[b-hebrew] Unpointed, plus qal passive

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Fri Jun 18 04:23:49 EDT 2010

> so that while they are not perfect, they are close.

we might be able to talk. One of the refrains we hear
from Karl is that 'the MT is not perfect, therefore it cannot be
trusted'. But now we hear that 'close' may be acceptable.
Because 'close' it is. Perhaps we need to review a couple of
earlier statements on the thread before continuing. Alternatively,
one might just jump down to an example below (***) where the
MT tests out better than might be expected/amazing.

>>> When interpreting the MT, it is always good to remember that
>> the masoretes knew Hebrew.
>> [JC}
>> That's quite a bold assumption you're stating Randall!

Yes, the Masoretes knew Hebrew. Let me go WAY out on a limb
here--I'll even state that the pope is Catholic and that the Masoretes
were circumcized. OK--after all these bold assumptions--
we can return to a discussion.

. . .

> 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?

Who said that they were trying to read through such lenses? [Someone
from the 21st century who doesn't recognize an idiom like
ish liqrat re`o/re`av and ish et re`o/re`av in unpointed Hebrew?] It needs to
be pointed out that the line of argumentation by KR is apparently based
on suspicion and assumption, and that no LINGUISTIC evidence is brought
forth. Just how much alleged influence is coming from medieval Hebrew,
medieval Aramaic, or medieval Arabic? These allegations can be
examined, and they must be, in order to know if it is neglible or system
changing. But until they are examined and supported by some evidence,
they need to be labelled what they are: fearful allegations.

So let's restate this, to make the discussion clear.
The Masoretes were not trying to read the Tana"x through the lenses
KR alleges, But one will need to know BH and the related languages
in order to know that the suspicions are sweeping and overgeneralized.
KR cites a suspicion as 'based on the fact ...', but without any example
or proof! And remember, disagreeing on a verse does not prove
that the Masoretes did not control or preserve Hebrew as a language.
One must show how and where they have been influenced in their language.
It is actually relatively easy to show how and where they have NOT been
influenced. But you need to know the other languages to prove that. The
morphological system reflected in the MT is NOT mishnaic Hebrew, NOT
medieval Aramaic, and NOT Arabic, yet it is a linguistically coherent
system and can be fit into a stemma for the Semitic languages as a whole.

> It is very possible that the modern student can know better Biblical Hebrew
> than did the Masoretes.

Yes, it is possible to learn things that they did not know.
See below for one example.
But that does not mean that one can expect to do do so by ignoring
the MT pointing.
When we study the MT,
we find them preserving things that they did not get from Aramaic or
Arabic, nor mishnaic Hebrew, sometimes with proto-Semitic roots.
Maybe the MT should be listed as one of the wonders of
the ancient world. It's a remarkable work that can be tested for internal
linguistic consistency and development, but in order to do that one must
control historical and comparative linguistics, and the related Semitic
languages and dialects. If someone throws that out, and throws out the MT,
too, they would be left to 'conspiracy theories' and maybe a foreign,
lexicon based on 19th century scholarship. (And why would that be trusted?
I wouldn't. )

> 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.,

KR is free to ignore these languages, but he might be cluttering his mind
with non-Semitic languages, even creating a 'conspiracy Hebrew', while
these closely related dialects and languages offer a chance to measure the
allegations and claims, to test them for probability and linguistic soundness.
[e.g., KR refuses to acknowledge that hishlik is a hif`il in BH, even though
the MT is unanimous and he has no counter example, just suspicion.]
Refusing to compare AND also refusing the MT data is unconscienable.
Of course, many have already tested MT Hebrew as a linguistic system,
but based on their own results, they don't walk KR's road.

Anyway, now that a De-Cartean perfection is not allowed to throw out
all human-touched evidence, we can discuss probabilities within the
real world. The MT can stand the tests and we will be able to profitably
discuss places where it can be evaluated.

I'll give an example where we can update the MT linguistic system:
the internal Qal passive is an item that is not part of the traditional
Hebrew grammar description and thus was not a part of 19th century
anayltical lexica.

The MT has retained vocalizations like luqqaH and yuqqaH לֻקַּח יֻקַּח
as well as yuttan יֻתַּן and 'ennenu ukkal' איננו אֻכָּל. [Note that this
last form is a participle, and thus not pu`al, nor feminine like 'fire'.]
This is remarkable because Aramaic had no internal qal passive, nor
even a nifal. [Aramaic did have forms built off of the passive-perfect
participle with cEc-I-c vowels.] And the BH vowels don't fit the Arabic
passives, *luqiHa. They do not function as pu``als, and there are no
pi``els attested for them to be passives to. From comparison with
other Semitic languages it is clear that an internal Qal passive used
to exist, but a qal would not have a lengthened middle consonant:
either *luqaH or *luqiH. but not *luqqaH.
So how can the dagesh in MT luqqaH be explained?
Due to the nature of long and short vowels in unaccented syllables, the
passive nature of these BH forms needed to develop a morphological/
phonetic change during the biblical/post-biblical period. The phonetic
lengthening of the consonant after the [u] vowel achieved this. But
this resulted in a homonym with pu``al forms in the past/suffix tense
and with hof`al in the future/prefix tense. (Arabic, too, has homonyms
between qal future passives and "hif`il" [a.k.a. af`ala] future passives,
which is one of the reasons for the dimishing of the "hif`il" pattern in
spoken Arabic. But that is another story and thread.)
The Masoretes preserved this [u], letting us see quite a few examples of
internal qal passive in the Hebrew Bible, EVEN THOUGH the Masoretes
themselves were unaware of the grammatical status of these forms.
They knew the words, they knew what they meant as words/verbs, but
they did not know how they fit into a grammatical system.
"We" now know.

So we have learned something about Hebrew beyond the Masoretes
themselves, and we can applaud the fact that the Masoretes did
NOT obliterate or change these forms that did not fit a system, but
instead, they preserved them so that later generations might have
access to the language system and might better understand them.

(NB: analytical lexica of the 19th century do not list an internal qal
passive, if I assume/guess correctly. So students should not
rely on those as a last word, nor as a fully reliable authority.)

My bottom line is this: everyone can go ahead and read unpointed
Hebrew to their heart's content. But one should learn one historically
attested dialect, and internalize it, so that one is on the same page
and can communicate with Hebrew speakers and texts from
throughout the ages.

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

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list