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

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at
Fri Dec 17 12:49:23 EST 2004


That's a good question. But like Moshe Schulman, I would have to say that it is more due to my familiarity with the language than familiarity with the Bible stories. I often read more Tanakh in a week than a seminary student in a semester.

In my case, I read the OT through only once in English, and that in a translation I found at times hard to understand, namely the KJV. The stories I heard in school were mainly the popular ones, by a long shot not including all those in Tanakh. Therefore I would have to say that most of my Bible knowledge comes from having read it in Hebrew, not English.

The first few times I read Tanakh through in Hebrew, I didn't insist on perfect understanding of every verse, as I realized that my language understanding was more that of a child than a scholar. And like a child learning his first language, I realized that sinking in the language would be the best way to learn it as closely as possible as a native speaker would have known it. Now it is a rare verse that I find puzzling.

I haven't had the opportunity to read many non-Biblical Hebrew texts. An example would be the Josiah stone forgery: when it first hit the news, I found a photograph of the stone to read, as I am familiar with the pre-exilic font used on the stone. As you may remember, scholars quoted in the press were clued to the fact that the stone is a forgery by its "modern use of LBDQ" near the bottom of the text. I noticed anomolies compared to Biblical Hebrew almost from the very top, and I had a list of them by the time I got to LBDQ that, quite frankly, I didn't notice that example as being significant. The whole text just didn't feel right. Another example, when the DSS traveling exhibit was in town some years back, I read the texts and the museum officials were red faced when I pointed out that a couple of the displays were mislabled.

Yes, I still use a dictionary, as I keep forgetting the meanings of lexemes, but on the simpler Hebrew, such as in Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, I may look up one word every few chapters.

Conclusion, it is my knowledge of Hebrew language, not Bible stories, that allows me to read the unpointed text.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Peter Kirk" <peterkirk at>

> 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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