[b-hebrew] Biblical Hebrew orthographical practices in light of epigraphy

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Tue Jun 1 16:08:34 EDT 2010

Hello Karl,

Because the discussion is drawing to a close, I've chosen to answer only a few
points that were under discussion:

>> > What can we deduce from this inscription? The third line down, far left,
>> > part of a word in a damaged section ends with -WBYM, along with MWC) and
>> > MATYM indicating that the materes lectionis were used at the time the
>> stone
>> > was inscribed.
>> Huh?
>> ובים - and on the day, is purely consonantal.

> Because of damage to the rock, you cannot make that a definite statement.

This is very interesting Karl.  You write this and I agree with you,
but you also

> Not true. Look at the third line, far left, where we have a partial word
> preserved which ends in -WBYM. Most likely this is a plural.

> There is only one word that ends with a -M suffix, which in this context
> could mean “their excavating”, not a plural marker as you claim.

Karl, I have no idea why or how come you chose to read a plural.  A plural
would not fit grammatically in this position.  The word ובים - 'and on the
day' fits perfectly as the beginning of a new sentence.  Furthermore, the
lacuna that precedes the word is not total, and we can make out most of
the letters of the word ומשמאל right before it, completing the correspondence
with the word מימן just before the lacuna.  This points to the reading that
ובים begins a sentence.  It is hard for me to see how a plural ending with M
can be positioned at this point syntactically or grammatically.  This is
partly the reason that I asked you to provide a translation of your own,
which you refused.  But all this aside, you are right.  This is a broken
context, and therefore we cannot use this word to make claims.  I didn't
mention מימן although its spelling is also different from the Bible for this
reason.  But just the same, you cannot draw conclusions on the basis of this
broken context that the ending ובים proves that plurals could have ended
with YM or that W could have come as a mater lectionis in the middle of
a word.  (The latter has evidence in Judaean inscriptions, where the
word ארור is spelled at times with and at times without a waw).

>> מוצא - this may be an example of matres lectionis, especially one in the
>> middle of the word, but this is not certain.

> This is your presuppositions blinding you to what your eyes could otherwise
> see.

No.  The waw of מוצא is part of the root -- יצא, and therefore there is a strong
possibility that it was not simply a mater lectionis.  Furthermore, we actually
similar words such as הושע (Israelite king) which show a diphthong in
Assyrian transcriptions.  This is the same type of root with a waw/yodh in
the initial radical of the root.  It is possible to claim that the Assyrian is
not representative, that the Israelite dialect is a bit different, but
in the end,
it is evidence that prevents us from calling the waw of מוצא a mater lectionis.
Hence my statement above: it is not certain.

Karl, the one who appears blinded by his own theories is you.  You believe
mater lectionis were used in pre-exilic inscriptions in ways similar to the
Bible and this leads you to read ובים as a "likely plural."  This despite the
fact that the context is broken and that a non mater lectionis interpretation
is perfectly reasonable and the widely accepted reading.  When I don't
understand what you're talking about (because I never considered the
possibility of a plural at this place) and simply quote the reasonable
standard reading -- you say that it is a broken context.  Yes, Karl, you
are right, but why the double standard?  Why is it a broken context when
I raise the reading and not for you?  The same thing here.  I simply claimed
that we can't make a conclusion -- but you want to insist on a particular
interpretation.  What is your evidence that this is a mater lectionis here?
Finally, we have אש of which all signs point to the reading איש 'man'.  But
you claim it is 'blade', an unattested word in the Bible, used with verbs and
phrases that are attested in the Bible only with beings, nations, animate or
once animate objects, and never with an inanimate object such as  pickax.
Yet all these terms, words, and phrases are attested with the word איש 'man'.
You say I am blinded.  Seems to me that because the Bible always spells
איש with a yodh, and you insist on a similar orthography to the Bible you
must find a reading here that is not איש.  So who is blinded, Karl? And
why the double standard?  Why is it only when I raised the reading 'and on
the day' that you claimed it is a broken context?

>> 2) I generally read רעו in this inscription as plural, ...

> I have not been in the tunnel myself, but the photographs I have seen of it
> indicate that it is so narrow that only one worker could be excavating at
> the face of the excavation at a time. This contradicts your theory based on
> linguistic knowledge alone.

The tunnel is an average of about 2 ft wide, apparently pretty consistently.
However, it is unlikely that the crew at each side consisted of only one
person at the face.  Rather, the crew at each side was probably composed
of several diggers, with one digging through to make further way, and others
completing and widening the passage that was thus created.  Furthermore,
the crew would have needed workers to take rubble out, and these were
probably also called xcbm - excavators.

>> 3) The term לקרת comparable to Biblical Hebrew לקראת is used in the Bible
>> only between individuals and nations and not between inanimate objects.

> More likely it comes from the verb QRH which means, “to happen (upon), occur
> ⇒ to meet (with)”. This can fit inanimate objects as well.
> In this context, it refers to the breakthrough, when the two teams met.

I agree with you that the word לקראת/לקרת probably does come from the
root קרה.
However, the point is not that it could have fit inanimate objects.
The point is
that we don't see it referring to inanimate objects in the Bible.  We don't know
if the ancient Judaeans would have used it with inanimate objects or not.

Quoting Randall:
>> >> So "it" refers to 'esh' "fire". And there are ZERO references in the Hebrew
>> >> Bible where esh is the metal head of a tool, whether hammer or pickaxe.
>> > This is an argument from silence, and this inscription may be the example
>> > that shows it.
>> The inscription can't be an example that shows it, because the reading is
>> open
>> to multiple interpretations.  The example that shows it has to be clear and
>> unambiguous.
> I know English is not your native tongue, and you do fairly well at it. But
> in this case, you just said in different words the same point I made above.
> If you meant this as a criticism, then that means you did not understand
> what I wrote.

Karl, I did not say in different words what you said above.  You said
X may be Y.
I said X cannot be Y.  The two are mutually exclusive.  I suppose this
is only in
my dialect of English.  But I'm pretty sure that in this dialect,
that's the way it is.

>> So in the Bible, קל generally refers to a sound making entity where fire...

[This point was meant to be edited out, because I considered the points you
raised upon rereading my message.  Apparently, I didn't edit out all the

Yitzhak Sapir

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