[b-hebrew] DSS --> MT silent letters and vowel-points

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Tue Mar 15 14:36:40 EST 2005

On Tuesday 15 March 2005 11:58, Vadim Cherny wrote:
> > Peter Kirk,
> >
> > >...it is clear from the DSS than Hebrew spelling was not frozen soon
> after the exile, but remained fluid right through the Second Temple period.
> For there are significant and consistent differences betwen DSS, Mishnaic
> and Masoretic Hebrew e.g. DSS and Mishnaic Hebrew rather consistently use a
> silent alef to mark a long A vowel, but the Masoretic text never does.
> What does silent aleph have to do with spelling? In the absence of vowel
> points, aleph and waw were used to mark vowels. This constitutes no
> "significant and consistent differences."
> Some Aramaic influences, misspellings, vulgar errors in DSS are no evidence
> of "significant and consistent differences," either.
> Mishnaic Hebrew is an obvious development of the earlier language, with new
> words and forms, but what is the basis of your assertion that "spelling was
> not frozen soon after the exile, but remained fluid right through the
> Second Temple period"?
> Simply saying, Hebrew spelling could not be fluid because of the root
> system and vowel-based word forms. When just every letter makes semantic
> difference, how would you expect any "fluidity"?

There are a lot of assumptions and tentative conclusions flying around 
regarding the question of spelling in the DSS.  Many follow Tov and his 
associates in saying that the spelling differences indicate something of a 
different textual (or perhaps linguistic) stream, with some examples dubbed 
"proto-Masoretic" and others dubbed something of a local textual stream.  I'm 
inclined to disagree, for some of the reasons you mentioned.  The general 
trend that we see is greater use of aleph, waw and yod as vowel letters than 
what we have in the MT; the question is, does this shed light on textual 
transmission or scribal habits within a fairly confined area?  I lean toward 
the latter, because we also have places where such letters could have been 
used but weren't.  There are also at least a few "dual" readings in the 
pesharim, where the scribe wrote one word in the biblical text but wrote the 
commentary as if the text read otherwise.  This suggests to me that use of 
vowel letters didn't constitute a change in the text, at least in the 
scribe's/scribal school's mind, and was left to the scribe's discretion for 
the sake of reading clarity.  I can't comment on Mishnaic Hebrew because I've 
never spent any real time in it, but DSS Hebrew spelling at least seems only 
to have been "fluid" in a very narrow sense of the word.  I doubt whether the 
phenomenon in question really indicates anything of a linguistic nature at 
all, and have serious doubts whether it indicates anything of a truly textual 
nature, either.

Dave Washburn
"No good.  Hit on head."   -Gronk

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