ZAW 2018; 130 (1): 1–16
»Return from Exile: Diglossia and Literary
Code-Switching in Ezra 1–7«
Ezra-Nehemiah depicts the Judeans repeatedly navigating multilingual situations
entailed by living within an empire. Within this context, Hebrew and Aramaic
in their various dialects and registers became symbolic of particular ideological
postures. While past rhetorical analyses have addressed the functions of Ara-
maic-Hebrew bilingualism in Ezra-Nehemiah, they have failed to recognize the
presence of diglossia in the same set of texts. On the other hand, sociolinguistic
analyses of Ezra-Nehemiah accounting for diglossia have not suggested a rhe-
torical function for its display. This study will combine the insights of these two
approaches to produce a new analysis of the poetics of Ezra 1–7 in light of the
diglossia apparent through the writer’s use of literary code-switching.
2 Previous Approaches to Hebrew-Aramaic Alternation in the
Most scholarship has addressed Hebrew-Aramaic language alternation in the
Hebrew Bible in terms of bilingualism. Daniel Snell was the first to produce a
1For some significant examples, see Daniel C. Snell, »Why Is There Aramaic in the Bible?,«
Journal For the Study of the Old Testament 18 (1980): 32–51; Bill T. Arnold, »The Use of Aramaic
in the Hebrew Bible: Another Look at Bilingualism in Ezra and Daniel,« Journal of Northwest
Semitic Languages 22/2 (1996): 1–16; Hedwige Rouillard-Bonraisin, »Problèmes Du Bilinguisme
En Daniel,« in Mosaïque de Langues, Mosaïque Culturelle. Le Bilinguisme Dans Le Proche-Orient
Ancien, ed. Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet (Paris: Maisonneuve, 1996): 145–170; Arnaud Séran-
dour, »Hébreu et Araméen Dans La Bible,« Revue Des Études Juives 159 (2000): 345–355; Joshua
Berman, »The Narratorial Voice of the Scribes of Samaria: EzraIV 8-VI 18 Reconsidered,« Vetus
Testamentum 56/3 (July 2006): 313–326; Joshua Berman, »The Narratological Purpose of Aramaic
Prose in Ezra 4:8–6:18,« Aramaic Studies 7/2 (2007): 1–27; Anathea E. Portier-Young, »Languages
*Kontakt: Timothy Hogue, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, University of California,
Los Angeles, 1033 Bartch Ave., Patterson, CA 95363, USA, email@example.com
2 Timothy Hogue
convincing explanation for its presence in Ezra as a rhetorical tool. He suggested
that the embedded letters were produced in Aramaic to grant the text a sense
of authenticity in reflecting the social situation of the Persian period. He saw
no function for the Aramaic narrative, however, arguing that it was the result
of »sloppiness« on the part of the biblical writer. Bill T. Arnold argued instead
that the use of Aramaic in the narrative was an intentional attempt on the part
of the author to suggest an outsider perspective for the implied narrator. In the
context of the embedded letters, the implied narrator’s ideology was aligned with
that of the governing authorities, so he accordingly narrated in Aramaic. Joshua
Berman expanded on Arnold’s study by suggesting that the point of view of the
implied narrator was not merely external but also ideologically opposed to the
perspective of the biblical writer. He concluded that the narratorial voice must
therefore be that of foreign administrators in the land. In short, studies using
bilingualism as a theoretical framework approach Aramaic as a foreign element
in the text that is indicative of inter-group conflict.
The biblical writers did not merely use the retention of Aramaic material to
rhetorical ends, however. The alternation between Aramaic and Hebrew and the
sequence of that alternation was significant as well. Berman noted that the dis-
tancing elements of the narrator’s discourse gradually shift into terms suggesting
nearness and investment in the Jewish cause. This transition in discourse antic-
ipated the transition in language back to Hebrew in Ezra 6. Similarly, Anathea
Portier-Young argued that the sequence of alternation between Hebrew and
Aramaic in Daniel reflected an important aspect of the book’s message. Specifi-
cally, she viewed the Hebrew opening of Daniel as framing the audience’s Jewish
identity. Hebrew is the »mother tongue of the faithful and the ›base language‹
for the book’s multilingual discourse.« The book switches to Aramaic to show
its characters negotiating their identity under empire. After exploring the range
of this negotiation, the book returns to Hebrew to signify a context in which the
of Identity and Obligation: Daniel as Bilingual Book,« Vetus Testamentum 60/1 (January 2010):
2Daniel C. Snell, »Why Is There Aramaic in the Bible?,« Journal for the Study of the Old Testa-
ment 18 (1980): 34.
3Arnold, »The Use of Aramaic in the Hebrew Bible«: 8.
5Berman, »The Narratorial Voice of the Scribes of Samaria: EzraIV 8-VI 18 Reconsidered«; Ber-
man, »The Narratological Purpose of Aramaic Prose in Ezra 4:8–6:18«.
6Berman, »The Narratological Purpose of Aramaic Prose in Ezra 4:8–6:18«: 190.
7Portier-Young, »Languages of Identity and Obligation«.
