yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Thu Mar 27 19:40:14 EDT 2008
On Thu, Mar 27, 2008 at 7:41 PM, Jim Stinehart wrote:
> Thank you for the references to Rebecca Hasselbach's scholarly article
> concerning the "-ay" ending in Hebrew.
> But why would Rebecca Hasselback, or anyone else, think that the Masoretes,
> in the Middle Ages, would know how to recognize and point an "-ay" ending? In
> your own words, "it was a very ancient development", by which I presume you
> mean that it happened long prior to the mid-1st millennium BCE for certain,
> and likely prior to 1200 BCE. How would the Masoretes, in the Middle Ages, be
> picking up on this truly ancient phenomenon?
The Masoretes were not trying to pick up on a truly ancient phenomenon. They
were transcribing a traditional text they had received orally. This
text had been
taught to them by their parents, and to their parents by their grandparents, and
so it remained a continuous tradition. One could in fact question this issue of
handing down -- whether it actually happened -- and yet it is the only scenario
that does indeed explain various elements that they managed to hand down.
The texts we see in the Masoretic traditions are authentic, and they preserve
authentic details that had been lost by their time otherwise.
Now, not only were they transcribing a tradition, but it was a very ancient
tradition. By the 3rd century CE, Hebrew died out as a spoken language.
By this time Hebrew was very different from what you read in the Bible,
but it is important because certain developments -- and particularly,
analogical developments -- generally take place only while the language
is spoken. Hebrew was until that time both a literary language and
a spoken language. But the literary language apparently underwent
some of the analogical developments while the language was still
spoken. Analogical developments generally presume an existing
population of speakers of the language who would make the analogy.
Because Hebrew was a literary language, it was able to preserve many
details that had long since been lost in the spoken language. Just
compare Latin and Italian. Copies of ancient texts which had an
associated reading tradition would be able to preserve the details that
managed to survive in the reading tradition. Hebrew as the literary
language that you see probably evolved during the last days of the
First Temple period. It continued as a literary language throughout
the Second Temple period shadowing the spoken Hebrew language.
But again, even during the Second Temple period, the literary
language evolved as a consequence of the evolution of the spoken
It is thus very sensible that certain details of analogy that would have
normally long been lost in a hypothetical spoken Hebrew language at
the time of the Masoretes, are still preserved because:
1) they preserved an authentic tradition
2) this authentic tradition was based on a literary language that was
able to maintain particular archaisms and other details longer than the
Finally, analogies take centuries to fully displace the underlying forms.
It is reasonable for some oddball form to remain long after the analogy
had begun, and analogies do not always displace all forms. (Compare
in English the plurals men, brethren, and brothers -- 'men' was never
displaced, 'brethren' remains in restricted contexts, and 'brothers' is
its newer form).
> Looking on the bright side of things, if we take your argument seriously,
> would that imply that the Patriarchal narratives are much older than the rest of
> the Bible? After all, if Sarah's birth name is "Sarai" (on the theory that
> the Masoretes in the Middle Ages by some miracle got this ancient feminine
> suffix just right), and if no other woman's name in the entire Bible has this
> archaic feminine suffix ending, then wouldn't that strongly imply that the
> Patriarchal narratives are much, much older than the rest of the Bible?
No. It means that in this case an ancient part of tradition survived. The date
of a text can only be established based on its latest, not earliest, phenomena,
and even then it is only the "earliest" possible date for the text. As the
spelling of the Patriarchal Narratives is definitely Persian or later
(note what I
wrote above about the literary language and its time of development) this
already provides some kind of date. But even if we take spelling aside, we
have issues like the spelling of Ri(amasesa with a samekh in Genesis,
which suggests different (later) correspondences between Hebrew and
Egyptian than existed in the 14th century BCE. There are many later
features of the Patriarchal Narratives.
> Despite the fact that such a consequence would greatly help my overall view
> of the Patriarchal narratives, I myself simply cannot get over the hump of
> trying to convince myself that the Masoretes in the Middle Ages somehow knew how
> to recognize a truly ancient archaic feminine suffix.
Instead of trying to "help" your overall view of the Patriarchal
Narratives why don't
you try to read them for what they say, and not for how they prove your point of
view? But I already know the answer to that one.
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