[b-hebrew] Masoretic invention, was: masorete pointing v's LLX transliterations

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Mon Jul 25 10:55:48 EDT 2005

Dear Peter,

The Masoretes would not dream of changing anything or invent anything new. 
aim was to reproduce the consonantal text accurately and to point and
vocalize the text exactly as they heard it read in the Synagogue. However,
in one respect they had a problem which can be illustrated with modern Greek
(I used this example at my defence).  In Greek there are several letters
that are pronounced as the English "e" is pronounced, in exactly the same
way. Many errors are the result of this situation when people write down
what they hear others say, because they must all the time make choices of 
which letters to write.

A similar situation existed when the Masorets worked on the text. On the
basis of transcriptions made by Josephus and Origen we see that the Hebrew
vowels were consistently transcribed except patah and shewa, and to some
extent segol. The vowels patah and shewa were both pronounced as an
"a"-sound in Masoretic times, and by hearing the text recited a distinction
between the two could have been problematic. These two vowels represent the
basis for WEQATAL and WAYYIQTOL, and if the Masoretes could not distingish
between the two vowels when the text was read, they had to choose between 
them on the basis of
other means than hearing. Narrative texts were probably stressed differently
from hortatory ones and other texts when they were recited, and this could
help the Masoretes. They could also see particular patterns (WAW+YIQTOL used
for the past and WAW+QATAL used for the future), and on this basis they made
their choices.

The basis for the conclusions above is, 1) the fact that there is no
distinction between WAYYIQTOL, WEYIQTOL, and YIQTOL on the one hand and
QATAL and WEQATAL on the other before the Masoretes, 2) the inconsistency in
Masoretic pointing if WAYYIQTOL and WEQATAL have one uniform meaning
respectively, 3) the analysis of all verb forms which shows there is no
semantic difference between YIQTOL and WAYYIQTOL  and between QATAL and
WEQATAL, 4) the similar pronunciation of patah and shewa, and 5) a study of
manuscripts with Palestinian pointing which show clear deviations from the
Tiberian pointing in the MT.

What I have described above is an invention of the first part of a new
system without the inventors realizing it or wanting it. What the Masoretes
did, was on the basis of vocalization, to organize the finite verbs in five
different groups, but there is no reason to believe that the Masoretes
viewed these groups as semantically different in a grammatical sense. They
were not grammarians, and their system was pragmatic.  After the Masoretes,
and on the basis of their work, Hebrew grammar was invented on the basis of
induction, and the five pragmatic groups were now viewed as four different
semantic groups.

This is the first example of how Hebrew grammarians can be led astray when
no distinction is made between semantic and pragmatic factors, when a 
pragmatic system is interpreted as a semantic one.. But this subject I will 
not discuss with you, because in this case we live in two
linguistically different worlds and speak two different languages.

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Peter Kirk" <peterkirk at qaya.org>
To: "Rolf Furuli" <furuli at online.no>
Cc: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Monday, July 25, 2005 12:36 AM
Subject: Masoretic invention, was: [b-hebrew] masorete pointing v's LLX

> On 24/07/2005 15:22, Rolf Furuli wrote:
>>... One of my opponents, from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, had
>>problems in understanding how I could view the Masoretes as extremely
>>faithful copyists and at the same time say that they invented the
>>consecutive forms. We had a very lively discussion about this, were he
>>gave many examples of the faithfulness of the Masoretes.
> I'm not surprised, for this has always seemed a weakness in your method as
> discussed on this list. What answer were you able to give him? Were you
> able to convince him and the other examiners of your position?
> -- 
> Peter Kirk
> peter at qaya.org (personal)
> peterkirk at qaya.org (work)
> http://www.qaya.org/

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