[b-hebrew] MT pronunciation - a few observations

Uri Hurwitz uhurwitz at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 24 19:37:21 EDT 2008

     It may be useful to keep in mind that the discussion about
of words in BH refers only to the written texts as they
came down to us.
 However, one should not forget the obvious, namely
that up to a certain point
 actual people spoke the languages which they
wrote down. In the case of
 the MT we know that it ceased  to be spoken
quite a few centuries before
 the Masoretes codified the  texts. BH had
been replaced long before with 
Mishnaic  Hebrew and mostly with Aramaic.

  Of course there had been different versions before.  But when
viewed from certain perspectives, the similarity of the DSS and the LXX
to the 
MT are remarkable. Despite thousands of important textual
differences, and abundance of variations, there are hardly any 
differences in the 
 historical narrartives, for instance.  Further, the
text of biblical quotations 
in the Mishnah, codified  ciraca 200 CE, is the consonantal text of the MT which followed more than half a milleneum later.
 It is common knowledge that pronunciation changes with time, but
not always. There are some  remarkable features of the MT vocalization
which deserve renewed attention:
  In addition to earlier vowel markings in Akkadian
and in Arabic which employ
 only three vowels: A , U, I ,  the MT does
present E  as in the Seghol or 
Tsere and Hataf- Seghol. There is no
reason to doubt that such vowel 
existed in the ordinary pronunciation
of people, as it
exists in colloquial Arabic.  ( This is
why the English reader may be confused by variant transliterations of 
the article "Al-..." or "El..." as in the name "Al-Arish" or "El-Arish.")
Interestingly the MT preserved some ancient forms of declensions - such
as "kalbi" or "malki" that may have  preserved the way they
had been pronounced thousands of years earlier. This despite the fact
they are derived 
from the Segholite KeLeV or MeLeKh. But even such
nouns, in their standard M plural preserved ancient plural form in the
long Kamatz under the middle consonant, before the regular "...IM"
ending, thus emplying really a double dual.

However, the very opposite happened in other cases. In  the personal
name Shimshon, it is the LXX translation which preserved the original " A"
in the first vowel, rather than the later "I" in the MT.  Compare to the Arabic "Shams" for sun.

Such an example demonstrates the internal changes 
occurred in pronunciation of  written words between the Hellenistic period
the LXX was composed, and the time of the Masoretes centuries later.

    Uri Hurwitz                                                    Wilmington  Vt

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