Two seemingly irreconcilable views compete over the linguistic dating of Biblical Hebrew texts. The traditional view argues that LBH (= Late Biblical Hebrew) was a linguistic body that was distinct from EBH (= Early Biblical Hebrew), so on the basis of their profiles, one can date biblical texts on linguistic grounds. The more recent view argues that EBH and LBH were no more than free stylistic choices that were available to all biblical writers, and thus linguistic dating is impossible.
One desideratum in the current debate is a sociolinguistic evaluation. The sociolinguistic understanding of language, language change, and linguistic variation enables us to take a fresh look at the two competing models. The present study argues the following:
First, although the recent view argues that the mixed attestations of EBH features and the corresponding LBH features in some or all biblical books support the non-chronological stylistic model, the sociolinguistic understanding of linguistic variation raises the possibility that they may represent facets of authentic linguistic shifts from EBH to LBH.
Second, the sociolinguistic distinction between two types of changes, that is, changes from below and changes from above, cautions us that not all shifts from one EBH feature to the corresponding LBH one were unavoidable, as the traditional argument claims. If a linguistic shift from EBH to LBH proves to be a change from below, the shift should be considered to have been unavoidable. If, however, a shift from EBH to LBH proves to be a change from above, the shift should be considered to have been more or less stylistic, since changes from above occur with full public awareness.
As an empirical study, the present study conducts a variation analysis of eight Biblical Hebrew linguistic variables which the traditional position has understood as the contrasts between EBH and LBH and which the challenging view has considered to be only stylistic. The empirical analysis will corroborate the two points above. The study concludes that whereas it would be valid to describe the profiles of EBH and LBH, it is not defensible to use them for the purpose of dating biblical texts.