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New Perspectives in Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew

Aaron D. Hornkohl
Khan Geoffrey

the Shift from the Biblical Hebrew Far Demonstrative אוהה to the mishnaic hebrew ותוא

Chanan Ariel


In Biblical Hebrew ההוא serves as the distal demonstrative pronoun and follows the noun it complements. In Mishnaic Hebrew two shifts occur. אותו (usually a direct object pronoun) replaces ההוא and precedes the noun it complements. This paper examines the explanations offered for this development over the last 175 years in light of evidence from Late Biblical Hebrew, Palestinian Aramaic dialects, and Greek. It supports an explanation that focuses on language contact: Aramaic could have encouraged prolepsis, but the main influence is the Greek pronoun αὐτός with a similar sound and similar syntactic functions. The paper attempts to reconstruct the reason for the replacement of an existing Hebrew structure with a Greek alternative. It examines possible influence of the legal genre and links these shifts to the omission of definiteness in demonstrative pronouns in Mishnaic Hebrew.

Texte intégral

1One of the most prominent differences between Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew is the shift of the far demonstrative pronoun אוהה in the Biblical Hebrew (e.g., שיאה אוהה ‘that man’) to the Mishnaic Hebrew ותוא (e.g., ותוא שיאה ‘that man’). Since the mid-nineteenth century, scholars have attempted to offer an explanation for this change. This article reviews the development of modifying demonstrative pronouns in Hebrew and Aramaic, supporting the suggestion that the dominant factor in this change was Greek influence. The article also offers a possible explanation for the extreme nature of this change and the exclusive use of the new modifying pronoun in Mishnaic Hebrew.

1.0. Introduction: The Extreme Change in the Far Demonstrative Pronoun between Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew

  • 1 This structure may have limited precedents in Late Biblical Hebrew, such as וְטוב מִשְנֵיהֶם אֵֵת א (...)

2In Mishnaic Hebrew, the direct object marker תא is used as a demonstrative pronoun in two ways: (a) the direct object marker תא in its uninflected form functions as an independent demonstrative pronoun when used as the antecedent of a relative clause,1 for example:

  • 2 This citation, like all citations from rabbinic literature, is according to the Maʾagarim website o (...)
(1) 2. יא הז אוה קפודה  ?את ש ללוגה ןעשינ וילע ‘What is the buttressing stone? That against which the stone leans that seals the grave.’ (Mishnah Oholoth 2.4;
Danby 1933, 652)
  • 3 The masculine and feminine forms merged into one form (אותן) because of the phonetic shift (under c (...)
  • 4 See Oron (1990, 28–30); Kaddari (1991, 212–13); Azar (1995, 212– 13); Breuer (2002, 212).

3(b) The form of the direct object marker that is inflected with third person pronominal suffixes ( ןתוא , התוא , ותוא3) replaces the distal demonstrative modifying pronoun ( םהה , איהה , אוהה ) in Biblical Hebrew. I should note here that, in terms of syntactic function, the respective Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew pronouns אוהה and ותוא usually express anaphora or identity, and are not used as independent indicative pronouns (as distinct from their proximal counterparts).4

4This paper is devoted to the use of the inflected form ותוא as a demonstrative modifier. A good example of the shift that occurred between Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew can be seen when we compare the wording of the law of ʿegla ʿarufa ‘the heifer with a broken neck’ in the Bible and its Mishnaic presentation. The Torah states:

(2) ְ הו ָָ י ֹ ה ה ָ ע ִֶ רי ה ַ ק ְ בר ֶָ ה חה־לא ָ ל ָָ ל ו ְ ל ָָ ק ְ ח ֡ ו ז ִ ק ְ נ ֵ י הָ ע ִֵ רי ה ַ ה ִ או גע ְ ל ַֹ ת ב ָ ק ָ ר א ֲׁ ש ׁ ר ל ָ ע ־א ֻ ב ַ ד ב ֶָ ה א ֲׁ ש ֵ ר מ־אל ָׁ ש ְ כ ֶָ ה ב ְ ע ָ ׃ל ְ והו ִ ר ֡ וד ז ִ ק ְ נ ֵ י הָ ע ִֵ רי ה ִַ ה ׁ או ־תא ָ ה ָ גע ְ ל ָ ה ־לא ַ נ ֹ ח ַ א ל ֵ תי ֶָ ן ... ו ְ כ ָ ל ז ִ ק ְֵ ינ הִָ ע ֹ רי ה ַ ה ִֶ או ה ַ ק ְ ר ִ ב ֶ םי חה־לא ָָ ל ָ ל י ְִ חר ֲ וצ י־תא ְ ד ֵ הי ֶ ם ע ַ ה־ל ָ גע ְ ל ֶָ ה ה ָ ע ֲ פור ֵָ ה ב ַָ נ ָ ח ַ ׃ל
‘And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke; And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley… And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley.’ (Deut. 21.3–6; KJV)

5Whereas the text in the Mishnah reads:

(3) ינקז אותה ריעה ןיאיבמ ’ תלגע רקב רשא אל דבוע הב ( ו ) רשא אל לועב הכשמ ’... ןידירומו התוא ’ לא לחנ ןתיא ’... ינקז אותה ריעה ןיצחור תא םימב ןהידי םוקמב התפירע הלגעלש .
‘The elders of that city brought a heifer from the herd which had not been wrought with and which had not drawn in the yoke… and they brought it down unto a rugged valley…
The elders of that city washed their hands in water at the place where the heifer’s neck was broken.’ (Mishna, Soṭa
9.5–6; Danby 1933, 304)
  • 5 According to Kaddari (1991, 213), in the three instances in which the biblical pronoun appears, its (...)

6This is a radical change. The inflected pronoun - תוא in the relevant syntactic role occurs 67 times in the Mishna (in 56 different mishnayot), while the adjectival demonstrative pronouns איהה and םהה appear only three times (in two mishnayot).5

2.0. Documentation of the Change in Sources Preceding Mishnaic Literature

  • 6 Compare the infinitive forms of this root in Qumran Aramaic למאתה, למתא ,למתה (Beyer 1984, 525). Re (...)

