[b-hebrew] Capernaum

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Wed Nov 29 01:44:07 EST 2006

On 11/25/06, K Randolph wrote:

> All I say is that if the BGDKPT letters originally had only one sound,
> then many words would be unpronounceable unless each consonant is
> followed by a vowel. Examples include Rebecca (modern Hebrew Rivkah)
> and Capernaum (Kfar Nachum).

If you look up the following article:
 F. C. B.  CAPERNAUM, CAPHARNAUM J Theol Studies 1933 os-XXXIV: 385-390

examines variants in all kinds of texts in what appears to be a rather
investigation.  The conclusion is that the spelling "Capernaum" is
late and does not
predate the 4th century.  The Hebrew of this word is attested only
three times: once
in construct with the prefix "and", and twice in the plural.  The
Septuagint also
reads this word in place of the Hebrew in Nehemiah.  However, the form
of this word
in construct and plural matches that of the word nɔhɔr, "river."
Here, the construct
form without a prefix has the spelling with a schewa and patah.  In
the conventions
of the Massoretes, the mobile schewa was sounded as "a" unless followed by a
guttural (in which case it took the value of the guttural's vowel) or
yod (in which
case it sounded as a short i).  This would mean that the Massoretic
of the word when in construct is naha:r and kafa:r, just like all
ancient versions
of the placename Capharnaum.  Furthermore, the word gɔmɔl "camel", has very
similar spelling (except it doesn't have qamats in the plural).  In
Arabic, its cognate
is "jamal".  However, the word was borrowed into Latin as "camel", just like
"caper". The example of "caper" cannot be used to compare with the Massoretic.
Furthermore, the Massoretic version of the word, when in construct, only appears
following an "and", in which case it would be pronounced [uxfa:r].  If
one wants to
assume that the word was originally pronounced with "hard" letters this becomes
"ukpar", which is no big trouble for me, and probably not for Karl either.  The
problem only apparently comes up when there is no prefix (but I can pronounce
[kpar] too).  However, when this happens, the schewa is mobile and so the
pronounciation follows the rules described above.  From a historical
point of view,
the word was kapar but lost the first vowel when preceded by the short u prefix.

Yitzhak Sapir

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