[[Bitte einen gekürzten Kolumnentitel angeben]] 3
Jews’ religious identity outweighs any claim empires might have on them. The
biblical writers thus used the sequence of language alternation in addition to the
reproduction of multiple idioms, especially to display intra-group identity nego-
The studies surveyed above and others like them are all hampered by their
approach to Hebrew Aramaic language alternation in the Hebrew Bible in terms
of bilingualism, rather than within the more useful framework of diglossia. Bilin-
gualism refers to a multilingual situation arising from inter-group interaction. As
two language communities are brought into contact, the members of one must
learn the other’s language to facilitate communication. In contrast, diglossia
refers to a society’s compartmentalized use of two or more varying linguistic
idioms. In this case, the language community chooses an idiom depending on
the particular social context, and they alternate both for inter-group and intra-
group interactions. As a result of not recognizing diglossia, previous rhetorical
analyses of language alternation have failed to adequately account for the social
implications of intra-group alternation, especially in Ezra-Nehemiah.
3 Diglossia and Deixis: A New Approach to Language
Alternation in Ezra-Nehemiah
Joshua Fishman defined diglossia as a society’s use of »functionally differentiated
language varieties.« This initially referred to the use of two contrasting idioms
in formal and informal social contexts, but the term has since been expanded
to refer any use of two or more varieties for particular social purposes. To avoid
the implication of a binary opposition of linguistic idioms, Bernard Spolsky has
suggested that the situation in Achaemenid Judah is better referred to as triglos-
sia. Achaemenid Judean multilingualism entailed the separate use of a religious
10Joshua A. Fishman, The Sociology of Language: An Interdisciplinary Social Science Approach
to Language in Society (Rowley, MA: Newbury House Publishers, 1972), 91–98; Bernard Spolsky,
The Languages of the Jews: A Sociolinguistic History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
11Fishman, The Sociology of Language, 92.
12Spolsky, The Languages of the Jews: A Sociolinguistic History, 30. Diglossia was also endemic
to the Achaemenid Empire in general. See Gonzalo Rubio, »Writing in Another Tongue: Alloglot-
tography in the Ancient Near East,« in Margins of Writing, Origins of Cultures, ed. Seth Sanders,
The University of Chicago Oriental Institute Seminars 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2006):
33–41; Paul-Alain Beaulieu, »Official and Vernacular Languages: The Shifting Sands of Imperial
and Cultural Identities in the First-Millenium B.C. Mesopotamia,« in Margins of Writing, Origins
4 Timothy Hogue
language for liturgical purposes, a co-territorial language for inter-group commu-
nication, and a vernacular for intra-group communication.
Because diglossia is used to mark inter- and intra-community social bound-
aries, it can be used to index ideological deixis. Ideological deixis refers to the
use of linguistic referents to suggest relative distance from a core ideology. The
choice of linguistic idiom can be used to relative congruence with some concep-
tual or ideological center-point assigned to one idiom as opposed to the others.
Thus, according to Keith Walters, diglossia can be used to index »commitment to
any of a number of political, religious, or social ideologies.« The choice of a par-
ticular idiom may demonstrate support for an ideology, opposition to it, or any
of the infinitesimal degrees of congruence in between. The indexicality of these
idioms allows audiences to situate themselves relative to the expressed ideology.
of Cultures, ed. Seth Sanders, The University of Chicago Oriental Institute Seminars 2 (Chica-
go: University of Chicago, 2006): 201–206; Sheldon Pollock, »Response for Third Session: Power
and Culture Beyond Ideology and Identity,« in Margins of Writing, Origins of Cultures, ed. Seth
Sanders, The University of Chicago Oriental Institute Seminars 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago,
2006): 279–284. The volume these studies come from also contains helpful takes on diglossia in
other parts of the ancient Near East. See especially Theo van den Hout’s excellent description of
diglossia in the Hittite Empire. Theo van den Hout, »Institutions, Vernaculars, Publics: The Case
of Second-Millennium Anatolia,« in Margins of Writing, Origins of Cultures, ed. Seth Sanders,
The University of Chicago Oriental Institute Seminars 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2006):
13Bernard Spolsky and Sarah Bunin Benor, »Jewish Languages,« ed. Keith Brown, Encyclope-
dia of Language and Linguistics (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2006): 120; Frank H. Polak, »Sociolinguis-
tics and the Judean Speech Community in the Achaemenid Empire,« in Judah and the Judeans
in the Persian Period, ed. Oded Lipschitz and Manfred Oeming (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns,
2006): 119. For other examples of diglossia in the Hebrew Bible, see Gary A. Rendsburg, Diglossia
in Ancient Hebrew, American Oriental Series 72 (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1990);
Gary A. Rendsburg, »Linguistic Variation and the ›Foreign‹ Factor in the Hebrew Bible,« in Israel
Oriental Studies: Language and Culture in the Near East, ed. Shlomo Izre’el and Rina Drory (Lei-
den/New York/Köln: Brill, 1995): 177–190. For an alternative to Rendsburg’s approach to diglos-
sia, see Maria Maddalena Colasuonno, »Some Considerations on the Problem of Diglossia in
Biblical Hebrew,« Annali Sezione Orientale 76/1–2 (2016): 124–145.
