reading unpointed Hebrew text, was [b-hebrew] Isaiah 53:8

Peter Kirk peterkirk at
Fri Dec 17 06:17:47 EST 2004

On 17/12/2004 00:55, Moshe Shulman wrote:

> At 07:30 PM 12/16/2004 -0500, you wrote:
>> ... I prefer to read the unpointed text as it often makes more sense.
>> ...
> Karl, this is very true. I am quite fluent, and I find that it is 
> easier to read the texts that do not have vowels then the ones that 
> do. Most of the printed Hebrew texts do not have vowels.
Karl and Moshe, I can understand that this might well be true when you 
already have a good idea of what a text is supposed to mean, because you 
already know the story rather well from yeshiva or Sunday school. And 
this would surely have been true of readers from the late second Temple 
time until just before the Masoretes, as I suppose in those times only 
those already well educated in the Bible would have been allowed to read 
the precious scrolls.

But can you honestly say that you would be able to read with full 
understanding, and no ambiguity, an unpointed biblical Hebrew text with 
which you had no previous familiarity, and which included some rather 
difficult words and constructions? I'm not sure how good an example this 
is, but what about the book of Sirach, if you are not already familiar 
with it? Or newly released Dead Sea Scrolls? Of course here you have to 
allow for a little language change. But are there not material 
uncertainties in the readings of such texts because they are preserved 
(at least in Hebrew) only in unpointed form?

In other words, is your fluency more a tribute to your excellent Bible 
knowledge than to your ability to read the text?

Peter Kirk
peter at (personal)
peterkirk at (work)

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