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Reconsidering the Study of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. Five Decades after E. Y. Kutscher and his Influential Methodology

Pages 341 - 364



E. Y. Kutscher emphasized that the goal of the scholarship on Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (= JBA) is to reconstruct the historical language of the Jews speaking Aramaic in Babylonia in the first millennium ce. Given this task, the philologist must consider all forms and constructions that appear in the textual evidence of this dialect in order to determine what reflects the original language and what results from textual corruptions during the transmission of the texts. This methodology became the scholarly consensus for the academic study of JBA. However, no one who follows Kutscher's methodological tradition ever provided clear criteria for recognizing what should be considered original JBA. Therefore, this paper tries to piece together the methodological assumptions behind this quest to identify the original language. However, when considering the sociolinguistic model of diglossia, and the various types of developments that could take place in the transmission of the texts it becomes clear that those criteria are not decisive, and that the same phenomena can be explained in various ways. Consequently it is proposed that: 1) We may have to be satisfied with the fact that it is not always possible to determine which phenomenon is original. Often it is only possible to raise the various options regarding each and every form; 2) It is not advisable to determine generally which one of the manuscripts provides the most reliable textual evidence for all the linguistic phenomena (the so-called “best manuscript”), as this may change in each case. Consequently, it is suggested, instead, to discuss phenomena rather than sources, and focus on internal relations between forms and structures.


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