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

Ken Penner ken.penner at acadiau.ca
Fri Dec 14 11:09:51 EST 2007

Thanks, Yitzhak, for this explanation.
If you are saying when evaluating competing emendations, the consonants in the MT are never to be privileged over the vowel signs, we disagree. But I don't think this is your position.
If you are saying the consonants in the MT are generally but not necessarily to be privileged over the vowel signs, we agree. 

Kutscher's work to which I was referring is his larger book, ha-Lashon ṿeha-rekaʻ ha-leshoni shel megilat Yeshaʻyahu ha-shelemah mi-Megilot Yam ha-Melaḥ (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1959).
Partially rev. and enl. version published in English in 1974 under title: The language and linguistic background of the Isaiah Scroll (I Q Isa^a).

Ken M. Penner, Ph.D. (McMaster)
Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic vocabulary memorization software: 

> -----Original Message-----
> From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org 
> [mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Yitzhak Sapir
> Sent: December 14, 2007 9:35 AM
> To: b-hebrew
> Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Age of consonantal text, 
> vocalization,and cantillation
> 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 
> tetragrammaton 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 developments 
> 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 tetragrammaton, 
> 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 pronunciation 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 spelling.
> 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 reconstructions (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 carefully.
> Yitzhak Sapir
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