[b-hebrew] b-hebrew Digest, Vol 56, Issue 21

joel at exc.com joel at exc.com
Tue Aug 21 08:02:50 EDT 2007

>Tiberian Hebrew is Biblical Hebrew.  When people study Biblical Hebrew,
>grammar and phonetics, they study the grammar of Tiberian Hebrew.  But

If you mean that most people use the phrase "Biblical Hebrew" to refer
to the Hebrew recorded by the Tiberian Masoretes toward the end of the
first millennium CE, then obviously I agree.

My point, and I think you agree, is that Tiberian Hebrew
(a.k.a. "Biblical Hebrew") is not the Hebrew that was used to record
the Bible in the first millennium BCE.  It is, therefore, a misleading
term.  Many people don't know that they are referring to a medieval
language when they use the phrase "Biblical Hebrew."

We seem to disagree about how many people get confused, and about how
close the two dialects are.

Regarding the first, I continue to see even scholarly books that, for
example, use Tiberian pointing in discussions of Hebrew from Ezra's
time.  To me, that's an indication of misunderstanding or fuzzy
thinking.  Scholarly books ought to include only the consonants, as
they do for all other Hebrew from the first millennium BCE.

In the end, the degree to which Tiberian Hebrew captures, say, Ezra's
Hebrew, ends up as a matter of faith.  From a linguistic, scientific
view, it's clear that there are widespread, significant differences;
from a religious point of view, it's possible that God inspired the
Masoretes.  (I actually believe that there were many more rhyming
passages in the Bible than we currently find; the rhymes have been
hidden by our misunderstanding of how Hebrew was pronounced in

>> We know that the Tiberian Masoretes invtented some of what they
>> recorded.
>Maybe you think you know.  I'm not sure what you're referring to here,

Yes, I do know.  For example, some of the cross-word beged kefet
changes cannot be part of a spoken language.

We should also be careful not to rely too carefully on the Masoretes'
appraisal of their own work.  Most people are ill-equipped to judge
their own language.  For example, almost no English speakers are aware
that the 'i' in "site" is not pronounced the same as the 'i' in
"side."  We have to expect similar situations in Hebrew.


Joel M. Hoffman, PhD

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