[b-hebrew] thank an ancient vowel

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Thu Oct 4 22:04:26 EDT 2007

On 10/3/07, kenneth greifer wrote:
> Yitzhak,
> You gave a link to an article by Dr. Hoffman, and you said you disagreed
> with it because something in it is not accepted by scholars, but you did not
> say what. So what is wrong with the ideas in the article?

The Fekherye inscription, the earliest Aramaic inscription, is a bilingual
inscription in Aramaic and Akkadian from the 9th century BCE.  The
inscription already shows the use of mater lectionis, and this is verified
from a comparison with the Akkadian translation of various words.  There
are really very very few inscriptions from Judea and Israel at this time
and most of them are very simple short inscriptions, usually names or
titles.  For an article about some of these read:

Note that the Gezer calendar -- which is generally dated "around the
time of King David" -- is probably devoid of mater lectionis.  There is a use
of waw on the word yrxw "months" to indicate a dual ("two months").  This
could indicate the vowel /o:/, and the ancient Semitic nominal dual case
vowel was /a:/, so that one could suggest that after the a: > o: shift, the
vowel was o:.  However, it is not clear at all that this is indeed the case.
The general tendency is to read the -w as consonantal.  I suggested on
my blog that it was a dual nominal marker, but was still consonantal, and
that a similar form is to be found in yxdw ("together"), from a dual of the
word yxd ("one").  Even if one accepts that the reading of -w is vocalic,
that is the one and only case of vowel letters in the entire inscription!
Other likely vowels are not written at all.  Thus p$t "linen" has no -h
following, &(rm "barley" has no medial -y- (or -w-, because when case
vowels were present, the case vowel would have been u: for the nominal
plural).  Some examples of mater lectionis are also known from the 2nd
millenium BCE ("ky" for the word ki: "because" in Ugaritic, for example),
so that using this one example as proof that the Judaeans invented vowel
letters is unwarranted.

One can either conclude that mater lectionis were originally an Aramaic
innovation, or that the innovation was a general development that was
shared by many different peoples and slowly developed from very few
limited vowels during the 2nd millenium, to consistent use of final vowels
during the Persian period, to very complete use in some Dead Sea
Scrolls.  However, that it was specifically Jews that did so is unlikely.

Yitzhak Sapir

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list