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Studies in Semitic Vocalisation and Reading Traditions

Studies in Semitic Vocalisation and Reading Traditions Aaron Hornkohl and Geoffrey Khan (eds)
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This volume brings together papers relating to the pronunciation of Semitic languages and the representation of their pronunciation in written form. The papers focus on sources representative of a period that stretches from late antiquity until the Middle Ages. A large proportion of them concern reading traditions of Biblical Hebrew, especially the vocalisation notation systems used to represent them. Also discussed are orthography and the written representation of prosody.

Beyond Biblical Hebrew, there are studies concerning Punic, Biblical Aramaic, Syriac, and Arabic, as well as post-biblical traditions of Hebrew such as piyyuṭ and medieval Hebrew poetry. There were many parallels and interactions between these various language traditions and the volume demonstrates that important insights can be gained from such a wide range of perspectives across different historical periods.

Studies in Semitic Vocalisation and Reading Traditions
Aaron Hornkohl and Geoffrey Khan (eds) | June 2020
708 pp. | 4 b&w (pbk)/colour (hb) Illustrations | 6.14" x 9.21" (234 x 156 mm)
Semitic Languages and Cultures vol. 3 | ISSN: 2632-6906 (Print); 2632-6914 (Online)
ISBN Paperback: 9781783749355
ISBN Hardback: 9781783749362
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781783749379
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0207
Subject Codes: BIC: CFF (Historical and comparative linguistics), CFP (Translation and interpretation); BISAC: REL006020 (RELIGION / Biblical Biography / General), LAN009010 (LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Linguistics / Historical & Comparative); OCLC Number: 1156322478.

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Preface Download
Aaron D. Hornkohl and Geoffrey Khan

Robert Crellin and Lucia Tamponi - Vowel Quantity and Quality in Neo-Punic and Latin Inscriptions Download
Robert Crellin and Lucia Tamponi

Benjamin Kantor - The Development of the Hebrew Wayyiqṭol Download
Benjamin Kantor

Peter Myers - The Representation of Gutturals by Vowels in the LXX Download
Peter Myers

Dorota Molin - Biblical Quotations in the Aramaic Incantation Bowls Download
Dorota Molin

Benjamin D. Suchard - The Reflexes of *i and *u Download
Benjamin D. Suchard

Nick Posegay - Shared Tradition in Syriac, Arabic, and Hebrew Vocalisation Download
Nick Posegay

Aaron D. Hornkohl - Discord between Tiberian Written and Reading Traditions Download
Aaron D. Hornkohl

Joseph Habib - Qere and Ketiv in the Exegesis of the Karaites and Saadya Download
Joseph Habib

Vincent DeCaen and B. Elan Dresher - Pausal Forms and Prosodic Structure in Tiberian Hebrew Download
Vincent DeCaen and B. Elan Dresher

Kim Phillips - Samuel ben Jacob’s Treatment of Exceptional Vocalic Shewas Download
Kim Phillips

Benjamin Outhwaite - The Tiberian Tradition in Common Bibles from the Genizah Download
Benjamin Outhwaite

Estara Arrant - Near-Model and Non-Standard Tiberian Torah Manuscripts Download
Estara Arrant

Geoffrey Khan - The Imperfect Oral Performance of the Tiberian Tradition Download
Geoffrey Khan

Élodie Attia - Variants in Ashkenazic Biblical Manuscripts Download
Élodie Attia

José Martínez Delgado - The Prosodic Models of Andalusi Hebrew Metrics Download
José Martínez Delgado

Michael Rand - Marginalia to the Qillirian Rhyme System Download
Michael Rand


Robert  Crellin (PhD,  University  of  Cambridge,  2012)  is  a postdoctoral researcher on the project Contexts of and Relations between  Early  Writing  Systems  (CREWS)  in  the  Faculty  of Classics, University of Cambridge, where the focus of his research is West Semitic writing systems. He has also worked on the syntax and semantics of the verb systems in Ancient Greek and Latin, as well as the morphology of Semitic personal names in Greek.