7The shift from אוהה to ותוא is completely undocumented prior to Mishnaic Hebrew—whether in the Bible or in the documents from the Judaean Desert. Józef Milik suggested that this shift may be seen in a disjointed fragment from an Aramaic astronomical work found at Qumran. Milik (1976, 296) reads the relevant words as] התואבו מיב ֯[ אמ ‘and on [the] same da [y], and on that da [y]’ (4Q211 [4QEnastrd ar] 1 iii, 4). However, Beyer (1984, 258 ,506) interprets it as a loan from Hebrew א ֹ תו ‘sign’, which Cook (2015, 4) regards as the better explanation. But the conventional reading may be wrong. Alexey Yuditsky and Elisha Qimron kindly alerted me that the words should be read as] מו ֯ יא ֯ הת ויב ֯[ אמ . If their reading is correct, we should probably parse the word התיאמ as an infinitive form of the root תא " י , potentially in the function of a verbal noun. The meaning of the phrase would thus be ‘and its entrance on the day.’6

8Jan Joosten (2002, 14–16) has noted two verses where the Septuagint documents the independent demonstrative pronoun ותוא . In Num. 6.13, the object pronoun in the phrase י ָ ב ִ֣ אי א ֹ֔ ת ֹ ו ‘one shall bring him’ is translated as αὐτός ‘he himself’. Similarly, in Num. 33.8 the place name א ֵ֔ ת ָ ם is translated αὐτοὶ ‘they themselves’. Joosten argues that this translation reflects the influence of the spoken Hebrew of the period of the translators, in which ותוא already served as an independent demonstrative pronoun. However, the use of the pronouns ותוא and םתוא as independent demonstrative pronouns is first documented in a Hebrew text only in the Palestinian Amoraic period, some five hundred years later, and is completely absent from Tannaitic Hebrew (see fn. 1, above).

  • 7 See Sarfatti (1992, 342); Kahana (2011, 275–76). Yet, though the meaning is the same, the grammatic (...)
  • 8 Prof. Joosten has kindly drawn my attention to three further examples in which the Septuagint trans (...)

9Accordingly, it would seem that we should consider other possible explanations for these surprising translations. As Joosten himself noted, there is a syntactic difficulty in the first of these verses (the verse has no antecedent to which the anaphoric object pronoun א ֹ֔ ת ֹ ו could refer); this difficulty was resolved in a similar manner in the Tannaitic Halakhic Midrash, Sifre.7 In the second instance, it is not impossible that the translators had a version before them with the spelling םתוא with a waw, rather than the defective םתא , as in the Masoretic Text; that they may have had such a reading tradition can be hypothesized in light of the transliterations of the other three occurrences in which this proper name appears (Exod. 13.20; Num. 33.6, 7): Όθόμ, Βουθάν.8

10Aaron Kaminka (1942, 342) noted that in some cases the Septuagint interprets a difficult Hebrew word as if it were Greek. Thus, the phrase ו ְ וח ׁ ש ֵַ י הָ א ְַ ר ִ כ ֶ י ֵ ר ֵַ ע ה ַ מ ָ ךל ‘and Hushai the Archite was the King’s friend’ (1 Chron. 27.33) is translated ϰαὶ Χουσὶ ὁ πρῶτος φίλος τοῦ βασιλέως ‘and Chousi the chief friend of the king’. The translator understood the Hebrew word ה ָ א ְַ ר ִ כ ֶ י as if it were the Greek word ἀρχή.

11In light of Kaminka’s note, one might ask what caused the Greek translator to prefer these ungrammatical translations: did he utilise his familiarity with the Greek pronoun αὐτός to resolve the difficulties in these verses, or did he rather take advantage of his knowledge of the Rabbinic Hebrew א ֹ תו ֹ ו , as Joosten has suggested? I prefer the first option, because, as noted, the use of א ֹ תו ֹ ו as an independent (rather than complementary) pronoun is not documented in rabbinic literature prior to the Palestinian Amoraic period.

3.0. Research Questions and Review of Previous Studies

12The replacement of the structure שיאה אוהה by ותוא שיאה raises three key questions:

  1. Why does the word order change in Mishnaic Hebrew, so that the demonstrative pronoun now precedes the noun it complements?
  2. Why was the distal demonstrative pronoun אוהה replaced by the object pronoun ותוא ?
  3. What was the motivation for such an extreme shift?

13The first two of these questions have been discussed in the research literature since the mid-nineteenth century, but, to the best of my knowledge, the third question has not been examined. I will briefly review the main opinions in the literature.

  • 9 In Biblical Aramaic, אּנוּן serves as an independent demonstrative pronoun (Ezra 5.4); some scholars (...)
  • 10 Sokoloff (2014, 168). Prof. Simon Hopkins has drawn my attention to a similar phenomenon in Christi (...)
  • 11 Sokoloff (1992, 247).

14Abraham Geiger (1845, 36) argued that the change reflected Aramaic influence. He noted that the third-person plural pronoun א ּ ןוּנ is used both as an object pronoun and as a demonstrative adjective.9 Geiger also noted that use of the inflected forms of - תי instead of the distal pronoun is documented in Christian Palestinian Aramaic and in Samaritan Aramaic.10 The same use is found in a small number of cases in Galilean Aramaic (such as ןוהתי היתפכ ‘those knots’).11 Following Geiger, Nöldeke (1868, 471) and Wright (1890, 113) suggested that dialects such as Samaritan Aramaic and Christian Aramaic influenced the Mishnaic Hebrew.