14Bruce W. Hawkins, »Linguistic Relativity as a Function of Ideological Deixis,« in Explorations
in Linguistic Relativity, ed. Martin Pütz and Marjolijn H. Verspoor, Current Issues in Linguistic
Theory 19 (Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing, 2000): 295–318; Willem J.
Botha, »The Deictic Foundation of Ideology, with Reference to the African Renaissance,« in Lan-
guage and Ideology, vol. II: Descriptive Cognitive Approaches, ed. Rene Dirven, Roslyn Frank and
Cornelia Ilie (Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing, 2001): 51–75.
15Keith Walters, »Diglossia, Linguistic Variation, and Language Change in Arabic,« in Perspec-
tives on Arabic Linguistics: Papers from the Annual Symposium on Arabic Linguistics, vol. VIII, ed.
Mushira Eid (Amherst: John Benjamins Publishing, 1996): 181.
[[Bitte einen gekürzten Kolumnentitel angeben]] 5
The use of diglossia (or triglossia) for ideological indexing can be accom-
plished by means of literary code-switching. Literary code-switching is defined
simply as the juxtaposition of multiple linguistic idioms in a single text. This
written reproduction of code-switching is significant because variations in writing
are almost always above the level of awareness. According to Mark Sebba, such
variations can be consciously invoked in writing to act as indexes »of the groups
of users themselves or of particular social characteristics which are attributed to
them.« Literary code-switching can thus be employed to demonstrate change in
addressee or addressor, the marking of social boundaries, and relative ideologi-
cal commitment of a speaker or narrator within a text.
3.1 Language Ideology in Ezra-Nehemiah
In general, Achaemenid Judah was marked by triglossia with separate idioms
preferred in religious, political, and colloquial contexts. The writer of Ezra-Ne-
hemiah evaluated these idioms according to the ideology of the returned Jewish
leaders. This is seen most clearly in Nehemiah 13, in which the Jews seek to purify
themselves from non-Jewish entanglements. Among his accusations against the
Jews, the writer remarks of their children in Nehemiah 13:24 that »they cannot
speak Judahite!« This text uniquely connects language to identity and then mor-
alizes that connection. The children in question are a result of the failure of the
Jews to remain ethnically and linguistically pure as the ideal of the leaders of the
returned community demanded. Language had become an index for ideological
The ideology of Ezra-Nehemiah is most clearly expressed by Hebrew. As an
imitation of the classical language, this was the preferred linguistic idiom for pro-
ducing new religious literature. Similarly, a surviving vernacular Hebrew was
16Daniel Weston and Penelope Gardner-Chloros, »Mind the Gap: What Code-Switching in Liter-
ature Can Teach Us about Code-Switching,« Language and Literature 24/3 (2015): 194–212.
17Mark Sebba, »Orthography as Social Action: Scripts, Spelling, Identity and Power,« in Or-
thography as Social Action: Scripts, Spelling, Identity and Power, ed. Alexandra Jaffe, Jannis
Androutsopoulos and Mark Sebba, Language and Social Processes 3 (Boston/Berlin: Walter de
Gruyter, 2012): 4.
18Frank H. Polak, »Sociolinguistics: A Key to the Typology and the Social Background of Bib-
lical Hebrew,« Hebrew Studies 47 (2006): 121; Polak, »Sociolinguistics and the Judean Speech
Community in the Achaemenid Empire«: 614–617.
6 Timothy Hogue
the idiom of choice in colloquial contexts. William Schniedewind argued that
Hebrew become »a symbol of ethnicity, political legitimacy, and national auton-
omy« during the Persian period. This idiom was the ideological deictic center
against which other idioms were judged. According to Portier-Young, »Hebrew
anchors the insider perspective« and acts as a »base language« for code-switch-
ing discourse. Within a diaspora context, Hebrew served a symbolic and iconic
function, directly indexing the ideology of the returned Jewish leaders and the
writer’s commitment to it. Use of this variety allowed biblical writers to connect
directly to earlier biblical works, activate collective memory, and cast their new
products as continuations of the Yahwist literature of the Judahite monarchy. Use
of this variety was essential to creating a stabilized Jewish minority in Achae-
Inter-group political discourse required Official Aramaic, the administra-
tive language of the Achaemenid Empire. While this idiom was certainly not a
language for use in Jewish religion, it was not opposed by Jewish leadership as
were some other varieties. Rather, it was a prestige language necessary for high
level inter-group communication. Ezra-Nehemiah’s writer thus portrayed Offi-
cial Aramaic relatively positively. It was necessary for the Jewish leaders to be
well-versed in this variety in order to further their ideological goals. This is to be
expected as the work of Ezra and Nehemiah throughout the book always proceeds
with the blessing of the Persian king. Official Aramaic was therefore not auto-
matically opposed to or supportive of Ezra-Nehemiah’s ideological agenda. It was
rather a relatively neutral tool for negotiating that ideology in a broader context.
