[b-hebrew] What is "Biblical Hebrew"

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Thu Aug 23 18:07:39 EDT 2007

On 8/23/07, Joel Hoffman wrote:
> >The Massoretes did not interpret the text, they were passing on a
> >consonantal and vocalization tradition as they had heard and seen the
> >text.  While some interpretation may have gone on, -- both in the
> I don't understand.  Your position is that they "did not interpret the
> text" but that "some interpretation may have gone on"?

Dear Joel,

Your original statement was that you "do not believe that ... the Tiberian
Masoretes are the most qualified to interpret Hebrew from the first
millennium BCE."  This paints a picture of the Massoretes sitting with a
text from the first millennium BCE and interpreting it by adding vocalization
as well as cantillation.  I disagree with this description -- the Massoretes
did not have a first millennium BCE consonantal text before them.  Nor did
they have a text void of vocalization.  They had a consonantal text that
was passed down since the first millennium BCE and they had a tradition
of vocalization associated with the text that was also passed down to
them -- very possibly since the first millennium BCE as well.  Within this
framework, they felt free to interpret the text or read it differently.  How do
I know?  Because we have explicit evidence that this was done.  For
example, in Hagiga 6b, we find "Rav Hisda asked: how should Exodus
24:5 be read -- 'And he sent the youths of the children of Israel and they
offered burnt offerings' -- of sheep? -- 'and they sacrificed peace-offerings
of bullocks to God.' or perhaps, both offerings were of bullocks.  Why does
it matter?  It matters how the verse is divided in cantillation!"  That is,
does the cantillation divided the verse into the following a) or b) ?
a) [they offered burnt offerings and they sacrificed peace offerings]
of bullocks
b) they offered burnt offerings and [they sacrificed peace offerings
of bullocks]
Thus, some interpretation was going on.  But the starting point was the
received text -- with its vocalization and cantillation.  This is where
textual criticism comes into play -- to attempt to determine the text
prior to any intentional or unintentional changes of whatever sort.
The fact that some interpretation went on does not mean that all the
vocalization and cantillation is interpreted or that none of the
consonantal text was changed since the first millennium BCE.
All were changed a little bit, and care must be exercised in attempting
to reconstruct the text and vocalization from the first millennium BCE.

> My position, which seems to be supported by overwhelming evidence,

Your position is singular amongst scholars -- and so far you've not
brought so much evidence as made a statement regarding bgdkpt,
and then refrained from standing behind it, when faced with contrary

Having now looked up Joel Lerner's article, I would only say that it is
to be found in Leshonenu 46 and not as previously stated, and I
suggest you look it up as well.  I have differences with him -- he takes
the Massoretic vocalization of Biblical Aramaic as representative of
Official Aramaic -- but I think he still makes a good argument.  He
brings four instances where PS *dh becomes d in word-initial
position following a probable vowel in "closely connected words"
(two each in Cowley 14 and Kraeling 9).  These would appear to
be statistically significant compared to other word-initial position
PS *dh.

Yitzhak Sapir

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