15The flaw in the comparison to the object pronoun א ּ ןוּנ is that its use as an object pronoun and a demonstrative adjective pronoun is found only in the plural, and not in the singular. It is unlikely that the plural pronoun, which is relatively rare, would influence the singular pronoun, which is several times more common. The suggestion that the Aramaic dialects that have an inflected form of תי influenced Hebrew is also problematic, since these dialects are later than Mishnaic Hebrew. Moreover, they use the inflected form of תי alongside distal demonstrative pronouns, and in Galilean Aramaic, which has a strong affinity to Rabbinic Hebrew, this form is extremely rare; in Mishnaic Hebrew, by contrast, ותוא is the sole form and the grammatical norm.

16Isaac Hirsch Weiss (1867, 4, 112) developed Geiger’s argument, claiming that phrases such as ותואב םויה ‘on that day’ also have their origin in the Biblical Aramaic phrases ב ַ ־ה ׁ ש ַ ע ֲָ ת ֹ א ‘at the same moment’ (Dan. 3.6); ב ֵ ז־ה ִ מ ְ נ ָ א ‘at the same time’ (Dan. 4.33). However, Weiss fails to explain why, instead of the expected structure וב םויב ‘on that day’ (which is common in Rabbinic Hebrew and parallels ב ֵ ה ב ְ ל ֵֹ לי ְ י ֶָ א ‘on the same night’ (Dan. 5.30), or instead of the unattested structure וב םויה *, Rabbinic Hebrew developed a structure with the object pronoun, ותואב םויה .

17GKC (365), Moshe Zvi Segal (1927, 202), Waltke and O’Connor (1990, 178), and others have suggested that this phenomenon has its origins in Hebrew, rather than in the Aramaic dialects. They suggested that the use of the object marker תא in its uninflected form emerged first as an emphatic form, then became an independent demonstrative pronoun marking the subject (see fn. 1 and example (1) above), and finally the use of the inflected form of - תוא developed as a demonstrative adjective.

  • 12 See Blau (1954); Samet (2020).

18However, the claim that תא indeed serves as an emphatic form in Biblical Hebrew is in itself controversial.12 Moreover, it is difficult to explain how the use of uninflected תא as an emphatic form in a few exceptional instances in Biblical Hebrew could have totally changed the grammatical structure in the Mishnaic Hebrew. Furthermore, as already noted (above, fn. 1), in Tannaitic Hebrew there is a sharp formal and syntactic separation between the ‘emphatic’ - תא ש and the modifying demonstrative - תוא : the former always appears in an uninflected form as the antecedent of a relative clause, while the latter always appears in an inflected form as an attribute not followed by a relative clause. Had the latter form developed from the former, we would expect to find some overlap between the syntactical functions of the two pronouns.

19Aaron D. Rubin (2005, 123) has suggested that this structure emerged due to a reanalysis of sentences such as

יתיאר ותוא , שיאה תיארש ‘I saw him, the man you saw’,

20which was reanalysed as

יתיאר ותוא שיאה תיארש ‘I saw that man you saw’.

  • 13 I thank Prof. W. Randall Garr for the reference to Rubin. It should be added that in a similar inst (...)

21Through a process of grammaticalisation, the inflected object pronoun ותוא then became a demonstrative pronoun. The problem in Rubin’s explanation is that there is no documented instance in Mishnaic Hebrew showing the structure object pronoun + definite noun + relative clause, which according to his reconstruction forms the starting point for this process.13

  • 14 I thank Prof. Gary A. Rendsburg and Dr Uri Mor for the reference to Yadin-Israel.

22Azzan Yadin-Israel (2015, 339) has offered a convincing solution. He suggests that the complementary demonstrative pronoun developed due to the syntactical and phonetic similarity to the Greek word αὐτός, which serves as an anaphoric pronoun and pronoun of identity, in a manner similar to the object pronoun ותוא in Mishnaic Hebrew.14 Yadin-Israel offers no evidence to support his suggestion. I shall seek to examine his proposal below in light of developments in Hebrew and Aramaic, and contact with Greek, and aim to substantiate his argument, while offering an alternative explanation for Mishnah Baba Batra 5.2 which he discusses.

4.0. Discussion

4.1. Aramaic Influence on the Position of the Complementary Pronoun

23In Late Biblical Hebrew, we find several examples of the use of the distal demonstrative pronoun אוה before a proper noun. I shall mention two examples here:

(4) ו ַ י ְִ ה ִ י ִ ל ָ חי ִ ז ְ ק ִ י ָּ וה ע ֵׁ רש ְ כו ָ ב ֶ דו ה ְַ בר ֵֹ ה מ ְָ דא ...ְ ו ֹ אוה י ְ ח ִ ז ְ ק ִ י ָ וה ס ָ ת ַ ם צומ־תא ָ מ א ֵ מי ֵׁ י ג ִ ןוחי ה ָָ לע ְ י ֶ ןו
‘And Hezekiah had exceeding much riches and honour…
This same Hezekiah also stopped the upper watercourse of Gihon.’ (2 Chron. 32.27, 30; KJV)
(5) זע ְָ אר ש־ןב ְָ יר ֶָ ה ...ׁ אוה זע ְָ אר ע ָ ל ָֹ ה מ ִ ב ָ ב ֶ ל ו ְָ פס־אוה ֵׁ ר מ ָ ה ִ רי ב ְ ות ַ ר ֹ ת מ ׁ ש ֶ ה ... ‘Ezra the son of Seraiah… This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses.’ (Ezra 7.1, 6; KJV)

24In one case at least the demonstrative pronoun אוּה appears before a noun:

  • 15 Some scholars argue that all these instances actually entail an appositional structure (‘he, that i (...)
(6) ב ְ א ָ מ ְִ ר ֹ י ל ָָ ר ׁ ש ָ ע ָ ר ׁ ש ָ ע מ ֹ תו ת ָ מ ֶ תו ְ לו ֹ א ִ בד ְֶַ תר ָ ל ְ ה ַ ז ְִ ה ֵ רי ָ ר ָׁ ש ֶ ע מ ִ ד ְַ ר ָ וכ ׁ אוה ָ ר ׁ ש ָ ע
ב ַ ע ֲ נו ֹ ו י ָ מ ֶ תו ְ ו ָ מד ֶ ו מ ִ י ְָ ד ָ ך ֵ א ֲ ב ֵַָ ק ׁ ׃ש ‘When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.’ (Ezek. 33.8; KJV)15

