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Brian Mitchell

"[T]he bulk of the Bible is written in a vernacular: ancient Hebrew. Never mind that standard biblical Hebrew in particular was also, quite probably, a lingua franca relative to spoken dialects of Hebrew, regional or otherwise,...The point here: at the same time, and of utmost importance relative to the cultural confrontation of which ethnoi then and now are vehicles, standard biblical Hebrew was a vernacular."

Alright, now 'think' I am starting to understand the distinction between a 'lingua franca' and a 'vernacular' translation.

Franz Delitzsch's translation of the Greek NT into classical/Mishnaic Hebrew would be consider a vernacular as it was not translated into the 'lingua fanca'= the Hebrew of the Haskalah period current with Delitzsch.


Hi Brian,

Your example doesn't work. One can identify a literary vernacular Hebrew of the Haskalah period, whereas Delitzsch's classical/Mishnaic Hebrew is a deliberate throwback to what I assume he thought might have been spoken at the time of Jesus (though not necessarily by Jesus).

More to the point: Hebrew has often been reborn or revived, either as a literary vernacular, and/or as a spoken vernacular, most recently thanks to strands within the Zionist movement.

Robert Holmstedt


I request that you keep me out of your posts if you can't represent my statements better. I don't "struggle" with the distinction between vernacular and lingua franca. Rather, I have questioned it applicability to the translation issue you wrote on earlier and I questioned how one determines whether a given text represents the lingua franca form or the vernacular form.

You have ignored, of course, where I explained my comment on the Better Bibles blog, which I produce here (with minor editing to take out the connectors that only fit in the original context):

"I have all sorts of issues about the lack of nuance in the application of lingua franca to, say, the Aramaic of Daniel. Why is it often difficult to classify ancient languages as this or that? Due to the dearth of evidence. Daniel is a great example: the book contains Aramaic words and phrases that are only found there, nowhere else in the extant Aramaic record. So, do those items simply represent lingua franca items that have not turned up elsewhere or were the author and his community using a dialect of Aramaic that cannot be considered lingua franca, since it is too grounded in the specific community's idiom? Needless to say, I don’t like your characterization of the Aramaic of Daniel as “lingua franca … incapsulated in the ethnic-religious vernacular, Hebrew”."

You conveniently pass right over the fact that my comment was about the linguistic data represented in specific *texts*, which is precisely why the classification is not always an easy one. It requires that the author and audience are known or reasonably reconstructed and so suggests either a cross-community context (and so the lingua franca) or an inner-community context (and so the vernacular).

So, you can continue to disagree with me (and even misuse my comments to create a straw man for you to blow over), but you'll be accurate only as long as you work with abstractions and generalities.



Thank you for reminding others on this thread of bits and pieces of past conversation we have had.

But no, I don't apologize for not having reproduced an entire previous conversation we had. Nor do I ask you to apologize for now ignoring or passing over my responses to comments of yours which you excerpt above.

You are trying to control the course of the conversation in response to things you say to an excessive degree. Come to think of it, a pattern of over-prickly behavior on your part is emerging.

In this post, I chose to concentrate on a number of details in Kawashima's review. One of those details: the struggle that comes to expression in the question he poses, which relates to the vernacular/ lingua franca distinction valorized in Sanders' scholarship and that of Pollock before him.

It was not my purpose in this post to rehearse the conversation you and I recently had, or do more than allude to the fact that still others on these threads have found the vernacular/ lingua franca distinction too opaque or uncertain to be of value.

I realize now that *I* am the one who struggles with some of the distinctions you valorize in your scholarship, and distinctions other colleagues valorize in their scholarship, whereas *you* are beyond struggle with the distinctions valorized by others. (Sarcasm alert).

I am delighted that you express your disdain once more for the premises and conclusions I am working with in these posts.

In effect you throw down the gauntlet and challenge me to present "abstractions and generalities" in forthcoming posts, abstractions and generalities which, you are careful to admit, I work with accurately, even if I fail to add to those generalities a monograph's worth of qualifications within the context of a 1000 word blog post.

I will take the last sentence of your 10:14 comment as a compliment, though of course you did not mean it as such.

Here is the compliment I wish to offer you, and I mean it: though you overreact way too often to anyone who disagrees with a point of view of yours, your point of view is always worth taking seriously.

Perhaps the blogging genre, and the rapid give-and-take which ensues, is not a good fit for you. Maybe you need to see the lack of good fit as a strength of yours, not a weakness, and leave it at that.

Brian Mitchell

I am going to redefine the terms as I currently understand them:

vernacular (mother tongue)
lingua franca (a bridge language )
Now, I am going try to present my current line of thinking with a few cherry picked quotes of mine:

Strictly speaking then, neither Delitzsch’s translation nor the Maskilic Hebrew can be considered a vernacular if what is meant is mother tongue. On the other hand Delitzsch does try hard to imitate the Hebrew of Bible and comes close to the Hebrew use at Qumran which I take to be a vernacular. So, there are elements of vernacular Hebrew in Delitzsch’s work as well as that of the Haskalah.

