[b-hebrew] b-hebrew] Is 9:6 Mem clausum?

Daniel R. Pater paterdr at hotmail.com
Sat Mar 26 09:48:50 EST 2005

Dear Yigal,
Shalom, and sorry I haven't responded for a couple of days.  Dad's in a rest 

You could posit a 'parallel' tradition for the mem finalis, but I don't 
think we have any evidence of that. How would we know? Such a position as 
you suggest about a tradition for which we have no evidence would be more of 
an assumption than what I have suggested, which is supported by some pretty 
reliable evidence.

I am comfortable with 'my assumption' that 1QIsa_a and the MT Isaish are 
related,  I do not believe that is an assumption, especially not 'my' 
assumption (although I'd like to claim credit, if I could...), given the 
textual and consonental proximity of Isaiah in this Qumran text and the MT. 
How they are related, whether that relationship is one of 'linear descnet' 
or otherwise qualified, is partially what DSS research is about.  What is 
'linear'?  I do not think we have to suggest that 1Qisa_a is somehow the 
actual copy used for the lost intermediary pre-MT to consider how these de 
facto poles of state of the text in the evolution of the Biblical text are 
related. 1QIsa_a represents a ancient exemplar of the the same textual base 
found in MT. That is why it is so valuable. Even with variants, we are 
clearly before the same text, written with the same alphabet. 1QIsa_a and 
Aleppo are our best representatives to the state of the text of Isaiah at 
the distance of a millenium.  With nothing in between to suggest any 
bifurcation of the that textual tradition, this compels us to make 
comparisons and even draw some tentative conclusions.

I consulted Emanuel Tov's _Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible_ (Fortress 
Press, Minneapolis: 1992) for a summary of the comparative discussion. 
Briefly, and based on Prof. Tov, here are some points of difference.
1QIsa_a is among the DSS texts characterized by a distintive orthography 
called 'the Qumran practice' which is 'very full', i.e. with the addition of 
many matres lectionis wherein, e.g., /o/ and /u/ are almost always 
represented by a waw, etc. (pp. 108-9). Morphologically, the differences 
found in Qumran Biblical texts may be dialectical, some archaic, some 
features of which are known from the Samaritan reading tradition (p. 110). 
(I am not sure what this means, but it sounded close to what you may be 
suggesting, so I thought I'd mention it.  It doesn't seem to affect the 
Isaiah text, however.)

The scribes of the "Qumran practice" wrote according to "certain rules" but 
also each scribe maintained a certain independence (p. 109).  The scribes 
adapted seemingly irregular forms to the context, reflecting a freer 
approach to the Biblical text (p. 110).

The square (Assyrian) script, with final forms, etc. to which we are 
accustomed, is used, a notable exception being the names of God, which are 
often written in paleo-Hebrew. Another pertinent scribal practice to note in 
our discussion: the use in 1QIsa_a of medial letters in final position 
(111).  Note that the reverse is not mentioned (nor have I seen any).

Anyway, for all these notations, I see nothing that disallows comparison 
(even "linear") of the textual tradition.  The text, even after a millenium, 
is remarkably intact, despite the aspects mentioned above. These 
differences, after such a long time, are quite marginal and secondary: In 
other words, the text is by and large the same, outside of observable 
patterns of writing forms and orthography.

There are, of course, some serious textual variants, such as, if I recall 
correctly, at the end of Isa 6, where the MT has presents difficulties. 
1QIsa_a provides seems to provide superior and preferable readings.  Some of 
these readings, if I am not mistaken, were even incorporated into the New 
English Bible.

We have at least one ancient witness and at least two reliable medieval 
witnesses that show dates 'after which...' and 'before which... " for the 
mem finalis question at Isa 9:6. The Masoretes saw this as a textual 
problem, which they faithfully preserved. It wasn't that the mem finalis was 
there for some mystic reason, but that it this text somehow got to be 
written as two words, where it is in fact one word. They noted this textual 
problem, and easily overcome it by noting the correct reading, as well. 
(This was the point of my submission - I checked out Qumran as an 
afterthought, in fact.)  Qumran fully corroborates the masoretic position. 
Until we find even a single trace of evidence to the contrary, then this is 
not an assumption, much less mine.  It is, I believe, the only sound and 
demonstrable explanation for the question.  Until some ancient textual 
witness should be discovered that shows otherwise, I see no reason to posit 
an hypothetical parallel scribal tradition to demonstrate that the mem 
finalis was always there and that only Qumran and the entire masoretic 
scribal tradition at our disposal saw that as something that should be 
written and read differently.  Rather than be of spiritual value, wouldn't 
that conclusion undermine the general textual integrity that we have come to 
appreciate in our Tanach thanks to the industry and devotion of the scribes?

That said, I have deep respect for the devotion to the Biblical text which 
gives rise, I believe, to the spiritual interpretations of this and other 
textual phenomena.  I'm wondering, in fact, if those interpretations can be 
dated before the 10th century, in which case perhaps they can help in dating 
this scribal phenomenon.

Say, have you ever read Chaim Potak's novel The Chosen?  It's been years, 
but I think the textual - spiritual interpretation is one of the themes of 
the story.

Happy holy days to you and yours.
Dan Pater 

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