Is this analysis of Isaiah 9:6 a legitimate one?

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Homeskillet
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Re: Is this analysis of Isaiah 9:6 a legitimate one?

Postby Homeskillet » Sat Nov 02, 2019 4:42 am

kwrandolph wrote:
Homeskillet wrote:This is a very good thread. Question: kwrandolph mentioned reading through TaNaKh many times prior to really acquiring a good feel for the language patterns, styles, etc. I have the BHS parsed and I am wondering after reading these posts if it would help me to just begin reading the Hebrew Bible even if I don’t understand the vocabulary words—or should I just take Hebrew 1 again before frustrating myself even more (I’ve already taken a year of Hebrew)?

Your thoughts?


I took just one year of Hebrew. Even after that class, I decided to read the Bible in English translation. However, the only English translation I had at that time was the KJV. The deeper I tried to read that translation, the more I found I was looking up the passages in Hebrew to decipher old English. My grandfather saw what I was doing, and told me I was reading it backwards—I should be reading it in Hebrew and using the KJV to decipher the Hebrew. Well, he had a point, except I was already having trouble understanding the KJV, so if I was going to struggle understanding the language, might as well be the Hebrew, so be it, and forget the KJV. I ended up reading Tanakh without an interlinear nor a translation by my side.

I have found that the hardest part of learning a foreign language, any foreign language, is acquiring sufficient vocabulary to be fluent in the language. And the only way to acquire the vocabulary is simply to use the language. For Biblical Hebrew, because it’s a language that hasn’t been spoken for over two millennia, the way to “use” the language is simply to read it over and over again. You’ll find yourself looking up a word for the 50th time, frustrated that you had looked it up so many times before, and still had forgotten it. If you’re like me with dyslexia, you’ll look up the wrong words, or words that don’t exist. As long as you recognize which forms are verbs, which are nouns, how adjectives agree with nouns, a few basic rules which you should have picked up in your first year class, you should be able to work out the meaning of a passage. Even so, the first time through you’ll make many mistakes. I did. That’s why I read it a second time, a third time, and so forth.

So many people are looking for shortcuts—“If only I read this grammar” or “if only I study that textbook” but I’m here to throw cold water on that idea. There’s no substitute for reading the text, all of it, from cover to cover, as many times as God gives you opportunity to do so. So sit down, pick up your copy of Tanakh, read בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ and the next verse, and the next verse, until you run out of verses to read, then repeat.

Karl W. Randolph.


Very insightful Karl (if I may presume to call you by your first name). I will definitely be taking your advice.

As I have already noted, the fact that I learned Hebrew 1 w. the Masoretic vowel pointings is very frustrating for me personally. Your post above is a good example of my frustration. As soon as I saw the Hebrew text you posted (w.out vowels) I felt the same despair that I feel every time I read a Hebrew word w.out vowels (e.g., Israeli signage). I am wondering if I should just invest in TaNaKh w.out pointings (if I can even locate one in software or elsewhere).

I hate that I got dependent upon vowels initially. Whatever the case, I will be implementing this reading methodology (sort of a reading immersion I suppose).

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Jason Hare
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Re: Is this analysis of Isaiah 9:6 a legitimate one?

Postby Jason Hare » Sat Nov 02, 2019 8:24 am

I cannot imagine just how many mistakes will be introduced to your thinking by eliminating the vowel markings. There may be problems in the vocalization, but the problems will increase exponentially when they are lost. I feel like bad methodology is being promoted here. Read Hebrew to the point where the vowels disappear to your eyes and you only take notice of them when a word or phrase is unfamiliar. Don't start without them.
Jason Hare
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Kirk Lowery
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Re: Is this analysis of Isaiah 9:6 a legitimate one?

Postby Kirk Lowery » Sat Nov 02, 2019 10:56 am

Allow me to add my support to what Jason has said. From a linguistic point of view, there is no such thing as a language without vowels. You must add vowels. Even modern Israeli speakers add the vowels in their minds and speech. The ancients must have done the same. The lack of vowels is simply a function of the writing system, which happened for practical reasons.

The Masoretic pronunciation is almost the only evidence we have of ancient Hebrew. (There are vowel letters and such in the DDS, etc.) And the pronunciation is also the Mosoretes' reading of the text. Could they be wrong? Of course. But they are the only starting point that we have. And a starting point we must have.

On a personal note: when I was first learning Hebrew in my twenties, I also scorned the Masoretic tradition. But over time, I came to realize that most of the time those old boys got it right and knew more than I did about Hebrew and the text. Today, my starting point is to accept the pointing and the accenting of the MT. If I have concrete reasons (usually on the syntactic level; or with variant vocalizations by other manuscripts) to question the Masoretes, well and good. Certainly, let's entertain any suggestion of alternate vocalizations at any point. But simply throwing away the entire Masoretic tradition as worthless? I don't think that's justified.
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Isaac Fried
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Re: Is this analysis of Isaiah 9:6 a legitimate one?

Postby Isaac Fried » Sat Nov 02, 2019 6:29 pm

Kirk Lowery asks
Could they be wrong? Of course.

