Hebrew text had "vowels" - John Gill

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Eoghan

Puritan Board Senior
In concluding George Ella's biography of John Gill I was intrigued to read that Gill defended the original Hebrew text as having pointing/vowels. As I have mentioned elsewhere Gill had a great familiarity with Jewish literature and was able to muster an argument with references to show pointing was present in the OT.

Starting with Christ's own familiarity with the jot and tittle (Mathew 5:18) and quoting Jerome (385) who complained of not being able to see the pointing by candlelight and Josephus as well as a host of other Jewish authorities. I had always accepted the teaching that the Hebrew was without pointing/vowels. It now seems I was wrong and pointing was there from the start.

Ptolomy Philadelphus ordered a pointed Hebrew Bible in his library 277BC (amongst other references)
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
In his "Dissertation Concerning the Antiquity of the Hebrew Language" Gill writes:

THERE have been divers opinions concerning them. Some think they are of a divine original; and others, that they are of human invention. Some suppose that they were first invented by Ben Asher and Ben Naphtali, about the year 1037; others, that they were devised by the Jews of Tiberias, 500 years after Christ at least, or however were invented after the Talmud was finished; others ascribe them to Ezra and the men of the great synagogue; who they suppose, at least revived and restored them, and fixed them to the consonants, which before were only delivered and used in a traditionary way; and others are of opinion, they were given to Moses on mount Sinai, as to the power of them in pronouncing and reading, though not as to the make and figures of them in writing, but were propagated by tradition to the times of Ezra; whilst others believe they were ab origine, and were invented by Adam together with the letters, or however that they were coeval with the letters, and in use as soon as they were: which account is most probable, may appear by tracing them step by step, from one period of time to another....​

At the end of the book he makes it quite clear which is his own opinion:

The story of Elias about the men of Tiberias merits no regard; and even that the points were annexed by Ezra, or by the men of his congregation, is mere conjecture, without any foundation; and therefore upon the whole it may be concluded, that they were originally put by the sacred penmen, Moses and the prophets.​

The difficulty, as I understand it, is that while the Hebrew manuscripts which have pointing are of a later date, the inscriptions of an earlier date do not.
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Well, certainly whatever Gill and Owen and the rest thought, doing their best with the resources at their disposal, is hardly relevant today. There is overwhelming evidence from archaeology, paleography, and comparative linguistics that early texts were unpointed. You can see what Hebrew looked like around the time of the monarchy, and it doesn't even have the same script we're used to seeing.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b7/Samaritan_Pentateuch_(detail).jpg
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Gill again:

IT has been a controversy among learned men, for a century or two past, whether the modern letters used by the Jews, and in which their sacred books are now extant, are the same in which the law and the prophets were originally written. This is denied by some, and it has been affirmed, that the original letters of the Hebrews, and in which the books of the Old Testament before the times of Ezra were written, were what are called Samaritan; and that Ezra, after the return of the Jews from the captivity in Babylon, changed these letters for the Merubbah, or square ones since in use; and in them wrote all the sacred books then in being, and gave the ancient letters to the Samaritans....​

His own view is that "it is probable that the Hebrews always had the same letters, without any material change or alteration, and which have been retained by them, and are in use to this day...."
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Something work looking at, not so much on the vowel points themselves, but on how the controversy affected the Reformed churches.

Muller, Richard A. “The Debate over the Vowel Points and the Crisis in Orthodox
Hermeneutics,” The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 10:1 (1980): 53-72.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Muller:

It should also be observed that those who contrast the Reformers’ views on the vowel points with the views of high orthodox writers like Owen, Turretin, and Heidegger in order to argue that Protestant orthodoxy deviated from the Reformation and produced a more rigid view of inspiration and infallibility have typically failed to examine the historical debate, its diversity, its course, and its result. Those high orthodox up to the time of the Formula who held for the origin of the vowel points within the canonical period not only were standing on what appeared to be reasonably solid philological ground, they were doing so for the sake of maintaining the Reformers’ hermeneutic of the analogia scripturae against an alternative hermeneutic that set aside the analogy of Scripture in favor of the exegete’s or text critic’s conjectural emendation of a passage

