[b-hebrew] Matres Lectionis and critical analysis

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Wed Aug 29 11:05:29 EDT 2007

Dear Peter:

After reading the text through a few times without points, what
follows is based on impressions rather than statistical analysis.

On 8/28/07, Peter Bekins <pbekins at fuse.net> wrote:
>  >>Do you have a view either way? I'd be interested in
>  >>hearing what people think about Dr Davila's claims
> Here is my view in short.
> ...
> Now the problem is that we really don't have that many early
> inscriptions.... Werner Weinberg also argues that orthographic
> development was neither linear nor consistent demonstrated by the
> fact that no standard spelling system ever emerges.
Not only do we not have that many inscriptions, but there is also the
question if monumental texts, i.e. those that would be inscribed on
stone, would follow the same orthographic rules as those written on
ostraca or on parchment? Also would monumental texts tend to resist
change more, i.e. deliberately contain more archaicisms?

The idea of a standard spelling system seems to be a modern
innovation. Even in English, 200 years ago was just groping towards a
standard spelling tradition, there was no one standard accepted by all
at that time. Thus to find that materes lectiones were sometimes
included, sometimes excluded, is no surprise. However, some words were
always written certain ways, e.g. )LHYM always includes the yod, the
same with )Y$.

> Language change in general does not tend to be linear and
> predictable, but it is pushed and pulled by innovation within and
> influence from neighboring language groups....
These are points I have made before, but must be kept in mind.

> Now, leave the issue of orthographic development aside, and look at
> text transmission. The earliest texts we have are the DSS which
> leaves us with centuries of undocumented transmission (unless you are
> an extreme minimalist). We don't know what type of orthography was
> preferred in the community where the original texts were compiled,
> but we also don't know to what extent the texts were updated and
> revised spelling-wise until they reached a point of canonization (or
> after for that matter). It is just as possible that that maters were
> removed because they preferred consonantal spelling as it is that
> they were added to because they preferred plene spelling. In Barr's
> study he finds a small set of words with fixed spelling, but for the
> most part there seems to be no rhyme or reason for why a certain word
> gets a certain mater. He concludes that scribes liked to vary spelling.
While the DSS are physically older, do they really represent an older
text than the MT? Or did the DSS period represent a period when
popular (as it was in those days of expensive MMS) production was not
that careful while official copies in the temple preserved a more
accurate transmission? Is the MT a reflection of the official, older
text preserved in the temple, or reflect a development from the DSS,
or a spelling tradition all its own?

There is no question that materes lectiones predated the Babylonian
Exile, as the Siloam inscription shows. When we get to post-Exile
texts, we find subtle but recognizable differences in the language,
except when we get to Chronicles. Chronicles is almost jarring in the
way that it contains many more materes lectiones than other books in

> So I see no way to in general to control our decisions to remove
> maters or to divide words differently unless there is other textual
> evidence or the text just doesn't make sense as is. Sure, the text we
> have could very well be "wrong", but we don't have access to an "ur-
> text" and I don't think pulling off all the vowel letters gives us a
> "pure" text since we don't know for sure that the original text was
> purely consonantal. Now, are pulling off vowel letters and changing
> word division fair game if you do have a good reason? Sure, but they
> should not be seen automatically as secondary developments.
> Peter Bekins

I don't think it is possible to make an automated program vis-à-vis
materes lectiones for all the reasons given above: no spelling
conventions, some words always had them, differences over time, etc.

As for reading a text where both points and word divisions are
removed, it can be done, but difficult. Context is the key. Many words
have different meanings depending on their context, so that must be
taken into account. Even with word divisions listed, that needs to be
taken into account, as recent discussions on this list have shown. I
have seen some text written without points and spaces, and where I was
able to recognize some individual words, I sometimes was able to work
out total sentences, but I did so only out of idle curiosity and
without really trying so I can't make a definitive statement other
than that it is possible. But seeing as we have no ancient example
that this was done, I hesitate (or should I say, strongly urge not) to
say that modern scholars should spend time and effort in investigating
what may never been true.

Karl W. Randolph.

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