I prefer to think about this dilemma in terms of choice and compromise rather than in terms of right versus wrong.
The people who devotedly set themselves to the task of vowelizing the Tanakh, whoever they were, were very possibly confronted by a great variety of reading and understanding traditions (witness the reading mistakes occasionally made even today by even the most experienced public reader בעל-קורא, mistakes that, without printed books, could easily have hardened into a personal reading tradition), for which they had to play judge and arbiter. Their final judgment may not be the only reasonably possible alternative, but as you say
But they are the only starting point that we have. And a starting point we must have.

Because otherwise the thing will have no end.

Isaac Fried, Boston University

kwrandolph
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Re: Is this analysis of Isaiah 9:6 a legitimate one?

Postby kwrandolph » Sun Nov 03, 2019 8:20 am

Homeskillet wrote:Very insightful Karl (if I may presume to call you by your first name). I will definitely be taking your advice.

As I have already noted, the fact that I learned Hebrew 1 w. the Masoretic vowel pointings is very frustrating for me personally. Your post above is a good example of my frustration. As soon as I saw the Hebrew text you posted (w.out vowels) I felt the same despair that I feel every time I read a Hebrew word w.out vowels (e.g., Israeli signage). I am wondering if I should just invest in TaNaKh w.out pointings (if I can even locate one in software or elsewhere).

I hate that I got dependent upon vowels initially. Whatever the case, I will be implementing this reading methodology (sort of a reading immersion I suppose).


If you can “hear” vowels while reading an unpointed text, then go for it. I would not recommend reading an unpointed text for a newbe, he has to get some indication of how the language sounds in order to read it (even though the vowel system we have is not Biblical, the Biblical vowels have been long forgotten). Don’t slavishly follow the vowel points, be ready to disagree with them if the context indicates that the points are wrong. Look for meaning first, which often gives clues on how to disregard the points.

Even with the points, you will make many mistakes the first time reading Tanakh through, which is why you read it a second time, then a third time, and as often as God gives you life to continue reading.

As for my typing, I never bothered to learn how to type in the vowel points, which is why I don’t have any in the quoted verse.

Just reading Tanakh cover to cover, all the way through, is as close to immersive learning the language as we can get of Biblical Hebrew today.

Jason Hare wrote:I cannot imagine just how many mistakes will be introduced to your thinking by eliminating the vowel markings. There may be problems in the vocalization, but the problems will increase exponentially when they are lost. I feel like bad methodology is being promoted here. Read Hebrew to the point where the vowels disappear to your eyes and you only take notice of them when a word or phrase is unfamiliar. Don't start without them.


How many thousands of mistakes are retained by not eliminating the vowel markings?

The Masoretic vowel points are a pedagogical tool. I graduated from reading with the points to reading without. Yet, before I graduated from using the points, I found myself questioning some of the published points, where they didn’t fit the consonantal text.

Kirk Lowery wrote:The Masoretic pronunciation is almost the only evidence we have of ancient Hebrew.


The very few examples pointing to the pronunciation that existed during Biblical times indicate that Biblical pronunciation was significantly different from the Masoretic pronunciation. Most Biblical pronunciations were most certainly lost within a few generations of the Babylonian Exile by Aramaic speaking Jews. The Masoretic points are merely the oldest pronunciation schema that has survived.

Kirk Lowery wrote:(There are vowel letters and such in the DDS, etc.) And the pronunciation is also the Mosoretes' reading of the text. Could they be wrong? Of course. But they are the only starting point that we have. And a starting point we must have.

On a personal note: when I was first learning Hebrew in my twenties, I also scorned the Masoretic tradition. But over time, I came to realize that most of the time those old boys got it right and knew more than I did about Hebrew and the text. Today, my starting point is to accept the pointing and the accenting of the MT. If I have concrete reasons (usually on the syntactic level; or with variant vocalizations by other manuscripts) to question the Masoretes, well and good. Certainly, let's entertain any suggestion of alternate vocalizations at any point. But simply throwing away the entire Masoretic tradition as worthless? I don't think that's justified.


The development of my thoughts concerning the Masoretic points is the opposite of yours. I was taught that the Masoretic points represented Biblical pronunciations. If I wanted to learn how, for example, Isaiah or Micah spoke, I should follow the points exactly. So when I came across many places where the points didn’t seem to fit the consonantal text, my training meant that I was to follow the pronunciations even where they don’t make sense.

It was only after more than 20 years of reading Hebrew that I started reading without the points. I first did so not because I was questioning the Masoretic system, but because I found the points an unnecessary clutter on the page (computer texts were not yet widely available). I now almost totally reject the Masoretic points. However, we have no other pronunciation schema for Hebrew. So even though I reject specific points in Tanakh (a lot of them) I still follow the pronunciation schema when talking to others.

It was only after I stopped using the Masoretic points and using contextual, grammatical and syntactical clues to indicate meanings, that I realized that I was giving different meanings than indicated by the Masoretic points. I also became aware of the few clues that indicate a significantly different pronunciation from the Biblical era. But those few clues are not enough upon which to build a complete pronunciation schema. That leaves us with the Masoretic system, even though it is wrong.

Karl W. Randolph.


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