[b-hebrew] Masoretic transmission of pronuncation [was: Ex 6:6 hiphil &c.]

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Thu Jul 11 17:41:08 EDT 2013

On Wed, 10 Jul 2013 19:26:43 -0600, Jerry Shepherd <jshepherd53 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi Will,
> I'll intersperse my answers below.
>> Will:  They do indeed "reflect the Masoretic time and place".  I don't think
>> there can be any doubt that the Hebrew text as we see it printed with
>> vowel marks, dageshes, &c. represents how it was pronounced in that
>> time and place.  That of course is not inconsistent with its being a
>> continuation of the pronunciation in Biblical times, but as it stands
>> it doesn't represent the pronunciation of Biblical times directly.
>> How could it?  Even ignoring that there were most likely dialectal
>> differences in ancient hebrew and the Biblical texts were written over
>> a period of centuries, there's more than a millenium of time in
>> between the writing of the Biblical texts and the Masoretes' work.
> Jerry: When I say that the Masoretic notation does not reflect their own
> time and place, I mean that there is nothing innovative in what they do.
> Their sole innovation is to create a system of marks to indicate the sounds
> and grammar of a tradition that was handed down to them.  But in terms of
> the actual sounds and grammar, they did not innovate; they preserved what
> was handed down to them.  There was less than a millennium between the time
> of the writing of the last book of the Hebrew Bible and the work of the
> Masoretes which began about 600 CE.

As I mentioned above, Biblical texts were written over a period of
centuries, and the language surely underwent changes during that
time.  Taking the language of the last book (by which time there was
most likely strong Aramaic influence) and the beginning of the work of
the Masoretes is somewhat misleading as to the total time of the
transformation of language we're considering.

> Of course the dating of the biblical
> books themselves is notoriously difficult; but I think it is important to
> note that books that may have been written during pre-exilic times,
> probably went through and editing and updating process in the post-exilic
> period, but the post-exilic period is still within the biblical period.  So
> I am prepared to argue that the forms of the biblical books as they existed
> in the post-exilic period are still largely preserved in the Masoretic
> text, and that the pronunciation of the biblical text during the
> post-exilic period largely continues through the next generations of
> scribes and on down to the Masoretes.

Preserved as to regard to the consontal text, yes.  Preserved as to
pronunciation of vowels, I doubt.  I'm not saying the Masoretic vowel
system is something they made up, or is unrelated to the pronunciation
that obtained in Biblical times, but that the Hebrew as pronounced
using a "Masoretic" pronunciation would sound considerably different
than that used by Jeremiah, let alone David, let alone Moses.

>> Will: In looking at the 3rd person sing. corresponding forms (M & F)
>> of the verb כתנ, we have the Masoretic forms כָתְבָה - כָתַב, which I
>> take to represent the underlying pronunciations [kɔ:θ'av] (or
>> perhaps [kɔ:θaβ]) and [kɔ:θəv'ɔ:], but it seems pretty easy to infer
>> that these are later phonetic developments of something that would
>> have been something like /katab/, /kataba(h)/ earlier.  (How much
>> earlier, I can't say, or whether this would have represented the
>> situation in Biblical times.)
> Jerry: Sorry, Will, I really don't understand this paragraph, or what the
> evidence is for the pronunciation differences you have suggested. Do you
> think that in biblical times there was no shortening of full vowel sounds
> down to half-vowel or vocal shewas?

I don't posit anything in particular as to how Hebrew was pronounced in
(the various) Biblical times.  But I'm sure it wasn't pronounced the
way it ended up by being codified by the Masoretic vowel signs, &c.
Why?  Because that's how languages work, they change through time, and
this is *long* period of time we're considering.

>> Will: I think I agree to a certain extent with Karl on this (at least about
>> the Aramaic part - not so much the Greek part).  The pronunciation of
>> Hebrew must have evolved after the Exile along with Aramaic, and I
>> can't help but think the pronunciation of Hebrew as finally codified
>> by the Masoretes owes a lot to developments in Aramaic.
> Jerry: But these developments begin in the biblical period.  Additionally,
> things are complicated by our basic ignorance as to how soon or how
> dominantly Aramaic overtook Hebrew as the primary spoken language.  In any
> case, the sooner the Aramaic dominance is recognized to have taken place,
> the greater the likelihood that the tradition handed down by the scribes
> accurately reflects the state of the Hebrew text and pronunciation during
> the post-exilic period.

I don't follow your reasoning here at all.

ὣς ἔφατο
Will Parsons

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