[b-hebrew] Unpointed

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Fri Jun 18 07:50:09 EDT 2010

On Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 8:31 PM, K Randolph wrote:

> 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
> error.

Actually, the modern quote is a paraphrase of Cicero's "Cuiusvis hominis
est errare."  Cicero predates any Christian theology.  In any case, the
particular phrase you quote in Romans is quite significant as it is a
specifically Christian theological point of view.

> 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.

Can you point me to the exact place in the record from which you deduce

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

All.  If you read the Masora (literally, the "Tradition") you'd see that.

> 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.

The claim above essentially says that Jews and Israelis, who speak
or know Rabbinic Hebrew / Modern Hebrew are always disadvantaged
compared to someone who knows purely Indo-European languages.  It
appears to be more a justification for the Christian belief that Jews do
not understand the message of their own Bible than anything else.  But
then, it is probably just an accident that this view above seems to limit
out Jews and Israelis from being able to truly understand the Hebrew

The truth is that when all you know besides a basic reading of Hebrew
words are Western languages, you are going to be seriously influenced
by them.  For example, Hebrew and Semitic languages in general
routinely emphasize verbs and nouns through doubling.  Sometimes
the doubling is straightforward doubling and sometimes it is varied
with the use of the infinitive in verbs, and a combination of participle-
object in nouns (as in בוצע בצע).  Some other examples from
epigraphy can also be adduced as in אבד אבד in Moabite (verbs), and
עת כים עת כים in Lachish (nouns).  But this will seem strange to those
who only know English or IE languages.  The poetic/emphasis
effect is just not the same.

Further, the above is essentially equivalent to suggesting that
someone can best learn Classical Latin by not "cluttering" his
mind with modern Romance languages or even varieties of
Medieval Latin.  Or that one can learn Old English by not
cluttering his mind with Germanic languages or Modern
English.  In fact, that a speaker of Modern English learning
Old English is disadvantaged because he views Old English
through the "lenses" of his native language.  According to
this logic, it is best to ignore, I suppose, the similarity
between the words "hominis" and "human", "est" and "is",
and "errare" and "err/error" when analyzing the above quote by
Cicero because any modern student who is colored by the
cognate meanings will be limited in his ability to understand
the original.

Yitzhak Sapir

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