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

Dr. Joel M. Hoffman joel at exc.com
Tue Jul 26 12:14:27 EDT 2005

>The Masoretes would not dream of changing anything or invent anything

Not on purpose.  But there is incontrovertible evidene that the
Masoretes did not correctly capture the sounds of ancient Hebrew.

The clearest example comes from the Masoretic invention of dropping a
Dagesh after a word that ends in a vowel sound and that is pointed
with a conjunctive trope.  The reason this system cannot reflect any
real dialect of Hebrew is that the conjunctive tropes do not play a
uniform role in grammar: Sometimes the exact same grammatical
relationship will be represented by different tropes, and sometimes
one of those tropes is conjunctive while another is disjunctive.  A
handful of these situations involves a dagesh in the following word.

For example, Judges 1:1 and 1:8 contain the same syntactic structure,
but exhibit different patterns of trope and Dagesh:

    Judges 1:1  ...and the children of Israel inquired... 
    Judges 1:8  ...and the children of Judah fought...

In Judges 1:1, "fought" gets a disjunctive trope, while in 1:8, it
gets a conjunctive trope.  Because of this difference, BNEY (YISRAEL
or YEHUDAH), which follows the verb in Hebrew, gets a Dagesh only
Judges 1:1, but not in 1:8, even though the syntactic structure is
exactly identical.  This cannot represent a spoken dialect of Hebrew.

So whether the Masoretes thought they were inventing or preserving,
they ended up innovating.

(One other reason among many to think that the Masoretes did not
accurately capture the sounds of ancient Hebrew comes from the
competing groups of Masoretes, some of whom differed quite radically
in their understandings of Hebrew.  While the religous may assume that
the Tiberian Masoretes had deeper insight than, say, the Babylonian
Masoretes, we have no historical or scientific reason to think so.)

-Joel Hoffman

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