If Ezra-Nehemiah’s language ideology opposed any linguistic varieties, these
were the Aramaic vernaculars. These were varieties of the diaspora, but they
19William M. Schniedewind, A Social History of Hebrew: Its Origins Through the Rabbinic Period
(New Haven/London: The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library, 2013), 146f.; Spolsky, The Lan-
guages of the Jews: A Sociolinguistic History, 38–44.
20Schniedewind, A Social History of Hebrew: Its Origins Through the Rabbinic Period, 139.
21Portier-Young, »Languages of Identity and Obligation«: 101.
22Lars Hinrichs, »The Sociolinguistics of Diaspora: Language in the Jamaican Canadian Com-
munity,« Texas Linguistics Forum 54 (2011): 11.
23M. L. Folmer, The Aramaic Language in the Achaemenid Period: A Study in Linguistic Varia-
tion, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 68 (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters Press & Department of Orien-
tal Studies, 1995), 5f.; Polak, »Sociolinguistics: A Key to the Typology and the Social Background
of Biblical Hebrew«: 122f.; Schniedewind, A Social History of Hebrew: Its Origins Through the
Rabbinic Period, 140–142.
24Polak, »Sociolinguistics and the Judean Speech Community in the Achaemenid Empire«: 592.
25Joshua Berman, »The Narratological Purpose of Aramaic Prose in Ezra 4:8–6:18,« Aramaic
Studies 7/2 (2007): 172.
[[Bitte einen gekürzten Kolumnentitel angeben]] 7
could not take the place of an ideologized »mother tongue«. While Aramaic was
certainly becoming a Jewish language during the Persian period and perhaps
even earlier, the biblical writers treated its vernacular use as symbolic of foreign
entanglement. In Nehemiah 13:24, before bemoaning their inability to speak
Judahite, Nehemiah complains that the Jewish children in question can only
speak »Ashdodite« and »the languages of various peoples«. Ingo Kottsieper
concluded that Ashdodite in particular must have been a variety of vernacular
Aramaic, on the basis that it was a language clearly widely used and understood.
Otherwise, it would have been impossible for younger members of the speech
community to have learned it exclusively. Ashdodite, then, was a vernacular local
Aramaic. This idiom represented failure to adhere to Ezra-Nehemiah’s ideology
as expressed in literary Hebrew, it directly competed with vernacular Hebrew,
and it was of no use in official contexts like its eastern cousin, Official Aramaic. It
may even be telling that Ezra-Nehemiah avoids labeling this vernacular Aramaic
as »Aramaic« at all, but rather terms it »Ashdodite«. Any difference between Ash-
dodite and Aramaic was not strictly linguistic but ideological, analogous to the
difference between Serbian and Croatian. These linguistic classifications rep-
resent separate but mutually intelligible varieties that are more differentiated by
ideological allegiance than linguistic factors. These varieties were not ideal,
according to Ezra-Nehemiah, for the establishment of a stabilized minority in
26Otto Plöger, Das Buch Daniel (Berlin: Gütersloher Verlagshaus G. Mohn, 1965), 27; Sérandour,
»Hébreu et Araméen Dans La Bible«: 351f.; Schniedewind, A Social History of Hebrew: Its Ori-
gins Through the Rabbinic Period, 144–147; Spolsky, The Languages of the Jews: A Sociolinguistic
27Ingo Kottsieper, »›And They Did Not Care to Speak Yehudit‹: On Linguistic Change in Judah
during the Late Persian Era,« in Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth Century B.C.E., ed. Oded
Lipschitz, Gary N. Knoppers and Rainer Albertz (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007): 100f.
28Serbo-Croatian (or Croato-Serbian) is designated as Serbian or Croatian based purely on
social context and not strictly linguistic grounds. The chosen designation reflects a user’s reg-
ister, national identity, or religious background. Pavlinić, »Croatian or Serbian as a Diaspora
Language in Western Europe«: 102f.
29For more on the effect of ideology on linguistic classification, see Judith T. Irvine and Susan
Gal, »Language Ideology and Linguistic Differentiation,« in Regimes of Language: Ideologies,
Polities, and Identities, ed. P. Kroskrity (Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2000):
35–83; Akin Salih, »Pour une typologie des processus redénominatifs,« in Noms et re-noms: la
dénomination des personnes, des populations, des langues et des territoires (Normandy: Publica-
tions de l’Université de Rouen et du Havre, 1999): 33–60.
8 Timothy Hogue
4 The Poetics of Literary Code-Switching in Ezra 1–7
Arnold, Berman, and Portier-Young developed essential methods for analyzing
the poetics of biblical texts in light of language alternation, but they only applied
their approaches to bilingual alternation between Hebrew and Aramaic. Schol-
ars such as Polak and Spolsky more accurately described the linguistic situation
suggested by Ezra-Nehemiah as diglossia, but they have not analyzed the rhetor-
ical functions of displaying diglossia in a literary work. This study will argue that
the writer of Ezra 1–7 consciously incorporated diglossic variants into the text to
act as ideological indexes. In other words, the writer used literary code-switch-
ing to imply intra-Jewish ideological negotiation. His chosen sequence of idioms
mirrors the described transition of the Jews from a diaspora community to a sta-
bilized minority in Jerusalem.