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation reformed dogmatics: the rise and development of reformed orthodoxy;* volume 2: the cognitive foundation of theology (2nd ed., p. 412). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Here is some information on the Hebrew vowel points and accents from the scholar Johannes Buxtorf (1564-1629). Herein are excerpts from Stephen G. Burnett’s book, From Christian Hebraism to Jewish Studies: Johannes Buxtorf (1564-1629) and Hebrew Learning in the Seventeenth Century, (Brill Academic Publishers, May 1, 1996) ISBN: 978-9004103467. I had wanted to post this earlier (like some years earlier) but the photocopy of the pertinent chapters was lost among the books and papers of my library while I was in Cyprus; when I returned to NYC in 2011 and began organizing my library again it turned up.

[Stephen G. Burnett, Ph.D. (1990) in Hebrew and Semitic Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, has published extensively on Christian Hebraism, Jewish printing, and anti-Jewish polemics in Reformation era Germany and Switzerland.]

It’s been said that Buxtorf’s writings were anti-Jewish, though it seems to me they were rather anti-rabbinic. He thought the rabbis’ referrals to Talmudic interpretations and wisdom as equal to Moses (and there are Jewish schools today that say they may supercede Moses) were outrageous. Burnett says, “In fact most of the abuse that Buxtorf hurled in [his book] Juden Schul was directed not at Jews generally, but at the rabbis, the theologians of Judaism.” (p. 60) To point out that the rabbinic view of the Torah and the interpretation of it – by means of the so-called Oral Law, the Torah she'baal'Peh – is against the God of Israel is to take a stance against the very foundations of rabbinic Judaism, and hence, anti-Jewish.

I will present Buxtorf’s position via his writings as accurately and fairly depicted by Dr. Burnett, although Burnett does not concur with his views. It may be Burnett is a secular (possibly Jewish) scholar, and is not ultimately sympathetic to Buxtorf’s theological presuppositions, though, I say again, Burnett is fair and thorough in presenting Buxtorf’s position.

I do not copy here an attempted refutation of Buxtorf by Louis Cappel as recorded in this book, both for reasons of space (and time) and because one may see in it the ongoing disputes extant even today, where presuppositions guide positions. Which is not to say that Buxtorf used only presuppositions (theological understandings), for he had mastered all the learning required to have a profound grasp of the textual, historical, and philological issues.

It is a profound loss to conservative textual students and critics that Buxtorf’s book on the vowel points and the history of the Hebrew OT text, Tiberias, has not been translated from the Latin into English! If anyone here at PB does know of such a translation, kindly share that info here!

One may also see here the foundations of the contemporary expression of the vowel point arguments, and discern the origin of certain phrases, such as “the vowels are the soul of the Hebrew words”. From hence forward the material will be from Dr. Burnett’s book, save for a few parenthetic annotations.


From Chapter Six, “A Hebrew Textus Receptus: Buxtorf and the Text of the Hebrew Bible”

(pp. 170-171, 172) While Masoretic studies were almost unknown among Christian Hebraists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many of them could use the Targums and rabbinical commentaries. A large number of translations and diglot editions of individual books of the Targum had been published for the use of the Christians after 1500, and the entire Targum had been translated into Latin and printed in the Antwerp Polyglot. Philological study of the Aramaic language, however, remained where Elias Levita left it in the mid-sixteenth century. The Christian Aramaic and Syriac grammars printed during these years were rudimentary works written for beginning students. Better educated Christian Hebraists could read medieval Hebrew and often consulted Jewish biblical commentaries. These commentaries became standard sources for Protestant commentators on the Old Testament and for Bible translators. Until Buxtorf edited the Basil rabbinical Bible edition of 1618-19, however, no single Christian scholar, Protestant or Catholic, took upon himself the task of editing the entire Hebrew Bible text with masoretic notes, Targums, and biblical commentaries. Buxtorf’s project was a truly audacious undertaking for his time.