Lucia Tamponi is a PhD student in the Department of Philology, Literature,  and  Linguistics at  the  University  of  Pisa.  Her  main research interests include the diffusion of the Latin language in Sardinia, especially in  the  light  of  its  Romance evolution,  with special focus on the linguistic analysis of graphemic alternations in  the  Latin  inscriptions  from  the  island.  She  has  previously worked on the digitisation and analysis of Latin inscriptions from Rome  and  Italy  included  in  the CLaSSES  (http://classes-latin-linguistics.fileli.unipi.it)epigraphic corpus.

Peter Myers (PhD, University of Cambridge, 2019) is lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology. He completed his PhD in Hebrew phonology and Greek transcriptions under the supervision of Prof. Geoffrey Khan. He is an ordained Anglican minister and a member of SIL.

Benjamin   Kantor (PhD,   University   of   Texas,   2017)   is   a postdoctoral  researcher  in  Biblical  Hebrew  philology  at  the University  of  Cambridge. His  PhD  is  in  Hebrew  Bible,  with  a dissertation on  ‘The  Second  Column  (Secunda)  of  Origen's Hexapla in Light of Greek Pronunciation’. This was completed after  receiving  his  BA  in  Classical  Studies  with  an  emphasis  in Greek  from  the  Hebrew  University  of  Jerusalem  in  2012.  He specializes in the historical phonology of Hebrew and Greek in Late Antiquity.

Dorota Molin is a PhD student (2018–2021) in Middle Eastern Studies  at  the  University  of  Cambridge,  working  on  North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic. She obtained her MPhil degree in the same department,  where  her  thesis  concentrated  on  Biblical  Hebrew quotations  in  the  Aramaic  incantation  bowls  in  the  context  of Biblical  Hebrew  pronunciation  traditions.  She  is  interested  in comparative dialectology and its  contribution to understanding diachrony (e.g., grammaticalisation). She has also published on contact between Modern Hebrew and Negev Arabic and worked as  a  research  assistant  on  a  forthcoming  Diplomatic  Edition  of Mishna-Codex  Kaufmann  (A50).  She  holds  a  BA  degree  in Hebrew and Arabic (Cambridge).

Benjamin  D.  Suchard (PhD, Leiden  University,  2016)  is  the author  of The  Development  of  the  Biblical  Hebrew  Vowels (Brill, 2019), an adaptation of his doctoral dissertation in Linguistics. He  currently  holds  a  Research  Foundation-Flanders (FWO) senior postdoctoral fellowship at KU Leuven (2019–2020, 2022–2024) for a project on the interacting languages of the Biblical Aramaic  consonantal  text  and  reading  tradition  and  a  Netherlands   Organisation   for   Scientific   Research (NWO) Veni postdoctoral fellowship at Leiden University (2019–2022) for a project on the linguistic status of Nabataean Aramaic.

Nick Posegay is a PhD student in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge,where he studies under Prof. Geoffrey Khan.  His  research  examines  the  intellectual  history  of  the medieval Middle East, focusing on contacts between the Arabic, Syriac, and Hebrew linguistic traditions.

Aaron D. Hornkohl (PhD, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2012) is the author of Linguistic Periodization and the Language of Jeremiah (Brill,  2013),  a  translated  adaptation  of  his  doctoral dissertation. He holds  the   positions   of   Hebrew   Language Teaching Officer and Senior Research Associate in the Faculty of Asian  and  Middle  Eastern  Studies,  University  of  Cambridge, where  he  teaches  modern  and  ancient  Hebrew.  His  research  is philological/linguistic  in  nature,  focusing  on  ancient  Hebrew, and encompassing diachrony and linguistic periodisation; syntax, pragmatics,  and  the  verbal  system;  the  Tiberian  written  and reading  traditions  and  non-Tiberian  Hebrew  traditions;  textual criticism and literary formation; and historical and contemporary exegesis.

