[b-hebrew] 'Vocal shwa' had no true/phonemic quality at the time of LXX.

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Fri Jul 2 12:39:18 EDT 2010

Hello Garth,

You wrote several messages, I will try to form a single response to all.

The schewa is a vocalization sign known to us from vocalization traditions.
The best documented is the Tiberian tradition and here we have a very explicit
explanation of what the schewa is.  The דקדוקי טעמים is not the only text that
clearly and explicitly explains the way that the schewa should be vocalized in
Tiberian tradition, but it is a very authoritative and rather early
one.  Just like
the vocalization tradition, the דקדוקי טעמים is also a Masoretic work and it is
not an independent work of Aharon Ben Asher but rather a collection of
traditions that were passed down.  As I pointed out, the guttural rule was
not productive by that time, and it in fact ceased to be productive before
the 5th century CE when long a: became qamats.  This is evidence that the
"guttural rule" dates before the 5th century CE.

The question that comes up is how old is that guttural rule?  I gave some
examples that support the existence of the guttural rule in the LXX (and the
NT, I suppose).  There are also examples that date much earlier to the
Late Bronze Age, and which support this type of vocalization.  For example,
in Amarna EA 69 (Byblos) we find nu-xu-u$-tu = Tiberian Hebrew [no'xo:$eth].

We don't know if the scribes at Byblos, had they been versed in Tiberian
vocalization, would have used schewa in this case.  A schewa as a
vocalization mark is a concept that is solely limited to the Masoretic period,
whose documentation begins in the 10th century CE.  What we can do is
compare the vocalization suggested by schewa in the Tiberian system and
see how it compares with earlier evidence for vocalization, including the

In any language, a word has a particular realization.  For example, the
word "top" in English has an aspirated t.  This aspiration is not phonemic,
but this doesn't mean that the word top is pronounced sometimes with
and sometimes without aspiration.  So even if some particular aspect
of the realization of a word is not phonemic, this does not mean that
the realization (in this case, the vowel) may change on the whim of the
speaker.  You suggested out that the name Solomon in the Greek,
spelled in some places Solomon and others Salomon is evidence that the
initial vowel was a reduced vowel and was not phonemic:

> My suggestion is that existence of both Salomon and Solomon
> indicate that at the time of the LXX&NT, the reduced vowel was not
> considered to have a phonemic quality.  How could the quality be
> meaningful if it is here 'a' and there 'o'?

This requires several corrections.  First, the idea that the schewa is a
reduced vowel is not the way that the Masoretes themselves viewed
this vowel and is based on later European realizations of the schewa.

Second, there are other alternatives than the one you suggest above:

1) the vowel could have been some vowel between Greek a and Greek
o and was therefore interpreted by some Greek authors as a and by
others as o.
2) the pronunciation of the word שלמה could have changed during the
time between the LXX and the NT.
3) the vocalizations Solomon and Salomon could have co-existed in
the language as by-forms -- one author chose one vocalization and
another author chose another.

There may be additional alternatives.  But none of these alternatives
require that the first vowel be non-phonemic.

You also wrote:
G> Rather Greek IW- is used to transliterate both Yo- and Yho-,
Y> What is the evidence for this?
G> The LXX has IW- for places in the consonantal Hebrew text which
read Yho- and Yo-.

But the Hebrew consonantal text does not have Yho and Yo.  It has YHW and
YW.  There may or may not be a vowel after Y, and W may or may not be a
mater lectionis.  The consonantal text provides us no information on this.
While the LXX is -- perhaps -- consistent with a reading Yho-, there is no
evidence from the LXX or the Hebrew consonantal text that this was the
case.  In contrast, the realization in Masoretic times [yoho] is also consistent
with the same LXX transcription but here we have evidence that -- yes, a
thousand years later -- the realization  was yoho.  But just because it is a
thousand years later does not mean it is not evidence.  The realization of
a word does not have to change over a period of a thousand years, and
even if it changes, only a part of the word's realization might change while
other parts of the word would retain the original realization.

So I ask again, what is the evidence that Greek IW transliterates yho-?

Y> this is much less likely for יהודה (which is not spelled יודה in
Biblical times)
G> I am not saying that IOU- represents Yu- but rather Yhu-, with a non-
G> phonemic glide between the Y and H not represented in Gk.

Garth, the above is based on the following which you wrote earlier:

> As even the post-exilic consonantal texts of the Tnakh have theophoric
> forms with YO- (yod, waw, no he) I find it a difficult assertion to say that
> Greek LXX forms with IW- represent Yoho-

Garth, wouldn't [yho]/[yhu] be just as problematic in light of YW spellings
as [yoho]/[yuhu]?

Yitzhak Sapir

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