Diachronic Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Field in Crisis

Joshua Berman


Since the dawn of critical study of the Hebrew Bible, the diachronic paradigm has reigned supreme. Scholars have understood their primary task to be that of laying bare the history of the text: how many stages were there in the composition of the text? What were the various strata of the text’s composition and when were they each added? This field of study continues to be the primary focus for much of biblical studies. Increasingly, however, there have been signs of crisis within this field.

David Carr, in his pioneering book from 2010, The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction, suggested that to begin to put diachronic analysis on sound footing, we should investigate documented examples of textual growth. Carr’s work lays out an important avenue for future diachronic research: we need to conduct as full an investigation as possible of known instances of textual growth. We need to see what models we find, and no less importantly, what models we don’t find. With that we can return to the biblical text.

A second approach that needs to be much more widely adopted in diachronic work, is linguistic analysis. Data mining and analysis of the Hebrew Scriptures are still in their infancy, and it can only be hoped that as our sophistication grows in these fields, that tools will become available to help us more clearly determine linguistic features that may have been early and those that were late.

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