Joseph Habib is entering his third year of PhD research at the University of Cambridge under the supervision of Prof. Geoffrey Khan  and  co-supervision  of  Prof.  Tamar  Zewi  (University  of Haifa). The topic of his research is ‘Accents, Vocalisation, and qere/ketiv in the Bible Translations and Commentaries of Saadya Gaon  and  the  Early  Medieval  Karaites’.  This  work  is  made possible  thanks  to  a  generous  contribution  from  the  Valler Doctoral  Fellowship  granted  by  the  University  of  Haifa’s Department of Biblical Studies and Jewish History.

Vincent  DeCaen (PhD, University of  Toronto,1995)  has  a doctorate  in  Near  Eastern  Studies.  His  dissertation,  ‘On  the Placement  and  Interpretation  of  the  Verb  in  Standard  Biblical Hebrew  Prose’,  was  supervised  by  E.  J.  Revell.  His  research interests are the syntax and semantics of early Biblical Hebrew, with  a  focus  on  the  finite  verb,  and  the  syntax-phonology interface,  comprising  the  Tiberian  Masoretic  apparatus,  the poetic  accent  system,  and  the  related  problem  of  poetic  meter. His publications include book chapters as well as articles in the Journal  of  Semitic  Studies,  the Journal  of  Northwest  Semitic Languages, and Vetus Testamentum.

B.  Elan  Dresher (PhD,  University  of  Massachusetts,  Amherst, 1978) is  Professor  Emeritus  of  Linguistics  at  the  University  of Toronto. He has published on phonological theory, learnability, historical   linguistics,   West   Germanic   and   Biblical   Hebrew phonology and prosody, and the history of phonology. His books include Old English and the Theory of Phonology (Garland, 1985) and The Contrastive Hierarchy in Phonology (Cambridge University Press, 2009). His research on Biblical Hebrew has focused on the prosodic  and  syntactic  bases  of  the  Tiberian  system  of accents, the stress system of Biblical Hebrew, and issues in the dating of Biblical Hebrew.

Kim Phillips (PhD, University of Cambridge, 2016) is a research associate  in  the  Taylor-Schechter  Genizah  Research  Unit  in Cambridge’s  University  Library.  His  doctorate  examined Abraham  ibn  Ezra’s  commentary  on  the  book  of  Isaiah—particularly Ibn Ezra’s controversial interpretation  of  chapters 40–66. His research interests include mediaeval Jewish biblical interpretation,  Aramaic  Bible  translations,  and  all  facets  of Masoretic  Studies.  He  teaches  Hebrew  and  Hebrew  Bible  in Cambridge’s Faculty of Divinity.

Ben Outhwaite FRAS FSA (PhD, University of Cambridge, 2000) has  been  head  of  Cambridge  University  Library’s  Genizah Research Unit since 2006, with responsibility for the study of the ca. two-hundred thousand manuscripts of the Cairo Genizah held there.  His MA  and  PhD theses  dealt  with Medieval  Hebrew linguistics and   he has   published   on   codicology,   biblical manuscripts, and the history of Hebrew.

Estara  Arrant received  a MPhil  in  Islamic  Studies  and  History from  the  University  of  Oxford  in  2016.  She  is  currently a  PhD finalist in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge.  She  is  a  linguist  of  Semitic  languages  and  a  data scientist. Her research specialties include language contact in all Semitic languages, but especially between Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic; Hebrew and Arabic codicology and palaeography; the linguistic  development  and  transmission  of  Semitic  scriptural traditions;  digital  humanities;  and  applied  data  science  for manuscript and language studies.

Geoffrey Khan (PhD, SOAS, 1984) is Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Cambridge. His research publications focus on  three  main  fields:  Biblical  Hebrew  language  (especially medieval  traditions),  Neo-Aramaic  dialectology,  and  medieval Arabic documents.He is the general editor of The Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics and is the senior editor of Journal of Semitic Studies. His most recent book is The Tiberian Pronunciation  Tradition  of  Biblical  Hebrew, 2  vols ,Cambridge  Semitic Languages and Cultures 1 (University of Cambridge & Open Book Publishers, 2020).

