[b-hebrew] spaces or no spaces

Harold R. Holmyard III hholmyard at ont.com
Fri Aug 26 08:48:06 EDT 2005

Dear Susan,

The DSS had spaces between words, but sometimes they are pretty 
small, if I remember, so confusion can occur.

				Harold Holmyard

>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.

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