“About, 1870 When Delitzsch publish his letter to the Romans in Hebrew, the Haskalah movement, a Jewish Enlightment who members advocated a return from the ungrammatical Hebrew of the medieval period to the biblical style preferred by Delitzsch, was already in decline. About 1875, when Delitszch completed his translation of the whole New Testament poet J. L. Gordon gave expression to the disillusionment of all who believed in the continuing vitality of Hebrew literature.” (pg, 95 Hebrew in the Church)

הוי מי יחוש עתידות מי זה יודיעני
אם לא האחרון במשוררי ציון הנני
אם לא גם אתם הקוראים האחרונים
“Who can know the future?
Who can say whether I am not the last poet of Zion, Or you the last to read in Hebrew”

(pg. 308 Hebrew Study from Ezra to Ben-Yehdua and pg. 95 Hebrew in the Church)

According to an article in 'Hebrew study from Ezra to Ben-Yehuda' Smolenskin "championed the continued use of Hebrew as a written means of communication among Jews"(pg293) (and who inspired Ben-Yehuda) while lamenting those who bragged about not knowing Hebrew.

From the above description it seems clear to me that Hebrew of this Haskalah period was not being used a vernacular but rather it was being promoted as a lingua franca in much the same way latin was among Christian scholars. Of course the true lingua franca would have been standard Yiddish, and it's local dialects vernaculars.

Dalman express his opinion of this Maskilic Hebrew “The kind of Hebrew in common use among Jews today is an arbitrary mixture of elements from all periods of the Hebrew language, frequently with a considerable number of German elements thrown in” Das Hebraische Neue Testament,” col 1. quoted in “Hebrew in the Church” (pg. 91)by Pinchas E. Lapide

Franz Delitzsch remarks: “The difference between Salkinson’s version and mine has aklways been that I have never gilded the New Testament text in imitation of the Jewish mosaic style, or what is called the maggid style, after the title of one of the most popular Hebrew Journals, which floods the Jewish reader with all kinds poetic elegance and flower expressions” (pg 96 Hebrew in the Church)

"Although the Jews who already established in Palestine had previously used Hebrew as a lingua franca, it was not employed more generally, and the various immigrant communities continued to speak their native languages” (pg. 270 A History of the Hebrew Language)
R.D. Kernohan’s, “The road to Zion” notes that by 1839 “Hebrew, it seems,was already a lingua franca of sorts of the Jew’s dealings with on another”.(pg. 29)

According, to Jelen, Sheila E.

"Abramowitz, like his predecessors, without a vernacular precedent, could not avoid using traditional texts in his construction of Modern Hebrew fiction, he managed to dictate the terms of his intertextual allusions in his Nusah, instead of allowing his allusions to dictate the terms to him."

"In Bialik's Nusah era, there was still an attempt to depict a Hebrew speaking idiom "realistically." This is where diegesis and mimesis began to diverge and the struggle to achieve a vernacular literary idiom becomes evident. When the narrator can express him or herself idiosyncratically, but the characters are bound to a projected notion of what speaking conventions would be if Hebrew was actually spoken, you can see a radical break-down in the vernacular texture of a literary text. Thus, a successful vernacular "
Bialik's Other Silence.(Chaim Nahman Bialik)(Critical essay)
Hebrew Studies Journal January 1, 2003

Both Abramowitz and Bialik were then without a vernacular precedent but they strove to create that which at the time did not yet exist.

Brian Mitchell

Ok, I have thought of another way to try to understand this distinction.

On, Honshu (the main island of Japan) the lingua franca is standard Japanese However,in the prefecture where I reside three regional dialects of Japanese are used Tsugaru-ben, Nambu-ben, and Shimokita-ben

In Hirosaki city and Iwaki town where I spend a lot of time I would say that the
lingua franca is: Standard Japanese
and the vernacular is: Tsugaru-ben


Hi Brian, I spent a month in Itayanagi a couple of years ago. My Japanese was nowhere near the level it would need to have been to tell Tsugaru-ben apart, but one of my travelling companions told me he could tell. I had a lot of fun there, it's a very beautiful part of the world! And a small world it seems!

And while Tsugaru-ben might be the vernacular it would be wrong to say standard Japanese isn't a vernacular in other parts of Japan.

Brian Mitchell


It truly is a small world isn't it! Are, you still living in Japan?

"And while Tsugaru-ben might be the vernacular it would be wrong to say standard Japanese isn't a vernacular in other parts of Japan."

Of course I agree with you. And, I would also add that standard Japanese is both the vernacular and the lingua franca in places like Tokyo where people from other prefectures come to live and work.


No, back in Australia now. I was only there briefly, helping church planters in Tsugaru (the Ghent's if you know happen to know them).


Brian and Dannii,

Great to see the two of you connect.


Maskilic Hebrew and the ancient Hebrew of the 8th-early 6th centuries BCE which finds expression in much of the Hebrew Bible represent literary lingua francas internally and literary vernaculars externally. It is a both/and.

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