Élodie  Attia (PhD,  École  Pratique  des  Hautes  Études,  Paris,2008),  is  a  CNRS  Researcher  at  the  Centre  Paul-Albert  Février TDMAM (UMR 7297) at Aix-Marseille University. Her field is the history  of  the medieval  Jewish  world  and  its  culture,  with particular focus on the study of Hebrew manuscript sources and codicology.  She  has  recently  edited The  Masorah  of  Elijah  ha-Naqdan (De Gruyter,  2015) and  is  Principal  Investigator  in  the Manuscripta Bibliae Hebraicae Project, funded by the French ANR (2016–2020),  which  is  dedicated  to  the  material,  cultural,  and social  meanings  of  early  biblical  manuscripts  produced  in Ashkenaz before 1300.

José   Martínez   Delgado (PhD,   Complutense   University   of Madrid, 2001) is Associate Professor at the University of Granada and works on the Sciences of the Biblical Hebrew Language in al-Andalus (tenth–twelfth centuries). He has edited and translated Kitāb al-Mustalḥaq by Ibn Janāḥof  Cordoba  (Brill,  2020), Un manual judeo-árabe de métrica hebrea andalusí (UCO Press CNERU-CSIC, 2017), and Kitāb al-Taysīr by Shelomo b. Ṣaʿīr (Universidad de Granada, 2010).

Michael Rand (PhD, New York University, 2003) is Lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies  of  the  University  of  Cambridge.  He  specializes  in Medieval  Hebrew  poetry,  in  particular piyyuṭ and maqāma. His most recent monograph is The Evolution of Al-Ḥarizi’s Taḥkemoni (Brill, 2018).
1. Vowel Quantity and Quality in Neo-Punic and Latin Inscriptions from Africa and Sardinia
Robert Crellin and Lucia Tamponi

Robert Crellin and Lucia Tamponi elucidate the vowel quality and quantity of Neo-Punic and Latin from North Africa and Sardinia. An important innovation presented in the article is the investigation not only of the representation of vowels in Neo-Punic by means of matres lectionis, but also of zero-representation and its relation to representation by matres lectionis. This sheds light on the degree of sensitivity of writers of Neo-Punic inscriptions to vowel length in Latin. The examination of the representation of vowel length and vowel quality further reveals that in both North Africa and Sardinia the distinction between /i, eː/ and /u, oː/ was retained despite the merger of these phonemes in Common Romance. The authors convincingly suggest that this is due to ties between North Africa and Sardinia. The article thus adds to our understanding of the linguistic development of both Romance and Punic in North Africa and Sardinia and to the relations between those two communities.

2. The Development of the Hebrew wayyiqṭol Verbal Form (‘Waw Consecutive’) in Light of Greek and Latin Transcriptions of Hebrew
Benjamin Kantor

Benjamin Kantor investigates the attestations of the wayyiqṭol form in ancient Greek and Latin transcriptions of Biblical Hebrew and compares those attestations with medieval Jewish traditions of Biblical Hebrew (Tiberian, Babylonian) and with the Samaritan tradition. It is shown that the Greek and Latin transcriptions help us understand the development of the later Jewish and Samaritan traditions. By the time of Jerome’s transcriptions (fourth/fifth century CE), the gemination following the initial wa- is generalised, whereas earlier, in Origen’s Secunda (circa first–third centuries CE), it is not fully developed. In the Samaritan tradition there is no trace of this kind of gemination. The article reaches the important conclusion that gemination in wayyiqṭol is a development of the Second Temple Jewish traditions, but not the Samaritan tradition.

3. The Representation of Gutturals by Vowels in the LXX of 2 Esdras
Peter Myers

Peter Myers seeks to shed light on the guttural consonants of Biblical Hebrew underlying transcriptions into Greek in 2 Esdras, the Greek translation of Ezra-Nehemiah in the Septuagint. The article goes about this by examining the vowels that are used where the underlying Hebrew pronunciation would be expected to have a guttural. Myers finds a degree of systematicity in the use of specific Greek vowels for specific Hebrew guttural consonants. The examination also corroborates earlier hypotheses regarding the loss of the velar fricatives /*ḫ/ and /*ġ/ in Hebrew by the time of the writing of Septuagint Ezra-Nehemiah.

