The Aramaic of Qumran.

Author:Reymond, Eric
Position:Critical essay

The recent publication of A Grammar of Qumran Aramaic by T. Muraoka provides a much-needed analysis of this important corpus of Aramaic texts. The grammar treats not only the corpus of texts found near Wadi Qumran, collectively known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, but also texts from neighboring regions along the Dead Sea, including Wadi Murabba'at and Nahal Hever. (Collectively, these texts represent some of the most important sources of information about Aramaic from this period of time.) The book is thorough and well written and represents the first in-depth grammar of these texts; it goes well beyond the only other existing grammar, that of Ursula Schattner-Rieser, L'arameen des manuscrits de la mer Morte: I. Grammaire. Muraoka's grammar lists copious textual citations that give a reader the sense that that the observations are backed up by solid data. All the same, it does not attempt to state more than the evidence can allow. The thoroughness of the treatment allows one to compare afresh some points of contact between the grammar of these texts and that of the Hebrew scrolls. Despite the usefulness of this grammar and the nuance with which it is realized, the grammar does contain some points of confusion and inconsistency, some of which are outlined below. Muraoka here provides an in-depth grammar of the Aramaic attested in the texts found around Wadi Qumran, as well as in neighboring areas close to the Dead Sea (e.g., documents from around Wadi Murabba'at and Nahal Hever). This corpus is widened slightly by the judicious use of the Aramaic Levi Document as attested in Genizah manuscripts (p. xxv n. 2). All who study Aramaic and who are interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls will appreciate Muraoka's careful and insightful study of this dialect of the language, which study complements his work on other dialects of Aramaic, like that of Egypt from the Persian empire (written with B. Porten, A Grammar of Egyptian Aramaic [Leiden: Brill, 1998]).

The book is laid out like other grammars, with sections covering phonology, morphology, and syntax. It is subdivided into smaller sections dealing with the predictable matters of, e.g., pronunciation of consonants, the shifts and changes of particular phonemes, vowels, etc. Each linguistic phenomenon is clearly titled and addressed in separate paragraphs that bear numeral and letter labels (e.g., "[section]3c"). The grammar is clearly distinct from its predecessor by Ursula Schattner-Rieser, L'arameen des manuscrits de la mer Morte: I. Grammaire (Prahins: Zebre, 2004), in its fine-grained argumentation of specific grammatical matters and in the number of examples cited in illustration of particular phenomena.

The greater depth and detail of Muraoka's text can be gauged, even if only in a superficial way, by a comparison of each book's length. Schattner-Rieser's grammar, which measures 16.5 cm x 24 cm, has 117 pages of description (exclusive of front and back matter), while Muraoka's grammar, which measures 21.5 cm x 30 cm, has 263 pages of description. (This is not to say, however, that Schattner-Rieser's grammar is no longer worthy of study; it too contains arguments and reflections worthy of consideration, like her opinions on the dissimilation of gutturals [pp. 45-46], as well as more basic components lacking in Muraoka's book, like a set of paradigms collected in an appendix.) In particular, readers will appreciate Muraoka's detailed description of Aramaic syntax, a description which is thorough and wide-ranging, extending well beyond the simple consideration of word order or particular features like the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] construction.

The following remarks are in no way meant to slight Muraoka's achievement, nor are they intended to suggest that I am anything but overjoyed at the grammar's publication.

The grammar does not address orthography in a single section. Although this is consistent with the presentation of other languages where the phonology is largely understood through the orthography (thus allowing any relevant matters of orthography to be taken up in discussion of phonology), the absence of a section at least mentioning scripts and common scribal errors leaves a naive reader uninformed about the nature of the scripts themselves and leaves such a reader unable to evaluate for him- or herself the plausibility of certain mistakes. For example, one might assume, based in part on the uniform manner of transliteration as well as the common treatment of the texts, that the manuscripts were all written in the same Aramaic block script in a relatively pristine fashion. But this is not the case. The documents from Nahal Hever, for example, are written in a script that is markedly distinct from that of the Dead Sea Scrolls, like the Genesis Apocryphon (1Q20). This is important inasmuch as the differences might make certain visual confusions of letters more likely in one text and less likely in another, which, in turn, might make certain explanations of spellings as scribal errors seem more (or less) convincing.

Similarly, a presentation of orthography and scribal lapses might also help demonstrate the likelihood of certain readings over and against others, as well as to help explain why certain words are better illustrations of certain phenomena than others. For example, one is left to wonder how many times a word-medial /i/ is written defectively without yodh. This might have a bearing on Muraoka's suggestion to read [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in 1Q20 II, 9 as a passive participle plus a lamedh preposition "remember" (p. 172). In addition, in the paragraph titled "Weakening or elision of gutturals" ([section]3k, p. 13), Muraoka does not list the word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] corrected to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "they forgave" (4Q547 3, 5) as an example implying the weakness of the heth phoneme. The reason the word is left out is unclear. It could be that it is due to the fact that this initial misspelling could be explained not as an example of...

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