[b-hebrew] spaces or no spaces

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Fri Aug 26 10:10:32 EDT 2005

Hi Susan,

It depends what you mean by "earliest manuscripts". The earliest manuscripts
of most of teh books of teh Bible that we have is the DDS, and they
certainly have spaces. So do all of the Aramaic documents that I know of
from the 5-2 centuries, including ostraca, papyri (Elephentine, Wadi Dalieh)
etc. So it stands to reason, that whatever form the books that eventually
became the Bible were in at the time also had spaces.

On the other hand, in pre-exilic Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions, such as
the Siloam inscription, Mesha, Tel Dan, Deir Ala and so on, spaces are used,
but much less regularly, often being replaced by dots or deviding lines. So
whichever books of the Bible was originally written in paleo-Hebrew script
before the Exile, might have had some spaces missing. But I wouldn't build a
theory on it.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Susan Jeffers" <susan at read-the-bible.org>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Friday, August 26, 2005 2:40 PM
Subject: [b-hebrew] spaces or no spaces

> Greetings b-hebrew folk --
> I teach an Introduction to Biblical Studies course, and I've been trying
> 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
> 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
> 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
> (2) Wikipedia has this to say,
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interword_separation:
> "Interword separation is the set of symbol or spacing conventions used by
> the <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki//wiki/Orthography>orthography of a
> 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
> 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
> (1)
> "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
> instruction by a teacher or rabbi. Knowledge of this correct
> 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
> I'm sure this is a naive question, but I don't have any obvious way to
> out the answer besides asking you-all.
> Thanks!
> Susan Jeffers
> -----------------------------------------------
> EMail: susan at read-the-bible.org
> Peace Church Bible Study Home Page: www.read-the-bible.org
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