4. Biblical Quotations in the Aramaic Incantation Bowls and Their Contribution to the Study of the Babylonian Reading Tradition
Dorota Molin

Dorota Molin’s article highlights the importance of the incantation bowls in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic from the sixth–seventh centuries CE for the study of the pre-Masoretic Babylonian reading tradition of Biblical Hebrew. Biblical quotations within these bowls constitute the only direct documentation of Biblical Hebrew from Babylonia at that time. The phonetic spelling of the quotations provides much information about their pronunciation. In a series of case studies Molin shows that the pronunciation of the quotations corresponds closely to the medieval Babylonian reading tradition. She also demonstrates that they reflect interference from the Aramaic vernacular, manifested especially in weakening of the guttural consonants, and that the writers drew from an oral tradition of the Hebrew Bible.

5. Phonological Adaptation and the Biblical Aramaic and Biblical Hebrew Reflexes of *i and *u
Benjamin D. Suchard

Benjamin Suchard treats the phenomenon of irregular reflexes of the vowels *i and *u in Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic from a novel perspective of ‘phonological adaptation’, whereby speakers of one language adapted borrowed forms to their own phonology. This process is known to be irregular. The author makes an innovative suggestion that in Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic, respectively, the irregular reflexes of the vowels *i and *u are due to the phonological adaptation of pre-Tiberian Hebrew to Aramaic phonology and of Biblical Hebrew to Palestinian Greek phonology. Such a process sheds light on general developments in the reading traditions and linguistic realities of Palestine of late antiquity.

6. Connecting the Dots: The Shared Phonological Tradition in Syriac, Arabic, and Hebrew Vocalisation
Nick Posegay

Nick Posegay presents new data in his article on links between the various medieval vocalisation traditions of Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic. These include the identification of overlaps in the Aramaic terminology used by Jewish Masoretes and Christian Syriac grammarians and in the phonological theories that underlie them. Posegay thus provides new evidence that the systems did not develop in isolation, but where the result of intellectual exchanges between the various religious communities.

7. Discord between the Tiberian Written and Reading Traditions: Two Case Studies
Aaron D. Hornkohl

Aaron Hornkohl examines two features in the Tiberian reading tradition of Biblical Hebrew, namely the qal construct infinitive and the 3ms possessive suffix that is attached to plural nouns and some prepositions. The article argues that although the vocalisation in both cases is secondary relative to what is represented by the consonantal text, it is not artificial and post-biblical, but rather a relatively ancient product of the real language situation of an earlier period, namely, the Second Temple Period, if not earlier. The view that the vocalisation has such historical depth and is the result of natural linguistic development is often dismissed by biblical scholars. By examining the distribution of forms within the Tiberian Masoretic version of the Hebrew Bible and in extra-biblical sources, especially the Dead Sea Scrolls and First Temple period epigraphy, Hornkohl convincingly demonstrates that the incongruity between the vocalisation and the consonantal text is earlier than Rabbinic Hebrew (second–third centuries CE).

8. Qere and Ketiv in the Exegesis of the Karaites and Saadya Gaon
Joseph Habib

Joseph Habib examines the attitudes of medieval Karaite exegetes and Saadya Gaon with regard to the qere and ketiv in the Masoretic Hebrew Bible on the basis of their commentaries and Arabic translations. Habib presents clear evidence that both Saadya and various Karaite exegetes relied on qere as well as ketiv for their exegesis. He shows that the main motivation to use one of the other as the basis of interpretation is harmonization with parallel verses.

9. Pausal Forms and Prosodic Structure in Tiberian Hebrew
Vincent DeCaen and B. Elan Dresher

Vincent DeCaen and Elan Dresher investigate the reasons that pausal forms in Tiberian Hebrew, which are expected to occur at the end of ‘intonational phrases’, at times appear where Tiberian accents are conjunctive rather than disjunctive. They challenge an earlier opinion that such mismatches represent different traditions or stages of interpreting the biblical text, maintaining instead that these mismatches are due to limitations inherent in the Tiberian system of accents.

