[b-hebrew] spaces or no spaces

Susan Jeffers susan at read-the-bible.org
Fri Aug 26 08:40:45 EDT 2005

Greetings b-hebrew folk --

I teach an Introduction to Biblical Studies course, and I've been trying to 
find out what's the evidence for whether the earliest Hebrew Bible 
manuscripts were written with or without spaces in between the words.  Can 
you help?

I've found several web pages that claim "no spaces" but they don't cite any 
evidence (e.g. ancient manuscripts).

I really don't care all that much what the actual answer is -- but I sure 
would like to know what the EVIDENCE is, one way or another.  And the basis 
for the assertions one way or the other.

Here's what I've found so far, on both sides (spaces vs no spaces):


(1) My recollection of the Qumran Isaiah Scroll from when I saw it in the 
Israel Museum in Jerusalem; I'm pretty sure it had spaces between the words.

(2) Wikipedia has this to say, 
"Interword separation is the set of symbol or spacing conventions used by 
the <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki//wiki/Orthography>orthography of a script 
to separate words. According to Paul Saenger in Spaces between Words, the 
early <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki//wiki/Semitic_language>Semitic 
languages ­ which had no vowel signs ­ had interword separations, but 
languages with vowels (principally 
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki//wiki/Greek_language>Greek and 
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki//wiki/Latin>Latin) lost the separation, not 
regaining it until much later."
I've requested this book by Saenger through interlibrary loan...

(3)  Another Dead Sea Scroll fragment I found on line that appears to have 
interword spaces is at

My thinking is that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest extant Hebrew 
manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, so if the DSS documents have 
spaces, that confirms the "spaces" side, as far as we know.


Here are a couple of web pages that claim there were no spaces between words:


"First, prior to the 6th century A.D., the written Tanach consisted 
primarily of consonants. To be able to actually translate the written text 
into understandable and meaningful words, one would have to receive special 
instruction by a teacher or rabbi. Knowledge of this correct interpretation 
or reading was passed down orally from teachers to students over the 
generations. Second, as if to further confuse matters, words were written 
without spaces in between. Thus knowledge of where one word ended and 
another began was, as with vowel sounds, dependent on the oral tradition."

(2) at http://home.earthlink.net/~ddstuhlman/crc64.htm :

"Even though the scribes were very careful variations have crept into the 
text. One reason is that the original Torah scrolls were in the ancient 
Hebrew characters without spaces between the words and without final letters."

I'm sure this is a naive question, but I don't have any obvious way to find 
out the answer besides asking you-all.


Susan Jeffers

EMail: susan at read-the-bible.org
Peace Church Bible Study Home Page: www.read-the-bible.org

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list