If any Christian Hebraist of that generation was amply prepared for such a task, it was Buxtorf. As a grammarian and lexicographer, he had become sensitive to small variations in Hebrew and Aramaic vocalization. He had also worked as a corrector for a Hebrew Bible edition in 1610-11. As an instructor he used Jewish Bible commentaries frequently and also encouraged his students to do so. . .

The Basil edition of the Bomberg Biblia rabbinica was the most technically demanding of all Buxtorf’s printed works. Buxtorf [editor-in-chief] and his co-workers labored for three years to prepare the Vorlage and to print the new edition.

(p. 193) Although he did not use the term, Buxtorf believed that the Ben Hayyim biblical text was a Textus Receptus and that its Masora should reflect its phenomena.

(pp. 201-202) Buxtorf’s critical work on his rabbinical Bible edition and Hebrew Bible concordance reflects traditional Jewish masoretic scholarship, the methods of late Renaissance humanism, and the theological needs and ideals of emerging seventeenth-century Reformed orthodoxy. His acceptance of Jacob ben Hayyim’s recension of the Hebrew Bible text as the received text, preserved by the Masora, is entirely consistent with his views of the historical provenance and preservation of the Hebrew Bible text which he would later offer in his book Tiberias. Historical tradition and the masoretic apparatus together testified to its near miraculous preservation and to its absolute integrity. The Jewish Bible commentaries were a rich source for philological and sometimes theological insights to aid the interpreter in his work. The Bible concordance [his own] Buxtorf considered an improvement on the Masora, providing a more complete listing of textual minutiae for the continued preservation of the Hebrew Bible text. Buxtorf’s Biblia rabbinica and Bible concordance together contained nearly every tool that a theologian might need for serious study of the Old Testament. . .

Dogmatic considerations played an important role in how Buxtorf approached the biblical text. . . He sought to defend the integrity and authenticity of the received Hebrew Bible text, both consonants and vowels, by using Jewish scholarship. What Buxtorf implicitly assumed in his detailed work on the Hebrew Bible text he openly explained and defended in his book Tiberias.


From Chapter Seven, “Tiberias and the Vowel Point Controversy”


(p. 203) The post-Reformation arguments over the origin and antiquity of the Hebrew vowel points reveal the first indications of a shift in academic biblical studies from exegesis which treated the Bible as an internally self-consistent book of doctrine to the more strictly textual exegesis associated with modern biblical interpretation. Johannes Buxtorf played a crucial role in these debates by furnishing an historical model explaining the fixation of the entire Hebrew Bible text as he knew it—consonants, vowel points, and accents—which accorded closely with Jewish tradition and with the emerging Reformed orthodox doctrine of Scripture. [see Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 2, p. 53 –SMR]

(pp. 210-211) Buxtorf was concerned with the integrity of the consonantal text and to the origin and integrity of the vowel points and accents of the Hebrew Bible from the very beginning of his scholarly career. . . He noted that while Elias claimed that no mention of the vowel points was made in early rabbinical literature, this was contradicted by the frequent references to them in the Zohar and Sefer ha-Bahir. . .

Scaliger’s response to Buxtorf was a foretaste of the response that his theory would receive after Tiberias was published. Scaliger wrote that the Zohar was written after the Talmud and so its attestation of an early date for the vowel points was not trustworthy. He argued on the analogy of Arabic that the Hebrew vowel points were a later grammatical development. In fact, both the Jews and Samaritans read only unpointed scrolls in the Synagogue, and so were quite capable of reading unpointed Hebrew. A number of passages in the Septuagint, he added, also suggested that the Hebrew Vorlage that the translators used was unvocalized. In response to Scaliger’s arguments Buxtorf argued that Jewish tradition reported an earlier dating than the Talmud for both the Zohar and Sefer ha-Bahir. . .