25The structure in Late Biblical Hebrew is reminiscent of the use of the demonstrative adjective pronoun אוה in Biblical Aramaic:

  • 16 Compare Bauer and Leander (1927, 268, 270). Muraoka (1972, 10; 2011, 49; see also Fitzmyer 2004, 21 (...)
(7) ֹ אוה צ ַ ל ְ מ ָ א ֵ אר ׁ ש ֵ ה ִָ ־יד ְ ד ַ ה ֹ ב ט ֶָ ב
‘As for this image, its head was of fine gold.’ (Dan. 2.32; World English Bible)16
  • 17 Since Kutscher (1971, 104–9), the growth of this phenomenon in Aramaic has conventionally been expl (...)

26The phenomenon of placing a pronoun before the noun to which it refers (prolepsis or cataphora) is well documented in Aramaic. From as early as the Imperial Aramaic of the sixth century BCE, we have documentation of a periphrastic genitive construction with a proleptic possessive pronoun preceding the construct; this is also documented for Biblical Aramaic in the phrase ׁ ש ְ מ ֵׁ ה ִָ א־יד ֱ ל ָ ה ָ א ‘the name of God’, lit. ‘his name of God’ (Dan. 2.20). In Biblical Aramaic there are two instances (in addition to Dan. 2.32 mentioned above) where the demonstrative pronoun appears before the noun: ְ ד ָ נ ֵ ה ב ִ נ ְ י ָ נ ֶָ א ‘this building’ (Ezra 5.4); א ִ ל ֵ ח ןי ֵ וי ָָ ת ֹ א ‘these beasts’ (Dan. 7.17).17

27However, in most of the instances in which אוה is used as a modifying demonstrative pronoun in the Aramaic dialects preceding Mishnaic Hebrew, it appears after, rather than before, the noun. Moreover, it is even difficult to find nominal clauses containing noun + demonstrative adjective אוה functioning as an object. It is true that in the Nabataean Aramaic, this structure appears in the object function, as for example:

(8) ךלמסא רב ידבע זרכ גנתא יה ערפו ימד כרוזא וה
‘ʾsmlk son of ʿbdy proclaimed that (same) grove and paid off the price of that same (writ of) proclamation.’ (Papyrus Starcky [P. Yadin 36], lns 17–18; Yardeni 2001, 132)
  • 18 In all the ancient Aramaic dialects we have found only two instances where הי ‘it (f.)’ is used as (...)

28Still, even in Nabatean Aramaic אוה is not used as an object pronoun (contrary to the plural demonstrative adjective pronoun .) א ּ ןוּנ18 Accordingly, it is difficult to suggest that the use of the demonstrative adjective pronoun ותוא in Mishnaic Hebrew can be explained solely by reference to Aramaic.

4.2. Support for the Hypothesis of Greek Influence

29Muraoka (2016, 74) notes with extreme brevity that the use of the Greek αὐτός as a pronoun of identity reminds us of the use of the object pronoun ותוא in Mishnaic Hebrew. He adds that the phrase ב ַ ־ה ׁ ש ַ ע ֲָ ת ֹ א ‘at the same moment’ (Dan. 3.6; 5.5) in Biblical Aramaic is translated by the Septuagint as αὐτῇ τῇ ὥρᾳ, ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ ὥρᾳ ἐξῆλθον.

30We may add to this that even the instances in which אוה serves as a pronoun preceding proper nouns, such as ו ְֹ אוה י ְ ח ִ ז ְ ק ִ י ָ וה (2 Chron. 32.3) and ה ֤ אוּ זע ְָ אר (Ezra 7.6), as mentioned above (examples 4–5, above), are translated in the Septuagint as αὐτὸς ᾿Εζεϰίας and αὐτὸς ῎Εσδρας. The proleptic pronoun preceding the indefinite noun mentioned above (example 7) in ה ֤ אוּ ָ שר ָ ע ‘that wicked man’ (Ezek. 33.8) is also translated (with the addition of the definite pronoun absent in the Masoretic version) αὐτὸς ὁ ἄνομος.

  • 19 See Smyth (1920, 92–93, §328).

31The use of αὐτός both as an anaphoric pronoun and a pronoun of identity and as an independent pronoun in the oblique cases is known from classical Greek,19 and is documented extensively in the Greek documents uncovered in Wadi Murabbaʿat and in Naḥal Ḥever, which reflect the contemporary Greek of the Tannaitic period.

32Here are two examples from the Greek Judean Desert documents:

(9) ὅταν δὲ παρα̣νγείλει Σελα<μ>ψιοῦς τῷ αὐτῷ Ἰούδατι, τευχιζ{ζ}ει
αὐτὴν διὰ δημο-σίων.
‘And whenever Shelamzious summons the said Judah he will register it with public authorities.’ (Papyrus Yadin 19, Outer text, lns 25–27; Lewis 1989, 75)
(10) ὃ ἀργύριον ἀποδ̣ώσω σοι ϰ̣αλάνδαις Ἰαναουαρία̣ις τῷ αὐτῷ ἔτει̣
[τῆς] α̣ὐτῆς̣ ὑ̣π̣α̣τ̣είας, τὸν δὲ τόϰον χορηγήσω σοι τοῦ αὐτοῦ ἀργυρίου ϰα̣τ̣ὰ μῆνα ὡς τ̣ῶ [ν] ἑϰατὸν δ̣η̣ [να] ρων δ [η] ν̣αρον. ἕν ϰατὰ μῆνα.
‘which money I will repay to you on the kalends of January in the same year during the said consulship, and the interest of the said money I will deliver to you monthly at the rate of one denarius per hundred denarii per month.’ (Papyrus Yadin 11, Outer text, lns 19–22; Lewis 1989, 45)

33The syntactic analogy to the Greek is complete in all respects— both in the position of the pronoun and in its double function as an independent object pronoun and a pronoun of identity. Accordingly, this seems to us to offer the best explanation for the change in Rabbinic Hebrew. It is even possible that the similarity between the sound of the Greek and Hebrew words facilitated the influencing of the Hebrew structure by the Greek one.

