[b-hebrew] Basic question on Qal, Piel, and Pual

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Tue Jul 22 15:20:35 EDT 2003

On Tuesday 22 July 2003 13:04, waldo slusher wrote:
> I really appreciate the responses and suggestions on
> what to do and read next. I plan on following much of
> what you all have suggested, both on-line and
> off-line.
> I wasn't trying to open a can of worms with my last
> question, but was seeking clarification.
> My only hesitancy in learning OT Hebrew with the
> Masoretic's interpretive vowel points is that I feel
> like I am learning OT Hebrew ONE STEP REMOVED FROM IT.

To a certain degree, you are doing just that.  It's been my experience both in 
learning and in teaching Hebrew, though, that this step is pretty much 
essential if you want a grasp of the language that is going to stay with you.

> If, for example, the PUAL and PIEL had the same
> consonantal FORMS, and the Masoretics determined when
> a verb was PIEL and not PUAL, then I feel like I am
> not study the ORIGINAL LANGUAGE; I am learning what
> the Masoretics thought of the text.

Well, yes and no.  We have had several discussions on that topic, and most 
everyone agrees that the Masoretes didn't make up the pronunciation, they 
worked out a way to encode what had been passed to them down through the 
centuries.  But let's not re-open that one!

> Suppose I invented a completely new set of vowel
> points today. Then I read the OT, and whenever I
> thought a verb was PUAL, I so marked it. My
> interpretation of whether or not it is in fact a PUAL
> seems like something that should take place in a
> commentary, not in the text itself, and not in a
> grammar book.

For the most part, the encodings in the MT are as accurate as we can 
reasonably expect.  The advantages of learning BH with the vowels are many, 
but I'll just mention a couple: first, go back to Trevor's example of the 
word "read."  If you're learning English for the first time, and - this is 
crucial - there are no more native speakers in existence to guide you, you're 
going to have an awful time sorting out which is pronounced "red" and which 
is pronounced "reed" and why and when.  It's the same with qal, pi`el and 
pu`al, among others.  We don't have any native speakers to help us; the 
Masoretes are the nearest thing we have to one, and all we have is their 
writings.  So if you bypass their help, you're just making it harder for 
yourself.  Second, it's absolutely crucial for learning BH that you be able 
to pronounce it correctly.  If you don't (I've seen this dozens of times with 
students who didn't take the time to be meticulous about it), you won't 
retain the language and it'll become an exercise in frustration.  Once you 
have that precision pronunciation under your hat, you can examine the 
Masoretic material and make informed evaluations of it where necessary.  But 
without SOME kind of pronunciation system, how are you going to know what to 
evaluate and how?  And if you want to work from an unpointed text from the 
very beginning, you're taking someone else's word for how it is supposed to 
be pronounced anyway, so you're still one step removed from the text itself.  
Does that make sense?

In any case, you may as well make it easy on yourself in the beginning and use 
the pronunciation tools that the experts who have gone before have left us.  
So far, it's the best way that anybody has found to cement the language in 
our minds.

> And please keep in mind that I am very new to OT
> Hebrew, so I am aware that I may be a bit naive in my
> thought process. It's just that the accent marks in
> Greek have always been a source of irritation to me;
> why they were invented I'll never understand. In my
> opinion, you gain nothing by learning the accent
> marks.

Greek accent marks are a different can of worms that I won't address.  But as 
for Hebrew, since you're just beginning, you'll want to crawl before you can 
walk, and the Masoretic vowels are your knee pads :-)

> Hope that clarifies what I asked. And again, thank you
> for your thoughtful responses.

That's what we're all here for.  You asked a very insightful question.

Dave Washburn
"God does a lot of things in the Psalms
that He can't get away with in systematic theology."

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