[b-hebrew] Unpointed

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Thu Jun 17 13:31:13 EDT 2010

Randall and James:

On Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 1:16 AM, Randall Buth <randallbuth at gmail.com> wrote:

> When interpreting the MT, it is always good to remember that
> the masoretes knew Hebrew.

That’s not the question. The question is how well did they know Biblical

First of all, the Masoretes were human and their pointing a human
development. As that popular modern paraphrase of Romans 3:23a states, “To
err is human”, therefore we cannot assume that their points are without

Secondly, from the record, we can deduce that the Masoretes knew Aramaic far
better than they knew Hebrew, and that was not just Aramaic, but medieval
Aramaic. That means that they would tend to read Hebrew through their
understanding of Aramaic. They couldn’t help it, that’s just natural. Just
like a modern Israeli will tend to read Tanakh based on modern Israeli
Hebrew understanding rather than Biblical understanding.

Thirdly, the Hebrew they knew best was Mishnaic to medieval Hebrew, not
Biblical Hebrew. I don’t know that Hebrew, but from discussions on this list
I learn that it had a different grammar and pronunciation than did Biblical
Hebrew. Yes, they used the same written forms, but they used them
differently from the Biblical authors, with some of the words having
different meanings.

Fourthly, how many of the points were based on tradition rather than

Given the above, how many of the ambiguities of the text were
self-inflicted? Based on the fact that they were trying to read Tanakh
through the lenses of tradition, medieval Hebrew and medieval Aramaic? And
if we tie ourselves down with the shackles that they had, i.e. slavishly
follow their points, how many verses do we find ambiguous?

It is very possible that the modern student can know better Biblical Hebrew
than did the Masoretes. That is best done when the student of Biblical
Hebrew has not cluttered his mind with cognate languages, e.g. Mishnaic
Hebrew, Modern Hebrew, Arabic, etc., therefore does not have to make an
effort (that usually fails) to keep his understanding of Biblical Hebrew
separate from these other influences.

> This can help is deciding what they have, or have not, written.
> If they have not given points for an obvious reading, there is a
> reason.

See above.

It is always good to ask what the Masoretes understood.
> The consonantal text is often ambiguous, and someone may
> want to read the consonantal text differently. But they should also
> take the time to understand what the Masoretes were doing with
> a particular verse.

Sometimes we come up with complete gibberish, with the only ways to resolve
it while remaining true to the points include adding ideas not in the text,
changing the meanings of words to fit, giving convoluted, complex
grammatical constructs that stretch credulity, and so forth. Or we can
change the points.

> Other suggestions in the thread were more puzzling. Pr  1.19
> reads fine as the MT, though it is capable of being read differently.
> I take the subject of yiqqaH to be either goral 'fate' from verse
> 14, or else 'he/it' is a hidden reference to the the Lord and the Lord's
> judgement that the wicked are ignoring. Both lead to the same
> interpretation.

You are adding to the text that which is not there. Context clearly
indicates that this is a stand alone verse, a poetic verse within a poetic
paragraph. By adding to the text, you admit that the points give gibberish.
By adding to the text, you also admit that the poetic structure of the verse
is destroyed by the points.

> On Is 30.14, I don't see any reference to metallurgy but to pottery
> and the inability to use a thoroughly smashed pot even for carrying
> a burning coal to start a fire, or for scooping water from a very
> small puddle. The MT works as is.

Yours is an example of changing the meanings of words to fit the points. If
one takes the meanings of words as used elsewhere in Tanakh, but use the
Masoretic points, one comes up with gibberish.

As for references to metallurgy, the verb and nouns connected with KTT refer
to the repeated tapping of hammers, an action uniquely connected with the
hand forming of metallic articles. It is specifically connected with forging
in verses like Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3, though also used metaphorically as
in “I will keep hammering you until you shape up”.

> braxot
> Randall Buth
> --
> Randall Buth, PhD
> www.biblicalulpan.org
> randallbuth at gmail.com
> Biblical Language Center
> Learn Easily - Progress Further - Remember for Life
> Karl W. Randolph.

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