4.1 The Return of Hebrew – Framing the Alternation
The narrative in Ezra begins in Hebrew. As Portier-Young argued for the book of
Daniel, Hebrew is used in Ezra to frame the multilingual discourse and designate
a base language. The use of Hebrew symbolically represents the return from
exile through the writer’s ability to use the ancient homeland’s classical lan-
guage. The writer emphasizes this symbolic function of the language with his
allusions to the book of Exodus in the first chapter, connecting the return from
diaspora to the escape from Egypt. Hebrew afforded the writer an opportunity
to insert himself into a legitimated canon of texts from which his ideology was
derived. It was essential that the rebuilding of the temple be related in Hebrew.
Hebrew actualized the transition out of a diaspora community into a stabilized
minority in the same way that rebuilding the temple symbolically established a
30Portier-Young, »Languages of Identity and Obligation«: 110.
31Specifically, Ezra 1:6 alludes to Exodus 3:22; 11:2; 12:35–36. Berman, »The Narratological Pur-
pose of Aramaic Prose in Ezra 4:8–6:18«: 167.
33For this use of ›diaspora‹ as opposed to ›stabilized minority,‹ see Andrina Pavlinić, »Croatian
or Serbian as a Diaspora Language in Western Europe,« in Immigrant Languages in Europe, ed.
Guus Extra and Ludo Verhoeven (Clevedon/Philadelphia/Adelaide: Multilingual Matters LTD,
1993): 101–118. While diaspora is typically applied to the community in Babylon, I am here using
it to refer to the Judeans in Judah as well. They were not a stabilized minority, as demonstrated
by their assimilation with the surrounding peoples. Without ideologized symbols to create clear
[[Bitte einen gekürzten Kolumnentitel angeben]] 9
The opening chapters suggest that this initial return was a false start,
however. The response of the Judeans to the return and the proposed rebuilding
of the temple is not given in the first chapter. Berman argued that this silence
is intentional to suggest that the Judeans were not fully convinced of the ideo-
logical agenda of the leading returnees. The Judeans approached the return and
the work on the temple with trepidation. Chapter 3 makes this uncertainty even
clearer when the foundations for the new temple are laid. Verses 11–13 recount a
mixed response, concluding that »the people could not distinguish the sound of
the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping.« This mixed response
underscores the skepticism with which some Jews viewed the agenda taking
shape in Achaemenid Judah. This skepticism is at odds with the writer’s language
choice. While the intention of using Hebrew at the return was to draw the implied
audience near to the writer’s ideology, they instead distance themselves in the
following chapters. The return at this point is little more than an extension of the
diaspora into Judah. The reestablishment of an ideologically centered mother-
land has yet to occur.
Ezra 4:1–7 relates the greatest challenge yet faced by the Jewish returnees
attempting to rebuild the temple. The leaders of the returnees are forced to face
the ramifications of attempting to transition out of a disenfranchised diaspora.
Non-Jews living in Achaemenid Judah approach the returned exiles building the
temple and question them regarding their actions. Notably, the Jewish leaders
respond that they are only acting in accordance with Cyrus’ orders. God is never
mentioned as an active element of their motivation. This suggests that the Jews
were unsure of their own ideological agenda and whether it truly had their
God’s support. The non-Jews take advantage of this uncertainty in the follow-
ing verses. They first attempt to insinuate themselves into the Jewish commu-
nity, and, when that fails, they begin to hinder the work of the exiles. They even
write a complaint to the Persian king himself (vv. 6–7), elevating the dispute to an
international scale necessitating a new language. The ideological agenda of the
return has suffered its first defeat at this point, and so the writer ceases to use the
Hebrew symbolic of a successful return.
social boundaries, the Judeans in the land were merely an extension of the diaspora in Achae-
34Berman, »The Narratological Purpose of Aramaic Prose in Ezra 4:8–6:18«: 172.
35Translation follows the NRSV.
36Berman, »The Narratological Purpose of Aramaic Prose in Ezra 4:8–6:18«: 189.
10 Timothy Hogue
4.2 A Tale of Two Aramaics
Beginning in v. 8, the writer abandons Hebrew and begins to code-switch between
two varieties of Aramaic, each associated with specific social functions within a
diaspora community. The writer has ceased to defend himself in Hebrew as it
were, and has begun a new strategy more fitting to the tension of the narrative
at this point. Verses 11–22 record the complaint of the non-Jewish administra-
tors and the Persian king’s response in Official Aramaic. There is no intervening
commentary, so the Official Aramaic documents are left to tell the story by them-
selves. In this case the prestige language defeats the ideology of the writer. The
Jewish leaders are given no agency in this account and are never able to defend
themselves in the prestige language. They are not heard from again after their
tenuous remarks in Hebrew in v. 3. The foreign administrators, on the other hand,
successfully use the prestige language to make their case to the Persian court. The
king is convinced and directs them to stop the work in Jerusalem.