4.3. Additional Instances of Greek Influence on Function Words in Rabbinic Hebrew

  • 20 The fact that Greek ἄλλος did not affect the final vowel of הַלָה may indicate that Greek only infl (...)

34A similar example of Greek influence on Hebrew in the area of pronouns has been identified elsewhere. The influence of the Greek pronoun ἄλλος on the use of the pronoun ה ַ ל ָ ה in Tannaitic Hebrew to mark a change in the subject of the sentence has been discussed by Breuer (2002, 215 n. 257). This instance shows that Greek pronouns may have penetrated, or at least influenced, Mishnaic Hebrew.20

35Lieberman (1950, 298–99) noted an additional function word that shows Greek influence. He clarified the phrase חספה סורפב ‘before Passover’ in Tannaitic Hebrew in light of Greek πρός ‘before’. The common feature linking all these four words is the phonetic similarity between the relevant Greek and Hebrew words.

5.0. The Extreme Nature of the Change

36The shift א ֹ תו ֹ ו < ה ַ אוּה is much more significant than other changes in involving independent pronouns, such as ה ֵ ן < ה ֵּ מ ָ ה , ז ֹ ו < ז ֹ תא . In these pronouns the connection to the Biblical Hebrew pronouns is still preserved and the pronoun accompanies the noun it complements as in Biblical Hebrew. It is also possible that the Mishnaic Hebrew pronouns reflect a dialect of Hebrew that existed alongside Biblical Hebrew. But the dramatic shift of the demonstrative pronoun א ֹ תו ֹ ו < ה ַ אוּה required special motivation. I will seek to offer two complementary avenues of research that may resolve this problem: genre and morphosyntax.

5.1. The Legal Genre’s Influence

  • 21 I thank Prof. Daniel R. Schwartz for the reference to Crystal and Davy.

37Crystal and Davy (1961, 202) noted that legal documents are careful to repeat the identification of the characters and of the assets to which they refer in an excessive manner in order to prevent any possibility of ambiguity.21 Examples of this can be found in the Nabataean Aramaic Papyrus Starcky, and in the Greek Papyri Yadin 11 and 19, all mentioned above. The same phenomenon is found in Palestinian Aramaic and Hebrew documents of the period. The heightened use of the pronoun of identity in the legal genre may have led to the routine use of the common Greek pronoun in the casual register.

5.2. Omission of Definiteness in the Phrase Nucleus + Demonstrative Pronoun

  • 22 See Kaddari (1991, 214); Azar (1995, 211).

38Perhaps we should liken this shift to another change between Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew in the field of the definiteness of pronouns. The structure indefinite noun + indefinite demonstrative adjective pronoun appears just once in the Bible: פו ְ ק ָ ג ד ֹ ןפ ָ תאז ‘and be mindful of this vine’ (Ps. 80.15), but is the standard structure in Rabbinic Hebrew.22 Based on the set of proximal pronouns— םישנא וליא , השיא וז , שיא הז —we would anticipate the following distal set: םישנא ןה ,* השיא איה ,* שיא אוה *. However, the absence of the definite article from the demonstrative adjective pronoun was liable to create confusion between אוה as a demonstrative adjective pronoun, אוה as an independent demonstrative pronoun, and אוה as a copula. The use of the new pronoun ותוא removed this ambiguity and permitted a distinction between the anaphoric pronoun and pronoun of identity and the independent demonstrative pronoun.

5.2.1. Mishnah Baba Batra 5.2

39A good illustration of the syntactic ambiguity created by the omission of definiteness in the demonstrative pronoun אוה < אוהה can be found in the various versions and interpretations of Mishnah Baba Batra 5.2. In this Mishna, R. Judah discusses whether someone who sells an ass also sells the ass’s trappings. He distinguishes between two instances:

(11) רכומה תא רומחה , אל רכמ תא וילכ . םוחנ ידמה וא ’ : רכמ תא וילכ . ר ’ הדוהי מוא ’ : םימעפ םירוכמ , םימעפו ןניאש ןירוכמ . דציכ ? היה רומח וילכו וינפל וילע , מא ’ ול  :’ רוכמ יל ךרומח וז  !’— ויליכ םירוכמ . ’ הה ךרומח ( י )[ ו ] א ’— ןיא וילכ ןירוכמ .
‘If a man sold an ass he has not sold its trappings. Nahum the Mede says: He has sold its trappings also. R. Judah says:
Sometimes they are sold with it and sometimes not; thus, if the ass was before him and it bore its trappings and he said, ‘Sell me this ass of thine’, all the trappings are sold too; [but if he said, ‘Sell me] that ass of thine’, its trappings are not sold with it.’ (Danby 1933, 372)
  • 23 It is noteworthy that in order to express the possessive pronoun חמורךyour ass’ with the Mishnaic (...)

40The use of the Biblical pronoun ךרומח ההיא here instead of simply Mishnaic אותה רומח * requires explanation. It may emphasize its deictic (rather than anaphoric) function, i.e., the ass standing there, and not here (see fn. 5, above).23

  • 24 This is the version in these manuscripts: Parma 3173 (De Rossi 138); Kaufmann A 50; Cambridge Add.4 (...)
  • 25 This is the version in these manuscripts: Munich 95; Paris 1337; Escorial G 1.3.1; Vatican Ebr. 115 (...)

