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

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Tue Aug 21 15:40:55 EDT 2007

Dear Joel,

On the first issue some comments -

> Many people don't know that they are referring to a medieval
> language when they use the phrase "Biblical Hebrew."

I think it is inappropriate to label the language Medieval as Hebrew
was spoken only until about the 3rd century CE.

> 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.

If they quote the DSS, ostracons, etc., it is improper.  But so long as
they are quoting the MT Bible that is the proper thing to do.  The
Massoretic Bible is not just consonants that can be artificially stripped
of the vowels and be labeled "Persian period Hebrew."  The consonants
themselves underwent the same processes as the vowels and although
the influence is much less visible than the vowels, it should still be taken
into account.  Of course, the book of Ezra or Nehemiah is useful for
historical study of this period.  If a letter from Ezra/Nehemiah is quoted,
however, it should ideally retain both the Massoretic vowels and accents
because that is the raw evidence that we have from this source.

> >> 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.

But this is not the way most Hebrew linguists view this issue.  The fact
of the matter is that bgdkpt is exhibited not only by Hebrew but Aramaic
as well.  The Aramaic shift is to be dated "sometime between the end of
Old Aramaic and early Elephantine Aramaic." (Kaufmann in Huehnergard,
"What is Aramaic?").  This has to do with the Aramaic spelling of PS dh
and th, written in Old Aramaic as Zayin and Shin respectively, shifting
to Dalet and Taw in Imperial Aramaic, which would be explained if
Dalet and Taw had acquired additional spirantized allophones in certain
environments (ie post-vocalic).  We can debate when this shift was
acquired by Hebrew as well, which could be as early as the beginning
of the Second Temple.  But we also have Biblical books in Aramaic, and
these show spirantization across word-boundaries (what you call "cross
word beged kefet changes") -- for example vavloye in Ezra 4:9.  It would
be more reasonable to suggest that the   Now the spirantization rule
had ceased to operate by the time of the Massoretes -- thus Ezra 4:20
umalxin -- has no vowel before the spirantized k because the vowel
dropped.  The original linguistic constraint whereby a bgdkpt sounded
spirantized after a vowel, and non-spirantized before a vowel was no
longer in operation.  A contrasting example is vahi$taxaXat in Daniel 5:27,
where the final t is not spirantized.  Alice Faber, "On the Origin and
Development of Hebrew Spirantization," takes the rather unconvincing
approach that it was Hebrew which influenced Aramaic.  Nevertheless,
she does bring up a lot of useful evidence suggesting that already in
Mishnaic Hebrew, this rule was not in operation.  She quotes Schwarzwald
to the effect that word-boundary spirantization, specifically, had ceased
operation by Mishnaic Hebrew.  We are therefore facing a sound change
that took place starting 7th century BCE or so, and ended by the 8th
century CE and likely long beforehand.  We also know that a similar rule
takes place in Spanish, see Section 2.3 in
where it is noted that in "moderately fast, casual speech ... spirantization
does not occur utterance initially but does take place word-initially except
after a nasal or /l/ in the preceding word."  In view of the above -- that
the spirantization rule began before the authorship of Ezra which includes
word-boundary spirantization, that it ceased to operate before the time of
the Massoretes -- probably long beforehand -- , and that it is observed in
Spanish in word boundary environments -- we find that the most likely
explanation is that word-boundary spirantization of the Massoretic
vocalization in Ezra 4:9/20 is a relic from a time when it was a phonotactic
constraint in Aramaic speech.  Any other explanation -- such that the
Massoretes artificially decided to add this rule -- is much more unlikely in
view of the above, and would also be harder to prove.  Having concluded
such for Aramaic, the issue of Hebrew word boundary spirantization is to
be related to the time that Hebrew borrowed post-vocalic spirantization
from Aramaic, can be as early as the 6th century BCE and probably no
later than the 2nd century CE (although this depends on the vocalization
tradition of the Mishna).  Therefore, "maybe you think you know," but
it is far from "we know."  The consensus, as far as I know, is that the
Massoretes did not invent things, and specifically in this example of
spirantization, there is all kinds of evidence to back it up.

Yitzhak Sapir

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