[b-hebrew] primitivization of language english

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Wed Dec 22 03:42:00 EST 2010

I don't think that it's that simple. Fred's original question, "was the
biblical hebrew language, was its masoretic text, created...", is kind of
ambiguous (as a lot of things that Fred writes, are). Did he mean the
Iron-Age/exilic/post-exilic Hebrew language in which the texts were written,
or did he mean the specific Masoretic text with its many "reading aids"?
There is a huge difference. Yes, by the time of the Masoretes, the Torah,
selected passages from the prophets (the haftarot) and the five scrolls
(Lamentations, Esther, Qohelet, Song and Ruth) were read out loud in the
synagogue. Many of the Psalms and some other passages were incorporated into
the liturgy. As far as the rest, I'm not at all sure that anyone who was not
a scholar ever read Proverbs, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Daniel, or even the
Prophets straight through. 

But all this describes the situation in late antiquity and in the Middle
Ages - and to a certain extent even today. If the question is about the
original composition of the biblical texts way back in the late pre-exilic,
exilic and early post-exilic period, when literacy rates were lower and the
synagogue service as it later developed did not yet exist, it would probably
differ from book to book, from place to place and from period to period.
Psalms may have been recited in the Temple. Other sections, especially from
the Torah, may have been read at special gatherings (such as mentioned in
Ezra and Nehemiah), but my feeling is that for a good part of the early
Second Temple period, the texts were actually read mostly by "scholars" (of
whom there were different types). 

However, the biblical Hebrew language was not "created or intended for use"
by or for anyone. It was the living, spoken language of the people of Judah
(and, with certain dialectical differences, Israel) during the Iron Age and
the exilic and post-exilic period. As such it was used by all. Of course, as
with any language, there must have been differences between the spoken and
the literary forms, but they are still the same language. At what stage it
ceased being a living, spoken language is a matter of debate, and has been
discussed on this list in the past. 

Yigal Levin

-----Original Message-----
From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Randall Buth
Sent: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 8:04 AM
To: Hebrew
Subject: [b-hebrew] primitivization of language english

> the biblical hebrew language, was its masoretic
> text, created or intended for use and/or consumption by the general
> population; by other than a relatively few highly trained scribes?

this one's easy: the general population.
Go listen to a shabbat morning reading where the particular, traditional
intonation system is regularly used. listen to any bar-mistvah at that

Randall Buth, PhD
randallbuth at gmail.com
Biblical Language Center
Learn Easily - Progress Further - Remember for Life
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