Languages from the World of the Bible. Edited by HOLGER GZEU.A. Berlin: WALTER DE GRUYTER, 2012. $112.
The book under review, a translation of a German original published in 2009, joins a long list of distinguished similar collections, such as Beyond Babel, ed. J. KaMier and S. McKenzie (Brill, 2002), or more thorough works such as Phonologies/Morphologies of Asia and Africa, ed. A. Kaye (Eisenbrauns, 1997/2007) and The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages, ed. R. D. Woodard (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004), which offer brief cultural, historical, and linguistic overviews of the various languages spoken in the broadly defined "Biblical World." Some, therefore, may find the book, and certainly its translation, an unnecessary addition to what is already a rather crowded market.
The authors of the nine articles are all accomplished scholars. The contributions include not only the obvious Semitic languages, but also a chapter on Old Persian (by de Vaan and Lubotsky) and Greek (by Willi), as well as a chapter on the alphabet (by Millard). The concept is to include languages that may have been in contact with Hebrew, based on the testimony of the biblical text. Missing here are Hittite and dialects of Akkadian. which seem more relevant than Old Persian, certainly since the book focuses on the Iron Age. All the contributions are fairly concise and are followed by short and for the most part rather conservative bibliographies. The book also contains a table of letter forms, two black-and-white maps, and a helpful and detailed index.
The book opens with a well-written and informative introduction by the editor, Holger Gzella, who surveys the linguistic and political situation in Syria-Palestine in the Iron Age. One of the major linguistic characteristics of the region is contact, sometimes peripheral and sometimes lengthy and close. Gzella rightly stresses the cultural contact that underlies some of the linguistic changes. He points to the Hebrew relative particle 'lager and the consecutive preterite (he uses the term "imperfect consecutive") appearing in Moabite and some Aramaic inscriptions, which he suggests is a result of the influence of a local cultural prestigious center (Judah).
As another type of change. Gzella also mentions parallel development "which presupposes a higher degree of interaction between speakers" (p. 5). These features are the breakdown of the case system. the restructuring of the verbal system, and the...