preserve earlier (and difficult) forms not known in later Hebrew.
I hope that this helps.
I have not read the Enns’ book, although I plan to in the next few weeks. In regard to the statement you gave, however, I would say, first of all, that it is an argument from silence – which of course is dangerous. Ron Tappy at Tel Zayit just recently found a Hebrew inscription from the 10th century B.C. – that is way earlier than a lot of our more moderate friends would have believed. They also thought that there was no David: the Tel Dan inscription from the 9th century B.C. mentions him by name (contra. all the gymnastics by the minimalists). Also, one needs to be reminded that there were indeed northwest semitic languages working quite fully and wonderfully in the 2nd mill. B.C. – I think, in particular, of Ugaritic; all inscriptions there are from 15-13th centuries B.C. It is a fully developed language at this time; and it is very similar to Hebrew. Thus, on the surface of things, I believe Enns is wrong-headed and headed wrongly. JC