[b-hebrew] dagesh, gemination, Hannah

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Thu Apr 28 17:22:42 EDT 2011

Hello Issac,

On Wed, 27 Apr 2011 19:47:11 -0400, Isaac Fried <if at math.bu.edu> wrote:

> Considering the mess they usually do of Hebrew names

That's too harsh.  See below for more on this.

> it is possible that the LXX saw XANAH as HANAH, and that the double N in
> their Αννα of 1Sam.1:2 is a result of a struggle to adapt the Greek spelling
> to the sound of the Hebrew.

Of course - that's the point.  The LXX translators struggled to represent the
Hebrew pronunciation as had been orally transmitted to Greek letters, and
Greek had a quite different phonological system and writing system than
Hebrew.  But that doesn't mean they threw up their hands in despair and were
random in transcribing Hebrew.  (And note that the transcription represents
pronunciation, not spelling - otherwise why would they represent a single
Hebrew nun with a double Greek nu?)

> I notice there that for
> ויהי איש אחד מן הרמתים צופים מהר אפרים
> ושמו אלקנה בן ירחם בן אליהוא בן תחו בן
> צוף אפרתי ולו שתי נשים שם אחת חנה ושם
> השנית פננה ויהי לפננה ילדים ולחנה אין
> ילדים
> they have
> 1.  ῎Ανϑρωπος ἦν ἐξ Αρμαϑαιμ Σιϕα ἐξ
> ὄρους Εϕραιμ, καὶ ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ελκανα
> υἱὸς Ιερεμεηλ υἱοῦ Ηλιου υἱοῦ
> Θοκε ἐν Νασιβ Εϕραιμ.
> 2.    καὶ τούτῳ δύο γυναῖκες· ὄνομα
> τῇ μιᾷ Αννα, καὶ ὄνομα τῇ δευτέρᾳ
> Φεννανα· καὶ ἦν τῇ Φεννανα παιδία,
> καὶ τῇ Αννα οὐκ ἦν παιδίον
> with PNINAH (dagesh in the second N as expected after a xirik)
> curiously rendered Φεννανα

Good observation.  I noticed that myself when I checked the text prior
to my previous post.

First, some general observations of Greek representations of foreign

On the whole, the quality of the transcriptions of Hebrew names in the LXX
may seem to suffer when compared with, say, the quality of transcriptions of
Greek names in Latin.  But if one compares them with the quality of
transcription of foreign names in Greek historical works (Egyptian and
Persian names in Herodotus, for example), they look pretty good.  (The
Indian names found in the accounts of Alexander's conquests seem particularly

The reason for this I think is this:  Greek historians didn't have a strong
motivation for being careful in trying to represent foreign names as
accurately as possible.  The LXX translators *did* have such a motivation,
however.  They were Jews translating Sacred Scripture.  They surely wanted
to get it right.  One obvious indication of this is that in general the names
are not Hellenized.  For example, in the above passage, אלקנה is rendered
Ελκανα/Elkana (not Hellenized as Elkanas), though such a name would not be
possible as a Greek masculine name.  (Certain names were Hellenized, however,
notably the class of theophoric names ending in -yah(u), Hellenized as

So, if they had a motivation to be careful, how to explain the unevenness of

There are probably a variety of causes, such as that some of the translators
were simply better than others, or mistakes in subsequent transcription.
But also we must consider that the Hebrew pronunciation was different than
that reflected in the MT.  This in turn can be because:

1) The Hebrew pronunciation changed over the centuries between the LXX & MT.

2) The oral tradition that the LXX translators used was different from that
   of the Massoretes.

I think that the oral tradition can reasonably be assumed to be less reliable
in cases where the names (or more generally words) were less common or well
known.  This has implications for both the MT and the LXX.

This applies to the passage quoted above in that the name Hannah (with its
by-forms) has been a popular feminine name for both Jews and Christians,
which is completely understandable since the Biblical Hannah is portrayed in
a very positive light.  For the extreme popularity of Anna/Anne among
Christians, one can look ultimately to the prophetess Anna mentioned in the
NT and the name (by tradition) of the mother of Mary the mother of Jesus,
secondarily bolstered by numerous other "Saint Annes".  (Incidentally, the
fact that the prophetess and the mother of Mary were named Hannah/Anna
attests to the popularity of the name חנה at the time.)

On the other hand, who do you know named Peninnah?  I can't remember
encountering a single one, either in print or in real life (though no doubt
there may be some).  I would confidently say that the oral traditions of
both the MT and the LXX are likely to be more reliable as far as preserving
Hannah's name than Peninnah's.

Φεννανα could easily result from a metathesis of lengthened and non-lengthened
[n] sounds, either in the original Hebrew pronunciation, or when transcribed
into Greek, or subsequently as the LXX manuscripts were copied, quite
possibly by those whose knowledge of Hebrew was poor.

> Spoken Hebrew did not "lose" anything. Spoken Hebrew has no "long" and
> "short" vowels, no schwa "NA" and no schwa "NAX", and no "gemination" (in
> spite of all the baloney "traditional grammar" taught in Hebrew schools)
> precisely because it is all unnecessary. Hebrew functions perfectly well
> without these theoretical fantasies. And if all this is redundant now, it
> stands to reason that it never existed in the past.

Necessity has nothing to do with it.  Both English and Hebrew find it
necessary to distinguish number (singular vs. plural) in nouns, while
numerous other languages do without it just fine.  Or, to cite a closer
example, if Spanish can do without the geminated consonants of Latin and
therefore has dropped them, why hasn't Italian done so as well?

> The dagesh, in my opinion, is but an ancient diacritical reading cue
> independent of the NIKUD. You may remove all dgeshim from any Hebrew text
> and you will not miss them.  In fact, that is what they did in the Oxford
> English-Hebrew dictionary.

I don't have a copy of the Oxford English-Hebrew dictionary; does it really
remove all dgeshim or just those where it doesn't make a difference to the
modern pronunciation?

William Parsons

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