Deut. 4:26: Pointing and canonical authority

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at
Sat Sep 30 08:57:46 EDT 2000

Dear Reggie and Ben,

You two may agree that "no canonical authority is invested in the pointing",
but I'm not sure that I agree with you, although I share at least with Ben
an evangelical Christian approach. Of course the question of canonical
authority is a very delicate one. But evangelicals usually consider the
canonical text to be that "as originally given". It's hard to define that
properly for the Hebrew Bible. But the pointing, although it was not written
down at first, is very probably derived from an unbroken tradition of
pronunciation going back to the authors. (It was certainly not "added by the
Masoretes" in the sense that they invented it, they just wrote down what
they heard.) Therefore the pointing is a witness to the meaning intended by
the authors, and to this extent it surely has canonical authority, perhaps
even as much as the consonantal text. We are certainly not free to supply
whatever pointing we wish and consider that the word of God.

There is of course a separate issue of the reliability of transmission. Very
probably the consonantal text has been transmitted to us more reliably than
the other aspects of the pronunciation tradition, as now witnessed in the
pointing. So for this reason we are justified in emending the pointing more
freely than the consonantal text. But this is not a matter of difference in
authority or of any kind of faith, it is a (supposedly) scientific matter of
textual criticism. Well, that's my opinion, at least.

Peter Kirk

-----Original Message-----
From: Reginald Wallace Ponder, Jr. [mailto:rwponder at]
Sent: 29 September 2000 23:57
To: Biblical Hebrew
Subject: Re: Deut. 4:26

   Dear Ben -- Thanks for your reply.  It has been helpful in solidifying
my thoughts on Deut. 4:26.  I have responded specifically to some of your
observations below.

You wrote:

>  Dear Reggie,
>  No doubt the b-hebrew gurus will answer you in full. My "take" is that
>  the Consonantal Text is "given" (the KeTiB), and that the pointing is
>  by the Massoretes to facilitate our construing of the text. So no
>  authority is invested in the pointing, ISTM.

   I agree that no canonical authority is invested in the pointing, though
it does represent the work of some of the best scholars in a community
that had been using the texts liturgically for centuries.  In other words,
it represents in most cases the consensus of Synagogue practice in that
day.  This certainly is not infallible, but it seems basically reliable to
me, with a few exceptions.


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