10. Samuel ben Jacob’s Treatment of Exceptional Vocalic Shewas
Kim Phillips

Kim Phillips focuses on shewa signs that are pronounced as vocalic according to the Masoretic treatises in contexts where they would normally be expected to be silent. He examines how such shewas are represented by the scribe Samuel ben Jacob, who produced the Leningrad Codex and various other codices. The examination reveals that the scribe strove for graphic economy and was not completely consistent in the strategies that he adopted to represent the vocalic nature of the shewa in these contexts across the various manuscripts.

11. The Tiberian Tradition in Common Bibles from the Cairo Genizah
Benjamin Outhwaite

Benjamin Outhwaite examines how deviations from the standard Tiberian tradition found in ‘Common Bibles’ from the Cairo Genizah reveal the way Biblical Hebrew was pronounced by those who produced the manuscripts. Common Bibles have to date been studied far less than other biblical manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah. The study examines five fragments. It illustrates numerous deviations in notation from the standard conventions of Tiberian vocalisation and also many features that reflect a pronunciation different from that of the standard Tiberian tradition.

12. An Exploratory Typology of Near-Model and Non-Standard Tiberian Torah Manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah
Estara Arrant

Estara Arrant examines categories of Torah codices from the Cairo Genizah that have not been afforded sufficient scholarly attention, namely ‘near-model’ codices, a term coined by Arrant. The study analyses almost three hundred fragments by means of a methodology based on statistical analysis. The study shows how statistical methods can be employed to reveal sub-types of Torah fragments that share linguistic and codicological features.

13. Some Features for the Imperfect Oral Performance of the Tiberian Reading Tradition of Biblical Hebrew in the Middle Ages
Geoffrey Khan

Geoffrey Khan looks at imperfect performances of the prestigious Tiberian pronunciation tradition that are reflected in medieval Bible manuscripts. He proposes explanatory models for the development of such imperfect performances. Three factors are identified: interference of a less prestigious substrate, which he identifies as the Hebrew component of Jewish vernacular Arabic; hypercorrections; and varying degrees of acquisition of the Tiberian tradition. Khan describes these various phenomena and concludes that the imperfect performances must be datable to a period when the Tiberian pronunciation tradition was still alive and was familiar, though not perfectly, to the scribes.

14. On Some Variants in Ashkenazic Biblical Manuscripts from the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries
Élodie Attia

Élodie Attia examines the question of the relationship between early Ashkenazic Bible manuscripts and the Tiberian tradition as recorded in the earliest Tiberian manuscripts, especially the Leningrad Codex and the Damascus Pentateuch. The main Ashkenazic manuscript chosen for the study is Vat. Ebr. 14. The study challenges an earlier claim by Pérez Castro that early Ashkenazic Bible manuscripts were far removed from the Tiberian tradition in comparison with Sephardic manuscripts. Attia shows that by enlarging the corpus of Tiberian manuscripts and by including Ashkenazic manuscripts earlier than those previously studied, the relations between the two corpora appear more complex than has hitherto been believed.

15. The Prosodic Models of Andalusi Hebrew Metrics
José Martínez Delgado

José Martínez Delgado presents a detailed overview of the different models for explaining the metric system of Andalusi Hebrew poetry. The author focuses on four models, which are found in various historical documents and scholarly studies.

16. Marginalia to the Qillirian Rhyme System
Michael Rand

Michael Rand draws attention to some features in the so-called ‘Qillirian’ rhyme scheme, named after the great poet Eleazar be-Rabbi Qillir, who invented and introduced it into Hebrew piyyuṭ. In piyyuṭim with this type of rhyme, morphological elements, namely, two root consonants, form the basis of rhymes. Rand elucidates different ways in which this feature is implemented and how it may encompass both a linguistic reality and a poetic tool. Some rhymes reflect historical phonetic changes that took place in the pronunciation of Hebrew; others constitute poetic techniques. It is shown that in some cases /a/ rhymes with /e/, which is likely to reflect a phonetic reality rooted in the speech of the poets.