[b-hebrew] Using an unpointed text

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Sun Aug 26 02:45:18 EDT 2007

On 8/25/07, JAMES CHRISTIAN READ wrote:

> JCR: I don't recall anyone ever saying we should abandon
> the data we can retrieve for the massoretic text. This
> text gives us a wealth of information about what were
> considered to be variant pronunciations of the same
> consonantal sequences.
> The only claim I recall being made is that the habit of
> reading unpointed text gives a reader a better
> preparation for spotting and being able to resolve
> potential ambiguities to a closer level of ease of that
> of a native hebrew reader and therefore be better
> prepared for reading rich archeological finds like the
> DSS. Is there any reason you have for disagreeing with
> such a claim? Or would you rather persist in debating a
> straw man argument with yourself?

No.  First, the original statement in the sbl-site article is:
"My students are required to learn the vowels for forms such
as the strong verb and some pronominal suffixes. This is
mainly for pronunciation purposes. For most other verb forms,
they must know consonantal changes ..."  This hardly
suggests that the data for the Massoretic text should not be
abandoned.  Karl has his own idea of a syllabic structure
for Hebrew that is odds with both the Massoretic tradition
and all spoken and written Semitic languages.  You
suggested a "Beginner's unpointed text reading course"
which "should bring the student to be able to read and
understand as much authentic (non-doctored) hebrew text as
possible in as short a time."  If you think one can learn to
read unvocalized Hebrew without having first mastered
vocalized Hebrew, or if you think this doesn't mean "abandoning
Massoretic data," you're mistaken.  Being able to spot
potential ambiguities comes not from learning the unvocalized
text, but from learning the vocalized text to such a degree
that one can understand the various vocalizations each word
can take.

In general, my position is that one needs to be adept at the
Massoretic tradition, as well as be familiar with one additional
NWS language (preferably Ugaritic or Phoenician), and have
access to some relevant resources (DNWSI, HALOT).  With
all this preparation, one can then begin to analyze such texts
as the DSS, nor will it be an experience where one can pick
up a text and read it through.  Being able to read it through
with some effectiveness may be acquired if one is adept at
the Massoretic tradition, but it should also be clear at this
point that one could easily make mistakes.  Careful
analysis of each word would be necessary, considering
carefully all alternatives.

Bible books used in synagogues and Israeli schools always
have vocalization.  A Torah reader who has not prepared
properly by reviewing and memorizing the vocalization -- even
if he is experienced and has been reading the Torah through
for several years -- will inevitably make frequent mistakes.  A
reader who has not prepared at all the previous week will
need guidance in almost every verse, and usually with
several words in each verse.

Yitzhak Sapir

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