When the Aramaic narrative begins in v. 23, the implied narrator describes
the situation surrounding the temple from a detached perspective. He notably
avoids any ideologically charged language, opting instead for more neutral geo-
political terms. Furthermore, the writer recorded this narrative in vernacular
Aramaic, the only such preservation in Ezra-Nehemiah. This is the most signifi-
cant shift in the text that has been ignored by previous rhetorical analyses. Frank
Polak has demonstrated that the narrative portions of Ezra’s Aramaic are actually
in Western Aramaic, marked especially by their SVO word order. This suggests an
intentional attempt on the part of the writer to connect with his Judean audience,
who were most likely better versed in a western variety of the language. The
language of the narrative thus contrasts markedly with the letters, which con-
sistently use SOV word order as expected of Official Aramaic – a standardized
form of Eastern Aramaic. The writer thus alternated between not two but three
linguistic idioms: Hebrew, Official Aramaic, and Western Aramaic.
The switch from Official to Western Aramaic is a literary reflection of a
local Judean voice. As noted above, Aramaic vernaculars mentioned elsewhere
in Ezra-Nehemiah are associated with Jews who are not fully committed to the
38Polak, »Sociolinguistics and the Judean Speech Community in the Achaemenid Empire«:
595f. Though Polak identifies this additional variety, he does not comment on its ideological or
39Stephen A. Kaufman, »Aramaic,« in The Semitic Languages, ed. Robert Hetzron, Routledge
Language Family Descriptions (London/New York: Routledge, 1997): 115; Folmer, The Aramaic
Language in the Achaemenid Period: A Study in Linguistic Variation, 710.
[[Bitte einen gekürzten Kolumnentitel angeben]] 11
ideology of the writer. The diglossic variation in Aramaics thus suggests an ide-
ological conflict internal to the Jewish community, as opposed to the external
conflict implied by bilingualism alone. This analysis better fits the overarching
themes of the book of Ezra-Nehemiah, which primarily revolves around the tran-
sition from diaspora to homeland. While the Jewish leaders experienced some
outsider opposition to this agenda, they encountered it more significantly from
within the Judean community. The writer used the language of the diaspora to
address its unconvinced constituents. The use of this idiom suggests that the
implied Aramaic narrator was unconvinced of the Hebrew narrative’s ideology. I
suggest therefore using Ezra-Nehemiah’s own shorthand to designate this variety
as »Ashdodite« rather than Aramaic. This designation highlights the ideological
perception of the variety as opposed to its linguistic identity. The idiom of the nar-
rative represents a non-committal approach to Ezra-Nehemiah’s ideology. From
the writer’s perspective, this was not the same as »Aramaic«, which designated
the prestige language. The use of Ashdodite as opposed to Hebrew for a vernacu-
lar narrative emphasizes the implied narrator’s detachment and skepticism as a
voice of the diaspora.
The code-switching in Ezra 5:1–5 confirms that the implied narrator is a skep-
tical Judean representative of the diaspora. The narrator’s vernacular Aramaic
contrasts markedly with the Official Aramaic used by the Samarian administra-
tors in their quoted discourse. When the governor Tattenai and his associates
arrive to question the Jewish leaders in 5:3–4, the word order in their questions
complies with what is expected of Eastern Aramaic. This gives the questions an
»official tone« according to Polak, even though they do not appear initially in the
embedded letters. In contrast, the narrative surrounding these questions, par-
ticularly in 5:2 and 5:5, uses Western Aramaic word order. The code-switching
clarifies that those questions are delivered from a point of view separate from
40Tamara C. Eskenazi, »The Structure of Ezra-Nehemiah and the Integrity of the Book,« Journal
of Biblical Literature 107/4 (1988): 652.
41Gary N. Knoppers, »Nehemiah and Sanballat: The Enemy Without or Within?,« in Judah and
the Judeans in the Fourth Century B.C.E., ed. Oded Lipschitz, Gary N. Knoppers and Rainer Albertz
(Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007): 330f.; Peter R. Bedford, »Diaspora: Homeland Relations
in Ezra-Nehemiah,« Vetus Testamentum 52/2 (2002): 147–152.
42This is an example of what Gary Rendsburg labeled »addressee-switching«. Similar to the use
of »foreign factor« elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible to suggest an address to or by foreigners, the
writer of Ezra 4–6 used an Aramaic colored by Western features in order to address his narrative
to the diaspora Judeans. See Rendsburg, »Linguistic Variation and the ›Foreign‹ Factor in the
43Polak, »Sociolinguistics and the Judean Speech Community in the Achaemenid Empire«: 594.
12 Timothy Hogue
that of the narrator. The narrator is not aligned with the perspective of the foreign
authorities as has been supposed elsewhere. Rather, he is an unconvinced Jew
observing the exchange from the outside.
