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

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Tue Mar 15 15:51:41 EST 2005

On Tuesday 15 March 2005 13:18, Peter Kirk wrote:
> On 15/03/2005 19:36, Dave Washburn wrote:
> >On Tuesday 15 March 2005 11:58, Vadim Cherny wrote:
> >> ...
> >>
> >>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." ...
> A word spelled with a silent alef is a different spelling from a word
> spelled without it. My point is that simple. The significance of this is
> debatable, and Dave has put forward certain possible interpretations.
> But it is certainly a phenomenon which needs an explanation. And it
> contradicts Karl's thesis that spelling was frozen at the time of the
> exile, and so undermines his conclusion that Hebrew was not a living
> language. In fact I continue to hold that it is a positive indication
> that it was a living language, but I would agree that that is not a
> certain conclusion.

Yes, it does suggest that spelling was not frozen as Karl suggests.  The 
question, I suppose, is: did the Hebrew scribes consider it "frozen" despite 
the option to use vowel letters in certain places?  Or perhaps, was the 
spelling that we see in the DSS the "frozen" form that later "thawed" by the 
time of the Masoretes?  There's a lot we don't know.  

I do disagree with Karl that Hebrew was not a living language after the Exile.  
I do lean toward the conclusion that it was an exclusively 
religious/scholarly language by the time of Jesus, but at what point this 
shift happened, I'm not prepared to speculate.

> >... 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.
> Sorry, I don't understand your ""fluid" in a very narrow sense of the
> word". But you slightly misquote. I did not state that DSS spelling was
> fluid (although in some sense it is), but that Hebrew spelling was fluid
> in that it changed from period to period, between the DSS which had one
> convention and the consonantal MT which had another. I agree that it is
> uncertain what this indicates, but it does go against the kind of frozen
> situation associated with dead language texts copied only for liturgical
> use.

Obviously, whoever produced the scrolls (Essenes?  Don't make me laugh) used 
Hebrew as one of their languages, at least for production of their religious 
texts and perhaps for religious discussion, much like Latin in the Middle 
Ages and later.  The spelling differences, to me, more resemble the 
difference between American and British spelling of "colo<u>r" and comparable 
phenomena, than an actual shift in spelling such as the current trend in 
America to replace "thought" with "thot."  But that's just me...

In any case, regarding my misquote, I do apologize and stand corrected.

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

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