41In all Mishnaic manuscripts of the Palestinian branch, we find ךרומח איהה / אוהה , with a possessive pronoun before the complementary definite demonstrative pronoun.24 Conversely, all textual witnesses of the Babylonian branch have . ךרומח אוה25 The omission of the definite article from the pronoun in the Babylonian manuscripts (perhaps under the influence of the absence of definiteness in the demonstrative pronoun in the preceding phrase ךרומח וז ) created a difficulty in understanding the text.

  • 26 Yalon (1971, 106) argued briefly in favour of linking the explanation of the Mishna in the Babyloni (...)

42The sentence ךרומח איהה is elliptical—it contains only the object, and does not include the principal component רוכמ יל . As long as the definite article was included before the demonstrative pronoun in the phrase ךרומח אוהה , it was evident that this was not an independent sentence, but rather a nominal phrase to be completed according to the preceding sentence. However, the Babylonian version ךרומח אוה has the appearance of a regular nominal sentence, and accordingly this led the Babylonian Amoraites, and subsequently many exegetes of the Mishna, to understand the phrase as an independent sentence, which in context must be a question:26 the buyer asks the seller whether the ass belongs to the seller.

(12) ר ’ הדוהי וא ’ : םימעפ ןירוכמ . יאמ אנש אשיר יאמו אנש אפוס ? מא ’ אבר  : אשיר עדיד ארמחד הידיד אוה , יאהו מאקד ’ היל ’ הז ’ םושמ וילכ אק מא ’ היל . אפוס אלד עדי אראמחד הידיד אוה , יכהו מאק ’ היל  : ךרומח ונרכמתש אוה יל ?
‘R. JUDAH SAYS: SOMETIMES IT IS SOLD, etc. What is the difference between THIS ASS OF YOURS and IS THE ASS YOURS?—Raba said: [When the buyer used the expression, ] THIS ASS OF YOURS, he was aware that the ass was his, and the reason, therefore, why he said unto him, “THIS” [must have been] on account of its equipment. [But when he asked], “IS THE ASS YOURS?” [he did so] because he was not aware that the ass was his, and this was [the implication of] his inquiry: “Is the ass yours? Sell it to me.”’ (Babylonian Talmund Baba Batra 78b; Slotki and Epstein 1989, 78b)

43R. Yishmaʿel ben Ḥakhmon (prob. Egypt, thirteenth century), who was familiar with the versions in both the Palestinian and the Babylonian branches, offered two interpretations:

(13) ’ דציכ היה רומח וינפל וילכו וילע , מא ’ ול רוכמ יל ךרומח הז , וילכ ןירוכמ ’ — ןויכש עדיש חקולה איהש ורומח , רמאו ול ’ הז ’— תונקל םילכ וילעש ןיוכתנ , הנקו םילכ וילעש . ’ ךרומח אוהה ’— רמולכ , רומח ינולפ שיש ךל . תואחסונ תצקבו לש דומלת בותכ ’ ךרומח אוה הז ’ , אצמנש ימכ אלש עדי ורומח אוהש לאשו וילע — ןיא וילכ ןירוכמ , אלש ןיוכתנ הז תונקל םילכה .
‘IF THE ASS WAS BEFORE HIM AND IT BORE ITS TRAPPINGS AND HE SAID, “SELL ME THIS ASS OF THINE,” THE TRAPPINGS ARE SOLD TOO, for since the buyer knew that it is his ass, and he said to him הז (‘this’) he intended to buy the vessels on it, and he bought the vessels on it. ךרומח אוהה (‘that ass of thine’)—that is, a particular ass belonging to you. Some versions of the Talmud have ךרומח אוה הז (‘is the ass yours? ’), which indicates that he did not know that it was his ass, and asked him “the vessels are not sold,” since he did not intend to buy the vessels.’ (Hershler 1989, 122–23)

44In my opinion, this example usefully illustrates the advantage of using the pronoun ותוא rather than the indefinite pronoun אוה .

5.2.2. Comparison to the Development of the Demonstrative Pronouns in Palestinian Aramaic

45This explanation is arguably supported by an analogous development in the Aramaic dialects used in the Palestinian translations of all the demonstrative pronouns, both proximal and distal. Tal (1979, 46–51) pointed out that a distinction began to emerge between the demonstrative adjective pronoun, which was preceded by ה , such as החרואב ןידה ‘in that way’ (Targum Fragments Gen. 28.20 [Klein 1986, 37]; Tal 1979, 48), and the independent pronoun, which remained without ה , as in ןיד ןמיס המייק ‘This is the sign of the covenant’ (Targum Fragments Gen. 9.12 [Klein 1986, 25]; Tal 1979, 47). The addition of the ה in Aramaic was presumably intended to create a distinction between these different syntactical functions, independent pronoun as opposed to adjective pronoun. In Rabbinic Hebrew, which removed the definite article from the demonstrative adjective pronoun, the adjective pronoun אוה was replaced by ותוא in order to distinguish it from the independent pronoun. In any case, the very dramatic change in the marking of definiteness on pronouns that undermined the biblical pronominal system certainly facilitated the absorption of the new pronoun from Greek.

6.0. Conclusion

46The change from אוהה to ותוא is the result of language contact. Aramaic encouraged the prolepsis, but the change in the pronoun reflects the influence of a Greek pronoun with a similar sound and syntactic functions, as scholars have shown regarding other function words in Mishnaic Hebrew.

  • 27 See, e.g., GKC (365, §117i); Segal (1927, 202); Oron (1990, 33); Waltke and O’Connor (1990, 178).

47In light of this conclusion, it would seem that we should separate the discussion of the development of the pronoun - תא ש in Tannaitic Hebrew from that of the inflected pronoun ותוא + noun, contrary to the prevailing opinion in earlier studies.27

  • 28 See Mirski (1941); Sarfatti (1980).
  • 29 I would like to mention here the late Prof. Edit Doron who asked me about this surprising shift in (...)

