[b-hebrew] Different ways of pronouncing words in Biblical hebrew

Dr. Joel M. Hoffman joel at exc.com
Wed Sep 13 11:32:09 EDT 2006

>There is some controversy concerning the Hebrew pronunciation.
>There are some who claim that the Masoretes accurately transcribed
>Biblical pronunciation.

While many people invest the Tiberian Masoretic work with
authenticity, I do not believe that there are any scholars that think
that the Masoretes accurately transcribed Biblical pronunciation.

Let us be clear, too, because in this case by "Masoretes" we mean
"Tiberian Masoretes," and, more accurately, "the Tiberian Masoretic
system as it later came to be understood."  There were other groups of
Masoretes, in Babylonia, for example, and their understanding of the
sounds patterns of Hebrew did not accord with the Tiberian Masoretes.

Finally, I present solid evidence in my NYU book (_In the Beginning: A
Short History of Hebrew_) that at least one aspect of the Tiberian
Masoretic system could not have reflected any native pronunciation and
*had* to be an invention.  I also review fairly well known evidence
from the LXX that does not accord with the Masoretic work.  (The
details of the first claim are complicated, and I won't repeat them
here for reasons of space.  I have a chart summarizing the second
point on-line:



>The problem is that we now do not have enough information to answer
>how close the Masoretes were.

But we do know that languages change over time, and so the default
assumption, even without my additional evidence, must be that the
Masoretes could not have captured the Biblical pronunciation patterns
without divine intervention.

>> of He'eVaDTah.  Is it really to be believed that people in those days were
>> so pedantically accurate? So minutley detailed in their pronounciation of
>> the spoken language.

Which days?  In the middle of the first millennium BCE ("Biblical
times"), or at the end of the first millennium CE (Masoretic)?  If the
latter, then yes, they were practically obsessed with detail and in
particular with grammatical detail.

-Joel M. Hoffman, PhD

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