David Elkington recently posted a couple photos to the Jordan Codices Facebook page, along with an explanation of the differences between the script found on the Jordan Codices and the Aramaic script, which has sporadically been suggested as one of the various scripts found on the codices. Before posting the photos, a little background:
Several months ago Elkington rejected the notion that Aramaic was on the codices, insisting instead that the codices contained paleo-Hebrew. In a radio interview (see my analysis, with link to the interview, here), he said the following:
A lot of people have said, “Oh, I’ve seen these things on the web, the, uh, language is–is–is–it’s gibberish; it–it makes no sense. It’s a very odd form of Aramaic.” Well, um, actually the news is this: it isn’t Aramaic. The script is a square script, which means it’s Hebrew, and the form of Hebrew that it is, is called paleo-Hebrew, which is very, very ancient indeed, and there are only four or five people in the world who are familiar with it. And we’re working with one of those, uh, professors at the moment, who thinks he’s on the edge of a breakthrough with the language.
Now, as I pointed out in the post linked to above, the entirety of Elkington’s claim is simply untrue. Paleo-Hebrew is simply not a “square script.” The “square script” is the Aramaic script borrowed into the Hebrew language. The script labelled the “square script” is so labelled precisely to distinguish it from the earlier scripts, like the paleo-Hebrew. I challenged Elkington on this live during a subsequent radio interview (starting at 1:57:05 mark here), and after suggesting I needed to return to my textbooks, he attempted to massage the facts a bit the next day with the following post on his Facebook page:
Following his Coast to Coast broadcast, David Elkington did not have the chance to finish addressing the final questioner due to time constraints. He would just like to clarify that the questioner was correct in one point: paleo-Hebrew was initially not a square script. In the 800 years before Christ, Hebrew was a language very much in development coming as it did from an obscure proto-language called Western Sinaitic. However, by the 1st century BC the Hasmonean form of paleo-Hebrew had indeed been made to fit in with the uniform requirements with the Hebrew of the day, thus it was reasonably square. David would like to send his best wishes to the questioner and his thanks for raising this important point.
In other words, Elkington was trying to blur the boundaries of the two categories and suggest “square script” was just a description rather than a technical designation. In other words, he doesn’t mean the “Square Script,” which is what everyone else means, he just means a script that looks kinda squarish. I explain why his damage control is completely false in this blog post. The largest error through all of this is Elkington’s continued conflation of language and script. I am writing in the English language, but I am using the Roman or Latin script. I can also write in the Spanish language with the exact same script. Observe, and forgive my rusty Spanish:
Esto es un ejemplo de un texto espanol escrito en caracteres latinos. Usualmente se utilizan algunos otros caracteres que no pertenecen a la lengua ingles, pero no es necesario para esta ilustracion.
Note, the language is Spanish, but the script is Roman. Elkington consistently confuses the paleo-Hebrew script with a paleo-Hebrew language, which doesn’t exist. The paleo-Hebrew script comprises only the actual letters used to write in pretty standard Hebrew from the time period. When Elkington insists only a handful of people are familiar with the paleo-Hebrew “language,” he’s simply lying in an effort to poison the well against those who know better. If you can read the Hebrew of the turn of the era in any script—and many, many people can—learning paleo-Hebrew is as simple as memorizing script labelled “Middle” in the chart found below. It’s not difficult, and the notion that only a handful of people can understand it is simply untrue.
On to Elkington’s recent comments. Here are the photos and his explanation:
Outsiders have approached the Team to inform them that the language on the codices is either wholly or in part Aramaic, a Syriac language still used to this day in southern and central Syria. Aramaic was the language of Jesus. (For those who would like to hear an example of spoken Aramaic, please note that Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of Christ utilized this very form.) The Team has consulted various eminent experts and can inform the public that there is no Aramaic upon the lead codices as far as we can tell at this time: the language is Paleo-Hebrew. What is curious about this is that Paleo-Hebrew was defunct by the time of the 1st century. Its use therefore by the early Hebrew-Christian communities would seem to indicate a number of factors: one of them being ritualistic and the other being that Paleo-Hebrew dates back to the time of the kings (David, Solomon and so on). Therefore a conclusion could be made that in using this language in the 1st century (rather like the use of Latin for ceremonial reasons today) reference is being made to the restoration of the royal cult and its close connection to the older theology of Israel: all of this before the Deuteronomic reformations of the 7th century BC and on. As one can see from the images, the two languages appear very distinct and are indeed related; however, Paleo-Hebrew in terms of its use is much more square than Aramaic, which in its cursive form is not square.
Now, the first error in this paragraph is the notion that Aramaic is a constituent of the Syriac language. This is backwards. Syriac is a constituent of the Aramaic languages. It is a dialect of Aramaic. Next, the modern Syriac language is neither confined to, nor mostly concentrated in, Syria. Continuing, paleo-Hebrew was used not infrequently in the Dead Sea Scrolls and elsewhere, and does not indicate restoration or any kind of connection to an “older theology.” It has nothing to do, as far as I know, with any Hebrew-Christian communities. It’s just an archaizing script meant to indicate antiquity and thus particular authority or sacrality. The Tetragrammaton, for instance, is written in paleo-Hebrew in some Dead Sea Scroll texts otherwise composed in the square Aramaic script. Finally, the script Elkington illustrates and points to as quite different from the script of the codices is not an Aramaic script, it’s a Syriac script, and particularly the Estrangelo script. Estrangelo is not a “cursive form” of Aramaic, nor are any other Syriac scripts. It is its own script used primarily for the Syriac language. No one, to my knowledge, has ever suggested that the script on the codices is Syriac. Elkington’s claim is a strawman. Steve Caruso’s chart here is the best illustration of what kind of scripts may appear on the codices, as well as the eclectic and amateur nature of the hand:
In sum, Elkington’s comments demonstrably do not come from someone at all informed in Semitic epigraphy. They come directly from Elkington himself. All his claims do. He tries to prop them up with comments from a group of scholars represented entirely and exclusively by Elkington, but he has yet to make a single statement relative to the nature or function of Aramaic or Hebrew that has not been demonstrably false. His group of scholars appears to be a figment of his imagination, concocted only to imbue his claims with an air of authority.