The remainder of chapter5 is another letter in Official Aramaic, but this time
that linguistic variety is used to less negative ends. While there may be a subtle
suggestion of antagonism on the part of the Samarian administrators, this letter
is primarily an inquiry by Tattenai and his associates regarding the actions of
the Jewish leaders. Unlike the disenfranchising letters in chapter4, the Jewish
leaders are able to give a response to Tattenai within his letter. This time the
Jewish leaders make appeals to their history and the sacred nature of their task
(5:11–12) in addition to Cyrus’ previous support (5:13–16). They do not intend to
act without the approval of the Persian court, but the response given here is more
clearly ideologically motivated than that appearing in 4:3. This entire response
is notably related in Official Aramaic. The Jewish leaders are shown using the
prestige language to further their own ideological goals, even though it was used
in the previous chapter to confound them. In Tattenai’s letter the audience and
with them the skeptical narrator see the use of the language of empire to support
the Jewish leaders’ ideological claims. Thus, the lack of code-switching between
the Samarian administrators and the Jewish leaders is another argument in favor
of the writer’s ideology. Even the prestige language can be used to defend it.
In chapter6, Official Aramaic is brought squarely in line with Ezra-Nehemi-
ah’s ideology. Vv. 3–5 recount a decree of Cyrus to rebuild the temple. Vv. 6–12
emphasize this even more by recording a new decree from Darius to Tattenai and
his associates. The king commands the Samarian administrators not to hinder the
Jews in their work and to offer any necessary assistance to see that it is completed.
The skeptical narrator and his audience thus witness the prestige language used
both by the Jewish leaders to defend the writer’s ideology to the Persian court and
by the Persian court itself to support them. Not only was the language of empire
aligned with the writer’s ideology, but through that language the empire itself
At this point, the Ashdodite narrative alone now remained unconvinced of
the writer’s ideology, but that implied perspective begins to shift. In vv. 13–15,
the narrator observes the victory of the Jewish leaders in their conflict with the
Samarian authorities and the Persian court. Both of those groups are now giving
their support to the rebuilding of the temple, which is completed in v. 15. The
45Joshua Berman, »The Narratorial Voice of the Scribes of Samaria: EzraIV 8-VI 18 Reconsid-
ered,« Vetus Testamentum 56/3 (July 2006): 323–326.
46Berman, »The Narratological Purpose of Aramaic Prose in Ezra 4:8–6:18«: 176–179.
[[Bitte einen gekürzten Kolumnentitel angeben]] 13
language of the narrator in these verses is more invested than it was previously.
He now speaks of the »God of Israel« (v. 14), using an ideologically charged term
rather than a geopolitical one. He also refers to the temple as »this house« and
»this house of God« in vv. 15–17, using a proximal deictic particle to demonstrate
his growing nearness to the place and by implication the ideology it represents.
He refers to the people involved in the work of the temple as »Israel« three times,
emphasizing his ideological investment in their religious identity. The last verse of
narrative in Ashdodite notes that the Jews were preparing to commence worship
in the temple. As the writer’s ideology has here succeeded and its major physi-
cal symbol – the temple – has been completed, the narrator’s increased nearness
is preparing for an end of diaspora.
When ritual recommences in the temple in v. 19, so too does the use of Hebrew
in the narrative. Full adherence to Ezra-Nehemiah’s ideology would require the
avoidance of Aramaic vernaculars altogether, as they represent a noncommittal or
opposing stance to the ideology. Aramaic vernaculars were a diaspora language,
but the narrative had just detailed the rebuilding of the temple resulting in a new
symbolic homeland for the Jews. As the diaspora has symbolically ended, the
implied narrator has become so convinced of the writer’s ideology that he even
sheds his diaspora language in favor of Hebrew. The writer has returned from
exile to a homeland, and his literary code-switching has mirrored that return.
The narrator’s ideological transition is made even stronger in chapter 7,
where another Official Aramaic document is embedded in vv. 12–26. This letter
from the Persian king Artaxerxes offers support for any of Ezra’s actions in Jeru-
salem. The king also extends permission for any diaspora Jews who wish to return
to Jerusalem to do so (v. 13). Not only is Official Aramaic being used to support the
writer’s ideology here, it is being used to coax Jews in the diaspora to adhere to
it as well and return to the stabilized minority in Jerusalem. This time, when the
narrator relates a text in Official Aramaic, he introduces it in Hebrew and imme-
diately switches back to Hebrew when it concludes. This episode completes the
transition from a diaspora using a co-territorial language to a stabilized minority
using an ideologized mother tongue.
49Arnold, »The Use of Aramaic in the Hebrew Bible«: 8.
14 Timothy Hogue
The sequence of the writer’s code-switching mirrors the transition of the Jews from
a diaspora community to a stabilized minority living in their ancestral homeland.
The writer alternated between three linguistic idioms, each of which suggested
a different posture towards the writer’s ideology. The writer begins in Hebrew
representing a false start to the return from exile and attempted rebuilding of the
temple. He then transitions to a Judean vernacular – Western Aramaic or Ash-
dodite – as he explores the perspective of the diaspora observing the prevention
of the return. He uses documents in Official Aramaic to authentically relate the
negotiation with the Persian court surrounding the rebuilding of the temple. As
these documents are embedded, the audience sees the prestige language used
both to challenge Ezra-Nehemiah’s underlying ideology and to support it in the
strongest terms. Once the writer’s ideology has been vindicated, the narrative
resumes in the diaspora language but with increasing ideological investment in
the rebuilding of the temple and reestablishment of a Jewish homeland. Once
ritual resumes there and the Jews have a new homeland within the empire, the
narrator sheds the diaspora language and switches back to Hebrew as the sym-
bolic idiom of the successful return.
