[b-hebrew] Motivation for Vocalizing the Hebrew Old Testament Text ---

James Christian jc.bhebrew at googlemail.com
Thu Apr 15 04:54:30 EDT 2010

Hi Yitzhak,

you raise an interesting point about the times of Josiah where we assume
that the law hadn't been read publicly for some time. However, there are a
few points worth considering in addition to your observation:

1) The task of choosing the most natural vocalisation of the text would be
much easier for a native speaker. Many ambiguities which would seem to us to
be ambiguities would not necessarily seem so to a native whose instincts
eliminate certain combinations of words. This would leave primarily
ambiguities which require logical inferences to be made.

2) The vocalization of the text of the Torah probably never really
completely died as neighbouring Isrealites from the northern kingdom managed
to maintain their own tradition of vocalisation of the text.

James Christian

2010/3/29 Yitzhak Sapir <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com>

> I think the answer has to start with the way the question was phrased
> -- what was the motivation for vocalizing the consonantal text.  Inherent
> in this question is the assumption that the consonantal text existed
> independently of the vocalization.  However, every scribe writing a text
> has some intended vocalization in mind.  When the book of the Law
> was found by the builders of Josiah, it was read by Shaphan and acquired
> an official status.  From then on, there was only one official way to read
> and understand the book.  This was taught by Shaphan to his successor,
> and so started a tradition of reading the text.  Any text, from the time
> that it is canonized as Holy Writ, has an intended reading associated with
> it.  This reading is just as part of the Holy Writ as the text itself.
>  This has
> nothing to do with how well people knew the language.  The Quran has
> a vocalization associated with it, even though Arabic did not die out.
> Ishinan suggested here that the vocalization developed under Arabic
> influence.  Shlomo Morag's article on Niqqud in the Encyclopedia Miqrait
> has a long discussion of the development of the Niqqud system.  While
> he dates the development of the separate systems to after the 7th
> century CE he notes that there is no clear sign of Arabic influence.  In
> contrast, he states that the Niqqud system has a clear relationship
> to the Syriac vocalization system.
> Randall suggested that Punic disappeared.  Languages tend to
> disappear sometime when the peoples who speak them are not
> seen by others.  Regarding the survival of Punic, there is an interesting
> blog post here -
> http://lughat.blogspot.com/2007/07/chenanith-blibya-in-11th-century-ad.html
> The standard accepted date in scholarship for the survival of Mishnaic
> Hebrew is the 2nd century CE.  This stands in contrast to clear statements
> in the Talmud regarding the survival of Hebrew in the 4th century CE.
> There is even one statement dating to the 10th century regarding the
> survival of Hebrew in the markets of Tiberias.  I think there is a tendency
> to see a single line of development whereby Aramaic replaced Hebrew,
> without trying to see a more complex model whereby some classes
> and towns began speaking Aramaic while others continued speaking
> Hebrew.  While it is true that the Talmud was composed in Aramaic,
> the Piyyut which began in the 5th century CE was composed in Hebrew.
> Some forms of Piyyut were intended to be interleaved into the prayers.
> These augmentations to the prayer suggest to me that the public
> in Israel understood Hebrew.  The Paytanic language has elements
> that include Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew, but also developments --
> for example, verbs I-y, I-n, and III-h are conjugated as II-w verbs:
> y(cw -> (cw.  In my opinion, such linguistic developments suggest
> that a spoken language containing these developments existed in
> the background, because this is essentially a linguistic analogy and
> the process by which these morphological analogies develop requires
> that the language be a living spoken language.
> Since the Seder is tonight, I think it might be fitting to mention in
> context that at the end of the Seder, we find Az Rov Nisim by Yanai
> and Omets Gavurotekha by R' Eleazar Kalir, two of the earliest
> Paytanim from the land of Israel.
> From Yanai's poem for the Passover day:
> וכאשר פסח, כן עלינו יפסח // וכאשר שוררנו שיר, עוד כן נשיר
> גאולה ראשונה היתה בחיפזון // גאולה אחרונה לא בחיפזון
> כי אם בנחת ובהשקט ובבטח תושיענו
> אום שלישיה / בן אבות שלשה // על שלוש מצוות / ניפדו בזה חג המצות
> ביאור שמם לא שינו / ולשונם לא שינו / וסודם לא גילו / עבור כן נגאלו
> "... The first redemption (from Egypt) was in hurry, the last
> redemption not in hurry, but in comfort and quiet and safety
> you will save us ... The nation of three (castes), of three
> forefathers, were redeemed for three commandments:
> they didn't change their name, and they didn't change
> their tongue ... hence they were redeemed."
> Yitzhak Sapir
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