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

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Wed Nov 29 05:00:57 EST 2006

On 28/11/2006 23:15, K Randolph wrote:
> ...
> This goes beyond what I say.
> However, as a historian, we have to play with the hand we're dealt.
> With few exceptions, all we know of Torah is what is contained in the
> consonantal text of the Masoretic text. Anything else is speculation.
> Any copy made by hand contains some copyist errors, thus it is a
> certainty that the text is not 100% as written by Moses' hand. But
> what is the probability that a different alphabet was used? Given the
> nature of the books, very slight. What about the orthography, in other
> words the spelling? Given that the pre-Masoretes tended to add materes
> lectiones to aid in pronunciation, it is possible that more of those
> are in the text than as it left Moses' hand. Some difficult passages
> may be blamed on copyist errors. But in general, unless you have a
> paper trail to show otherwise, we have to assume, given my
> presuppositions, that what we have is close to what Moses wrote.
Thanks for the clarification. I realised that you were not rejecting 
copyists' errors, and I accept that you now allow changes of 
orthographic convention.

I am glad that you admit to "given my presuppositions" here. For your 
idea is based on some clear presuppositions about the nature of the 
Torah and how it was revered, which may be accurate for 2000 years later 
in the Rabbinic and Masoretic period but which may well be totally 
untrue of the period immediately after the Exodus. As you say, "we have 
to play with the hand we're dealt", and the hand we're dealt includes no 
evidence for the 22 letter alphabet until several centuries after your 
Exodus date. There is a real possibility that Moses wrote down the Torah 
(assuming for now that he did write it down) in a script quite different 
from this, possibly an Egyptian script or perhaps something more like 
"proto-Sinaitic" with more than 22 letters; but then later, perhaps in 
the monarchy period, the Israelites adopted the 22 letter script which 
was by now the regional standard, and new copies of the Torah were 
written in this script.

I note that these kinds of script changes have been common through 
history, and especially over the last century in various countries, 
largely for wider political reasons; and while religious establishments 
have sometimes initially rejected the script changes they have soon come 
to realise the necessity of republishing even the holiest of books in 
the newly accepted script. In the history of the Hebrew Bible, this is 
known to happened with the change from palaeo-Hebrew type script to 
Aramaic square script. Why should it have not happened also at an 
earlier time? So, while we have no direct evidence of such a change, we 
have no reason to reject it as a possibility. Still less can we assume 
that this did not happen and so that the existence of later copies of 
the Torah in the 22 letter script is evidence with any significant value 
that it was initially written in this script.

Peter Kirk
E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
Website: http://www.qaya.org/

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