The intended result of this code-switching is that the audience participates
in the transition. The presence of three linguistic varieties provides the audi-
ence with three ideological points of reference. To allow the audience to enter
into the implied ideological negotiations, the narrator suspends his symbolic use
of Hebrew and addresses them instead in the diaspora language, Ashdodite. The
Ashdodite narrative provokes the audience to deictically project themselves into
a distant or undecided point of view. They join with the narrator in viewing the
debate over the rebuilding of the temple and the implied struggle over Jewish iden-
tity. As they observe the completion of the temple and the resumption of worship
there, they move with the narrator to a more proximal point of view. Thus, the
writer of Ezra did not only appeal to the skeptical portion of his audience in their
own language, nor merely reproduce official documents in an authentic idiom.
He switched between linguistic idioms as an intentional rhetorical means of pre-
senting his argument. The narrator’s return to Hebrew from an imperial standard
and a local vernacular is meant to convince the audience of the writer’s ideology.
Through this literary code-switching, the audience joins the implied narrator in
leaving the diaspora and returning from exile.
50Peter Stockwell, Cognitive Poetics (London/New York: Routledge, 2002), 46–55.
[[Bitte einen gekürzten Kolumnentitel angeben]] 15
Abstract: Previous rhetorical analyses of language alternation in Ezra have been
limited by their focus on bilingualism. This study will propose a new approach to
the poetics of Ezra 1–7 in light of more recent sociolinguistic research concerning
diglossia and language ideology. The writer of Ezra used literary code-switching
to juxtapose contrasting linguistic variants that suggested particular ideolog-
ical postures. By alternating between Hebrew, Official Aramaic, and a vernac-
ular variety of Aramaic, the writer created a literary reflection of the diglossia
that characterized Achaemenid Judah. He sequenced his code-switching so as to
mirror the Judeans’ transition from a diaspora community to a stabilized minority
and the ideological negotiations that accompanied that transition. In so doing,
he provided linguistic points of reference for the audience to use in projecting
themselves into those negotiations. The writer’s code-switching thus reflects the
Judeans’ return from exile and invites the audience to accept their new symbolic
Résumé: Les précédentes analyses sur l’alternance de langues dans le livre d’Ezra
ont été limitées par leur focalisation sur le bilinguisme. Cette étude propose une
nouvelle approche de la poétique du livre d’Ezra 1–7 au vu de recherches sociolin-
guistiques plus récentes concernant la diglossie et l’idéologie linguistique. L’au-
teur de ce livre utilise l’alternance codique littéraire pour mettre en évidence des
contrastes linguistiques qui suggèrent des positions idéologiques particulières.
En alternant entre l’Hébreu, l’Araméen officiel et une langue vernaculaire dérivée
de l’Araméen, l’auteur crée une réflexion littéraire sur la diglossie qui caractérise
la province perse de Judée. Il segmente son alternance codique afin de refléter
la transition des Judéens d’une communauté diasporique à une minorité stabi-
lisée ainsi que les discussions idéologiques qui ont accompagné cette évolution.
De cette façon, il fournit des points de référence linguistiques aux lecteurs afin
qu’ils se projettent eux-mêmes dans ces discussions. Par conséquent, l’alternance
codique utilisée par l’auteur reflète le retour des Judéens après l’exil et invite les
lecteurs à accepter leur nouvelle patrie symbolique.
Zusammenfassung: Bisherige rhetorische Analysen des Sprachwechsels im Buch
Esra wurden durch ihre Fokussierung auf die Zweisprachigkeit beschränkt.
Diese Studie wird einen neuen Ansatz für die Poetik von Esra 1–7 angesichts der
neueren soziolinguistischen Forschungen über Diglossie und Sprachideologie
vorschlagen. Der Schriftsteller von Esra hat literarisches Codeswitching benutzt,
um kontras tierende Sprachvarietäten, die besondere ideologische Haltungen
vorgeschlagen haben, nebeneinander zu stellen. Durch den Wechsel zwischen
He bräisch, Reichsaramäisch und einer aramäischen Landessprache hat der
Schriftsteller eine literarische Reflexion der Diglossie, die das achämenidische
Juda charakterisiert hat, erstellt. Er hat sein Codeswitching geordnet, um den
16 Timothy Hogue
Übergang der Judäer von einer Diasporagemeinde in eine stabilisierte Minderheit
und die ideologischen Gespräche, die mit diesem Übergang einhergegangen sind,
zu spiegeln. Dabei hat er sprachliche Bezugspunkte für das Publikum gestellt,
um sich in diesen Gesprächen zu projizieren. Das Codeswitching des Schriftstel-
lers spiegelt also die Rückkehr des Judäers aus dem Exil und lädt das Publikum
ein, ihr neues symbolisches Vaterland zu akzeptieren.