Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Inspiration & Incarnation-1

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.


Dear Steve:

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.

Best wishes,
Rick Hess



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


  1. OK, it's not exactly up-to-date scholarship, but, in case you havn't looked into it, John Owen, in his Biblical Theology, has a digression on this subject titled, suprisingly, Digression on the Antiquity of Hebrew [pg. 395, Soli Deo Gloria]. He's also got three or four other 'digressions' that touch on this subject generally.

    If one has to defend reading such an olden source on such a topic...hey, it can be fantasmagorical and can lead to insights in unexpected ways or give clues or leads, again, unexpectedly. Just seeing a subject from the vantage point of a different time can profit one in unusual ways.

  2. This is 10 months after the fact, but I just happened to see your review of I&I, and I thought is was interesting. Particularly the two responses to your question about Biblical languages in post #1. Your second respondent seems to suggest that the existence of Ugaritic indicates something like the existence of classical (Biblical) Hebrew earlier than the 11th century BC (=date of Gezer Calendar [if we accept that it is Hebrew, which not everyone does]). It's true that Ugaritic is not unlike classical Hebrew in its phonology, but that is hardly the same as suggesting that anything like BH existed as early as the 14th c. Actually, Ugaritic is quite different from BH in a number of ways. Most obviously, Ugaritic uses a cuneiform alphabet that bears absolutely no resemblance to Hebrew, and which incorporates several letters not incorporated in the Hebrew alphabet. thus, it really isn't ery good evidence at all for the existence of something like BH in the 15th c. Perhaps more problematically however, even the early extra-Biblical HEBREW of which we are presently aware simply does not resemble the language of the OT in a number of important ways, even though it is chronologically several centuries closer to the biblical language than Ugaritic (Cf. Cross and Freedman; Early Hebrew Orthography for details). Thus, Enns isn't really making an argument from silence on this point. Rather, it's an argument from demonstrable differences in all of the presently available data. Whatever else you may think of Enns's arguments in I&I, he is certainly right that the language of the Bible did not exist during Moses' time.