48The conclusion reached in this article may also have ramifications regarding the question of the definiteness of the nucleus for which the pronoun ותוא serves as complement. In light of the situation in Greek and Aramaic, it might have been expected that Mishnaic Hebrew would also show definiteness in the nucleus, contrary to the accepted view in the literature that this definiteness was added due to the need to separate two consecutive stressed syllables.28 This question should be re-examined in light of all the selected witnesses of the Talmudic literature. However, such clarification lies beyond the scope of the present article; I hope to discuss it elsewhere.29



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— ——. 1966. A Grammar of Christian Arabic. Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 267. Louvain: Secrétariat du Corpus SCO.

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Mirsky, Aharon. 1941. ‘The Accent of למה before Guttural Letters’. Tarbiz 12 (4): 297–99. [Hebrew]

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Muraoka, Takamitsu. 1972. Review of Fitzmyer, The Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave I, 2nd edition. Revue de Qumrân 29: 7–51.

— ——. 2005. ‘Linguistic notes on Moabite and Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions’. In Samaritan, Hebrew and Aramaic Studies Presented to Professor Abraham Tal, edited by Moshe Bar-Asher and Moshe Florentin, 31*–44*. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute.

— ——. 2011. A Grammar of Qumran Aramaic. Ancient Near Eastern Studies Supplement 38. Leuven and Walpole, MA: Peeters.

— ——. 2016. A Syntax of Septuagint Greek. Leuven and Bristol, CT: Peeters.

Muraoka, Takamitsu, and Bezalel Porten. 1998. A Grammar of Egyptian Aramaic. Handbuch der Orientalistik. Erste Abteilung, Nahe und der Mittlere Osten 32. Leiden and New York: Brill.

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— ——. 1992. ‘Reflexive Pronouns and Pronouns of Identity in Hebrew’. Lĕšonénu 56: 341–51. [Hebrew]

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— ——. 1992. A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic of the Byzantine Period. Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press.

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1 This structure may have limited precedents in Late Biblical Hebrew, such as וְטוב מִשְנֵיהֶם אֵֵת אֲׁשר־עֲדֶן ֹלא הָָיָה ‘and happier than either are those who have not yet come into being’ (Eccl. 4.3; NJPS). For a comprehensive review of the literature and an updated discussion on the distribution of this structure in the Bible, see Samet (2020).
את as an independent demonstrative pronoun appears in the Tannaitic literature only in its uninflected form, and always before a subordinate clause. The use of the inflected form of אות-( את) as the nucleus of a clause began only in Amoraic Hebrew (Sokoloff 1969, 138; Breuer 2002, 211–13).

2 This citation, like all citations from rabbinic literature, is according to the Maʾagarim website of the Academy of the Hebrew Language at

3 The masculine and feminine forms merged into one form (אותן) because of the phonetic shift (under certain conditions) from final /m/ to final /n/ in Mishnaic Hebrew.

4 See Oron (1990, 28–30); Kaddari (1991, 212–13); Azar (1995, 212– 13); Breuer (2002, 212).

5 According to Kaddari (1991, 213), in the three instances in which the biblical pronoun appears, its use may emphasise its deictic (rather than anaphoric or identity-related) function. An example is הרי המעות ההם מחוללין על הפירות האילו ‘Let that money be rendered free for common use by [exchange with] this produce’ (Maʿaser Sheni 3.4; Danby 1933, 76).

6 Compare the infinitive forms of this root in Qumran Aramaic למאתה, למתא ,למתה (Beyer 1984, 525). Regarding the digraph אי, cf. the spelling ראיש rēš ‘summit’ (1Q20 14.9; Muraoka 2011, 29). Milik’s claim (Benoit, Milik and de Vaux 1961, 120) that the pronoun אותו is documented in Mur 22.1-2 מכר ...אתמקום ‘sold… the place’ is not probable at all. Depending on the context of this fragmentary document and comparing to other documents (e.g., KhQOstracon 1.4; 5/6Hev 44.6–7), there is no reason to doubt that this את is the direct object marker. Indeed, the analysis as a direct object marker appears in Yardeni’s edition (Yardeni 2000, A, 45–47; B, 27).

7 See Sarfatti (1992, 342); Kahana (2011, 275–76). Yet, though the meaning is the same, the grammatical analysis differs: if the Septuagint, like the Sifre, had understood אותו to mean ‘ (he brings) himself’, it would have used the reflexive pronoun ἑαυτόν.

8 Prof. Joosten has kindly drawn my attention to three further examples in which the Septuagint translates אותו as an independent demonstrative pronoun rather than an object pronoun. Two of these instances appear in just a single textual witness. See Lev. 26.39 in Aquila’s recension (for a discussion of the different versions, see Wevers 1997, 459) and 1 Kgs 9.25 in Codex Alexandrinus. Both instances entail exegetical difficulties. In Lev. 26.39, the antecedent of אָתָּ֥ם (which the translator read as אֹותָם) is unclear (Milgrom 1991, 2329; cf. the discussion of Num. 6.13, above). The interpretation of the verse from Kings remains unclear in modern research (Kalimi 2005, 121–22). In the third instance, Ezek. 10.22, all witnesses for the Septuagint (as well as Targum Jonathan) translate וְאֹוָתָ֑ם as an independent pronoun, i.e., ‘and they’. Medieval exegetes (such as R. David Qimḥi) struggled to interpret the word in its context in the verse, and explanations offered by modern scholars are also forced (Saydon 1964, 202).

9 In Biblical Aramaic, אּנוּן serves as an independent demonstrative pronoun (Ezra 5.4); some scholars have argued that it also serves as a separate object pronoun (Dan. 6.25; see, for example, Bauer and Leander 1927 ,70; Vogt 2011, 107). A good illustration of the use of אּנוּן as an object pronoun can be found in ואשכח אנון ...ותבר אנון ‘and he found them… and defeated them’ (Genesis Apocryphon 20.20). An example of its use as a modifier may be found in the Bible: מַלְכַיִָ֣א אּנּ֗וּן ‘those kings’ (Dan. 2.44). The pronoun הּמֹו usually serves in Biblical Aramaic as an object pronoun (as in Ezra 4.10, 15), though it also appears as an independent subject pronoun (Ezra 5.11; see Bauer and Leander, 1927, 70).

