[b-hebrew] comparative historical linguistics was Re: Nun-Tav-Vet root

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Fri Nov 24 09:34:59 EST 2006

On 11/24/06, Peter Kirk wrote:

> >> theologically based beliefs regarding what script the Torah was
> >> written in, what the value of the Massoretic vowels was,
> >
> > "Value" pertaining to vowels? I knew the consonants had values, [...]
> >
> Karl, I don't suppose Yitzhak will take your statement here seriously,
> although he may make a mockery of it. The "value" of a vowel is a
> technical linguistic term for the kind of sound made.

I was speaking here of the "value" in terms of: are the vowels any more
useful for the reconstruction of 15th century BCE Hebrew than the
consonants which are preserved in the same 9th century CE
manuscripts.  Something that is useful has "value" and something that
is not useful has no value.

> well as not knowing any Semitic language other than Hebrew (or do you
> know some Aramaic?),

There was a time when Karl suggested that a 10 word verse was Aramaic
written by someone who did not know Hebrew.  I showed some 7 differences
between Hebrew and Aramaic where the verse was consistently Hebrew.  In
light of that, I think Karl does not know Aramaic.

> >> As for the Shin, Resh, Ghayin, and Pe/Fe statements: Both Shin and Resh
> >> are attested, and Ghayin and Pe/Fe are not attested but plausible. I had
> >> previously on this list provided evidence of the differentiation of Shin/Sin in
> >> West-Semitic from approx 2000 BCE.
> >>
> > In Biblical Hebrew? Where is that evidence?
> >
> No, in West Semitic. Read what Yitzhak wrote. I'm sure he can tell you
> which cuneiform tablets (Ebla?) he is referring to.

The Execration Texts.

> > Accadian, the earliest attested Semitic language according to your
> > theory, lost a third of its consonantal phonemes, while Old South
> > Arabic, which was much later, lost none. Stop and think a
> > moment....does that make sense?
> >
> Perfect sense. Phonetic change proceeds at different speeds and in
> different directions in different languages.

And I said that in this exact paragraph about two responses ago.  Karl
responded along the lines, "Who ever said that this was not consistent?
What is inconsistent is these two statements with Proto Semitic"

> But Yitzhak was being unnecessarily provocative in writing "Hebrew is
> very much a dialect of Phoenician", so suggesting that Hebrew had a
> lower status than Phoenician. It would be more accurate to say that
> Hebrew and Phoenician were different dialects within the broader
> Canaanite or NW Semitic language.

I was referring to the much greater similarities between Hebrew and
Phoenician as opposed to Israelite or perhaps Moabite (if Moabite is
different from Israelite), all of which are NWS languages.  I tend to like
Phoenician better because it appears to be more of a geographical
term ("Phoenicia" = "Canaan") whereas Hebrew appears to be an
ethnic term.  Also, Phoenician kings were much more prolific in the
early period.  Otherwise, one could speak of Phoenician as a dialect
of Hebrew.

> >> Biblical Hebrew and Massoretic Hebrew are one and the same.
> >
> > Even in my first year Hebrew class I was taught that Biblical Hebrew
> > was written without points and cantillations, but that Masoretic
> > Hebrew was easier to learn because of the points.
> >
> Here you are simply arguing about definitions. But on this one I am with
> Karl. For me, biblical Hebrew is the language spoken and written by the
> biblical authors. The form of the language recorded by the Masoretes is
> only slightly different, but for me those differences make Masoretic
> Hebrew different from biblical Hebrew. Thus those obscure multiple vowel
> lengths and syllable breaks in the middle of vowels proposed by Khan may
> be features of Masoretic Hebrew, but that does not imply that they are
> features of biblical Hebrew.

If "Massoretic Hebrew" means the Hebrew as written by the Massoretes,
and "Ancient Hebrew" means the Hebrew as written by the Israelites and
Judaeans in Biblical times, to avoid terminological confusion, then we may
say that Massoretic Hebrew is a combination of various elements of
Hebrew through the ages, because it was a liturgical language that was
read off of manuscripts rather than a spoken language.  Thus, the
vowels come from one period of time, the stress placements from another,
the spelling from a third period of time (likely Persian period), and the
vocabulary from a fourth period.  In some documents we may be able to
identify different vocabulary typologies, thus identifying one period of
vocabulary and a second period of vocabulary.  All of this is combined
together to form Massoretic Hebrew.  When a scholar quotes a Hebrew
word, as it appears in the Bible, he quotes it in the form found in the
Massoretic Hebrew.  When scholars speak of "SBH" or "LBH" they
refer to the different variants of Massoretic Hebrew as identified by which
vocabulary period they incorporate.  Thus, "Biblical Hebrew", explicitly
or implicitly, is the Hebrew of the Hebrew Bible, not the Hebrew spoken
during the times spoken of by the Hebrew Bible.  The spelling may be
almost the same as from during the Persian period, but because we
are still speaking of almost 1500 years of transmission, errors and
changes would have crept in, particularly in the mater lectionis.  It is
therefore, still, "Massoretic Hebrew" you are studying, and not the
Hebrew as spoken during Biblical times, where the use of the mater
lectionis would have been accurate and fitting the Hebrew they spoke.
That Massoretic Hebrew incorporates so many different periods is one
very important reason why historical linguistics is important.

> > Not yet in electronic form so I can read it on my PDA, as I can now
> > read unpointed text.
> >
> >
> If you have enough memory you can download the images. Or you could do
> yourself and the world a favour by transcribing the scrolls in
> electronic form and making the text available - if no one else has
> already done this.

The Isaiah scroll on the Israel Museum site is not downloadable (apparently
because of photo rights considerations).  However, the screen can be
printed, I believe.

Yitzhak Sapir

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list