[b-hebrew] Age of consonantal text, vocalization, and cantillation

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Fri Dec 14 08:34:37 EST 2007

Hi Ken,

I don't think you don't understand.  I think it's just a case where we disagree.
In that case, let me just say that I respect your position as well as your basic
impressions concerning the DSS.

You offer the tetragrammaton as an example, saying: "at the time the consonants
were recorded, the divine name was pronounced.  At the time the vowel
points were
added, the divine name was not pronounced.  The tradition preserved the older
consonants, but added the newer vowels."  I think this is a somewhat simplistic
analysis.  Part of the reason we do not know the pronunciation of the
divine name
with certainty is for example because in translations such as the Septuagint, we
do not have a transliteration of the name like all other names in the
Bible.  Rather,
we either have "Lord" or the tetragrammaton in Paleohebrew script.
This suggests
that already by the 3rd-2nd century BCE, the tetragrammaton was not pronounced
in daily speech, although it probably was pronounced in Temple rituals
and perhaps
also in synagogue readings and other liturgical use.  Now, when this
is used in Pesher Habbakuk, are we to understand that the author pronounced the
name or not?  Most likely not.  It had probably by that time developed
an alternate
pronunciation, much like we today do not pronounce "ie." or "eg."
phonetically.  Both
of us probably accept a 2nd century date for Daniel, so that this
applies (from our
point of view) to the book of Daniel as well.  Thus, the spelling of
the name does not
necessarily indicate that the name was pronounced by the original authors.  The
Massoretic pronunciation of the name, while probably not maintaining
the liturgical
pronunciation of the 2nd century BCE, probably does have its root in
in popular Hebrew at that time.  What about places in the Bible that read ")dny
yhwh" for example Gen 15:2?  Was this ever pronounced ")adonai yahweh"?
Perhaps )dny yhwh is a conflation of the phonetic pronunciation ")adonai" with
the textual representation that was no longer pronounced.  Seen as such, the
vocalization preserved by the Massoretes is really part of a general linguistic
trend that took place in Hebrew.  Yes, the name written as yhwh was probably
originally pronounced -- for example, in the Lachish letters.  Yes, the name
written as yhwh was not pronounced by the Massoretes.   No, the textual
appearance of yhwh in the Bible may not always have indicated the pronunciation
"Yahweh" or some other direct phonetic correspondence with the consonants.
While "yhwh" itself may not have been modified as far as consonants are
concerned over time (except in the case of ")dny yhwh", perhaps), other words
may have.  Nor is it appropriate to say that, "on the basis of the
the consonantal text is older than the vocalization, because it
matches to a large
degree the consonantal text of some traditions in the DSS."  This is
because the
Massoretic vocalization of the tetragrammaton may also match the DSS
vocalization of the tetragrammaton.

Moreover, while the consonantal text was more conservative, it still underwent
changes over time.  Alternate Massoretic vocalization traditions are sometimes
in line with the underlying preserved consonantal text that they provide.  For
example: Is 35:5 wy$(km vayo$a(akem is transcribed in Reuchlinianus Codex
as wyw$y(km with a hirik under the shin.  I agree that examples like this seem
rare, but it is indicative of what I mean when I say that the
consonantal text is
also Massoretic.  There is a relationship between the consonantal text and the
vocalization in those texts that are Massoretic.  It may be weak, but
it is there.
It probably also exists in the DSS except we don't have the related vocalization
traditions for those texts.

So while I agree that the general trend of consonants = more ancient
is probably correct, I think it is problematic to apply this to
specific examples.  I
don't think one can take the MT consonantal spelling and use it as if
it is 1000
years earlier.  In general, it probably does preserve most of the
spelling of 1000
years earlier.  In the specifics, it is the differences that count and
are significant.
Only a 1000 year earlier text is really 1000 years earlier than the MT
Most consonants in the MT are due to their presence in very early manuscripts.
But which ones are or are not?  Only early manuscript evidence can allow you to
determine this.

Finally, I want to point out what I stated at the beginning of the thread:

> There is no difference between the Massoretic dots and the consonantal
> text, as far as questioning them.  Both come from the same source, both
> were transmitted by the same people, and both were susceptible to similar
> textual problems, and linguistic developments.

Yigal questioned this statement, stating:

> Any proposed "correction" of the text that "only" involves changing the
> vocalization is much easier to assume than one which involves unattested
> changes in the consonantal text.

I stand by it, even if in general, the consonantal text preserves a
more ancient
pronunciation, for the simple reason that given two proposals for
(for two different passages) one involving only a change in vocalization and one
involving a change in consonantal text, the above guideline suggests that we
would be more inclined to accept the first even in some cases where the second
had stronger reasons going for it, based on a critical evaluation.  Of
course, we could
accept both, but it seems that this guideline proposed by Yigal gives
you a little
leeway as far as substantiating the reconstruction for vocalization.
This is something
I can't accept.  For me, a reconstruction is only to be judged based
on an analysis of
its successful explanation of the text and a critical assessment of
its likelihood.
If one reconstruction changes vocalization from a holam to a tsere but another
changes a kubuts to a diphthong aw, the first is not necessarily much easier
to accept for me, because it involves no critical evaluation of the
proposal, or
if it does, somehow assumes that the first can suffer from a poor
critical evaluation
that does not answer the questions as successfully as the second.  So
in the end,
only the critical evaluation matters for me, not whether the change involves the
consonants or "just" the vowels, and it is this rather philosophical issue that
is probably what really bothers me about Yigal's statement.

I have not read Kutscher's work in full (yet).  If you mean his History of the
Hebrew Language, I read the few pages relating to the neutralization of m/n
but not the whole thing.  I meant to go to the library to try to
review it before
I send this post, but I came just when they closed and had no time to read it

Yitzhak Sapir

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