10 Sokoloff (2014, 168). Prof. Simon Hopkins has drawn my attention to a similar phenomenon in Christian Arabic; see Blau (1966, 402–5); Tal (1979, 62–63; 2000, 366); Stadel (2013, 44).

11 Sokoloff (1992, 247).

12 See Blau (1954); Samet (2020).

13 I thank Prof. W. Randall Garr for the reference to Rubin. It should be added that in a similar instance in Biblical Hebrew, we find the repetition of the direct object marker: וְהָיָה הַּ֜גֹוי ְוהַּמַמְלָכָּ֗ה אֲשָ֨ר ֹֽלֹא־יַעַבְד֤וּ אֹתֹו את־ נְבוּכְַדנאצִַ֣ר מֹֽלְך־בָב֔ל ‘And it shall come to pass, that the nation and the kingdom which will not serve him, the same Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon’ (Jer. 27.8; KJV). A partial similarity to the structure reconstructed by Rubin (though without a nucleus in the subordinate clause, cf. fn. 1 above) can be found in the verse: וַיִָ֣מת אָֹ֑תֹו אֲשר־הפְְָּ֥קיד מֹֽלְך־בָבֶ֖ל בָָאֹֽרץ ‘and [he] slew him, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land’ (Jer. 41.2; KJV). For a detailed discussion of prolepsis in Biblical Hebrew, see Kogut (1981–1982).

14 I thank Prof. Gary A. Rendsburg and Dr Uri Mor for the reference to Yadin-Israel.

15 Some scholars argue that all these instances actually entail an appositional structure (‘he, that is to say: an evil one’) rather than a complementary demonstrative pronoun; for example, see Kogut (1981–1982, 104). Even if these verses originally contained appositional structures, however, it will become apparent below that the translators of the Septuagint read a complementary pronoun in all three instances.

16 Compare Bauer and Leander (1927, 268, 270). Muraoka (1972, 10; 2011, 49; see also Fitzmyer 2004, 212; Pat-El 2012, 98–99) argues that in ארי הוא רוחא כתש לכולהון ‘For the spirit attacked all of them’ (Genesis Apocryphon 20.20) a demonstrative adjective pronoun precedes the noun: ‘that spirit’. However, it seems to me that this is better parsed as the past form of peʿal הו"י: ‘for the wind smote (lit. would smite) them all’ paralleling the form in line 17: והואת כתשא לה ולכול אנש ביתה ‘and it smote (lit. would smite) him and all his house’. See Avigad and Yadin (1956, 44). The scholars who parsed a pronoun here, rather than a verb, did not address this analogy. They rejected the view that הוא is a past form of the verb הו"י, since they did not find any other instance where the ancillary verb הוה is separated from the main verb by the subject. We should note, though, that it is equally true that there is no other instance in Qumran in which a complementary pronoun precedes the noun.

17 Since Kutscher (1971, 104–9), the growth of this phenomenon in Aramaic has conventionally been explained by way of Akkadian influence. For a review of the literature, examples from various Aramaic dialects, and a comprehensive discussion, see Pat-El (2012, 89–132).

18 In all the ancient Aramaic dialects we have found only two instances where הי ‘it (f.)’ is used as an independent subject pronoun (Muraoka and Porten 1998, 156 §d). However, these instances may be parsed as prominence or focus. See Muraoka (2005, 34).

19 See Smyth (1920, 92–93, §328).

20 The fact that Greek ἄλλος did not affect the final vowel of הַלָה may indicate that Greek only influenced the meaning and use of existing particles in Hebrew (the element הַלָה appears in the existing pronoun הַלָזה), and was not responsible for the creation of new Hebrew particles.

21 I thank Prof. Daniel R. Schwartz for the reference to Crystal and Davy.

22 See Kaddari (1991, 214); Azar (1995, 211).

23 It is noteworthy that in order to express the possessive pronoun חמורךyour ass’ with the Mishnaic demonstrative אותה three words are required: אותה חמור שלך* instead of only two, as in חמורך ההיא.

24 This is the version in these manuscripts: Parma 3173 (De Rossi 138); Kaufmann A 50; Cambridge Add.470.1 (Lowe); Pococke 295 (Maimonides’ autograph); T-S E1.107 (Babylonian punctuation).

25 This is the version in these manuscripts: Munich 95; Paris 1337; Escorial G 1.3.1; Vatican Ebr. 115b; Hamburg 165.

26 Yalon (1971, 106) argued briefly in favour of linking the explanation of the Mishna in the Babylonian Talmud to the differences between the Palestinian and Babylonian versions, contradicting Segal (1936, 51), who asserted that the Talmud’s interpretation was ungrammatical. Yadin-Israel (2015, 336–37) also suggested that the interpretation in the Talmud reflects a misunderstanding of Tannaitic Hebrew during the Amoraic period, ignoring the divergence of versions between the Babylonian and Palestinian branches.

27 See, e.g., GKC (365, §117i); Segal (1927, 202); Oron (1990, 33); Waltke and O’Connor (1990, 178).

28 See Mirski (1941); Sarfatti (1980).

29 I would like to mention here the late Prof. Edit Doron who asked me about this surprising shift in an email in December 2015 and aroused my curiosity. May her memory be blessed.


Chanan Ariel (PhD, Hebrew University of Jerusaelm, 2018) is a lecturer in the Department of Hebrew Language and Semitic Linguistics at Tel-Aviv University. His research focuses on Classical and Medieval Hebrew. He recently received a research grant from the ISF to study Maimonides’ own Hebrew translations from his Judaeo-Arabic writings in comparison to other medieval translations of these texts.


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