The Quiescents (Or Vowel-Letters) יוה in Ancient Hebrew Orthography

D. Chwolson, T. K. Abbott
1890 Hebraica  
I. It may be affirmed a priori that the Hebrews originally did not use these letters in the middle or at the end of words any more than the Phoenicians, of whom we know positively that it was only at a comparatively late period and gradually that the vowel letters were introduced amongst them. In these is, in our judgment, absolutely no ground for supposing that the Hebrews, who used the same alphabet as the Phoenicians, and who spoke a language hardly differing from theirs except
more » ... xcept dialectically, employed an orthography peculiar to themselves alone. Nor can it be supposed that the ancient IHebrews, at the time when the Hebrew tongue was still living, would have had a greater need than the Phoenicians to make their writing more distinct. Even the arbitrary way in which one and the same word is written often in the same chapter, we mean the arbitrary scriptio plena and defectiva (in which chiefly the Samaritan text of the Pentateuch differs from the Massoretic recension and in which consist most of the variants in the Hebrew MSS.)-this circumstance alone, we say, clearly points to the fact that the introduction of the vowel letters, at least that of the letters , and j in the middle of the word, belongs to a relatively later time and that the use of them in many cases depended on the arbitrary choice of the scribes. We have, however, other positive proofs that the vowel letters "If, even at the end of the word, were originally not written, so that in the ancient texts it was not possible to distin-* The essay of which the following is a translation appeared in Vol. II. of Travaux de la 3e session du Congris international des O ientalistes. As it possesses considerable importance, and is frequently referred to, but is rarely met with, I have thought that it would be doing Hebrew students a service to make the contents more widely accessible. Prof. Chwolson has favored me with a copy containing his own additional notes and corrections. It ought to be mentioned that the thesis here maintained, namely, that the Hebrew text had originally no vowel letters, was propounded by Dr. Chas. Wmin. Wall, of Trinity College, Dublin, so long ago as 1835. His work, On the Ancient Orthography of the Jews (in which he treated largely of Egyptian and Assyrian writing), extended to five octavo volumes, the first published in the year mentioned, and the last under a separate title in 1857 (Proofs of the Interpretation of the Vowel-Letters in the Text of the Hebrew Bible, and Grounds thence derived for a Revision of the Authorized English Version). Dr. Wall's style was excessively prolix, and the work was besides so voluminous and expansive, that it attained only a moderate circulation. The first four volumes indeed may be considered obsolete, but the fifth contains interesting suggestions, though tediously discussed. Whatever credit is due to priority in the matter, let it be his.-TRANSLATOR. This content downloaded from on August 24, 2016 15:21:28 PM All use subject to University of Chicago Press Terms and Conditions ( 90 HEBRAICA. guish, e. g., the 1st per. sing. Perf. from the 2d, and the 3d per. sing. from the 3d per. plur. Perf. and Imperf. It is well known that there exists in the Old Testament many parallel passages which either depend directly one on the other, or are derived from one and the same source; and yet there are found in these parallel passages many differences which cannot be referred to the interchange of similar letters and which find their explanation in the ambiguity of the ancient orthography, arising from the absence of vowel letters. I. The , in the suffix of the 1st per. sing. Perf. ' , was originally, as in the Phoenician (nff•) = 'J•*' ), not written. Hence in 2 Kgs. 18:20, we have it• 1 31 8 f~ i J , but in Isa. 36:5 tfnK . As the ( at the end was originally not written, it was hard to discover from the connection whether the 1st or 2d per. was to be read here; for one gives as suitable a sense as the other; one, therefore, read p**)O and the other pjig .* In Jer. 6:15 we have 91)f, Dty..*_ py D'g . •'•' ??. In 8:12 this verse is repeated almost verbatim-indeed, the only variant is one which, as we shall presently see, also finds its explanation in the ancient orthography--and there we have D~Pnf 9 ? . What was originally written there was DT1'*), which the one read 9D*T")P , and the other o T'T . It is, as we shall see, particularly deserving of notice that this variant occurs in one and the same book.
doi:10.1086/369080 fatcat:hewupm5ajvhnninl4r72cudhmu