(pp. 213-217) The four quotations from Jewish sources in the second part of Buxtorf’s excursus are all drawn from Levita’s Masoret. David Kimhi stated flatly in his Miklol that the vowel points had been given on Mount Sinai. R. Levi b. Joseph in his book Semadar suggested that the existence of the accents and vowel points in Moses’ day were implied in Deut. 28: 8, since it commanded that the words of the law should be written very plainly. Since, for example, the root letters [SIZE=+1]hmlv[/SIZE] could mean “wherefore, retribution, Solomon, garment or perfect,” when unpointed, pointing was necessary to make the meaning plain. The author of Instruction for the Reader too insisted that the accents were revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Finally, Moses the Punctuator suggested in his Treatise on the Vowel Points and Accents that the vowel points were given on Mount Sinai, but were forgotten until Ezra revealed them again. While Levita had not given these statements much credence and had disputed each one in turn, Buxtorf quoted them without further comment as examples of the traditional Jewish position.

Buxtorf also quoted several more narrowly theological arguments for the antiquity of the vowel points which his colleague Polanus had advanced. The essence of these points is that because Scripture was revealed by God through the prophets, “not only the sense but also the words, the vowels and accents must have been given by him, for without the vowels the words cannot be recognized, and without the accents the meaning is disturbed.” If the vowel points were essential to the meaning and were an invention of the masoretes then the Christian faith is built upon a foundation of the masoretes, rather than on the prophets. The words of Christ in Matt. 5:18 concerning the importance of the jot and tittle show that the pointing was no fifth century addition of the Tiberian Jews, but that it was known and deemed an intrinsic part of the biblical text during his lifetime. Polanus’ approach to the age and origin of the vowel points is primarily theological. Buxtorf and his critics would argue the issue on philological and historical grounds, although all were aware that their views had theological implications. While Buxtorf did not cite Polanus explicitly in his later work Tiberias he agreed with Polanus’ position and made no secret of his theological leanings.

The final positive argument for the antiquity of the vowel points addressed another aspect of the problem of textual validity; how all the proper pronunciation of the biblical text was preserved. Buxtorf questioned Levita’s contention that preserving authentic readings for the unpointed Hebrew text was a relatively simple matter while Hebrew was a living language. It took more than human ingenuity to differentiate sounds, words and verses accurately against failures of memory. The vowel points were necessary to preserve the meaning of the text and were of divine and prophetic rather than merely human origin.

Human agency in the form of institutions and scholars was, however, required to preserve accurate copies of the Bible to settle disputes and to serve as master copies for subsequent ones. Buxtorf noted that Moses commanded that a written copy of the Law be placed in the Ark as a testimony and that Hilkiah the Priest found a scroll preserved in the Temple during the reign of Josiah. Maimonides mentioned a master scroll from a much later period in his Mishneh Torah.

The copy which we have followed in these matters is the famous Codex of Egypt which contains twenty-four books, and which had been in Jerusalem for many years, in order that other codices might be corrected; and all followed it, & etc.​

Buxtorf was unable to answer the question of institutional responsibility of preservation of the Hebrew Bible satisfactorily for lack of evidence and did not address the question in his later works.

Buxtorf concluded his excursus on the vowel points with a rebuttal of Levita’s principal arguments. To refute Levita’s claim that the most ancient Jewish literature never mentions accents or vowel points Buxtorf quoted the two passages from the Zohar on the Song of Solomon and Sefer ha-Bahir which he mentioned in his letter to Scaliger, together with the references in Jewish histories on the dates of these works’ supposed authors. In Buxtorf’s explanation of the Talmudic explanation of Neh. 8: 8 he cited the commentaries of Isaac, Rashi and Rabbi Nissim which favored his position, a tactic he would repeatedly use in Tiberias. He quoted Rabbi Nissim’s interpretation of the passage in BT Haggiga to refute Levita’s third point as well. Levita’s argument using the story of Joab and his Rabbi received a shorter shrift. Buxtorf dismissed the episode as a fable unworthy of belief. The final argument, that the Aramaic names of the accents and vowels proved that Moses and the prophets could not have known of them, Buxtorf found uncompelling. They could have existed under other names and only later been given Aramaic ones.

The 1609 printing of Thesaurus Grammaticus was the only one to contain this excursus on the age of the vowel points and accents. Buxtorf explained its absence in the second edition of 1615 because it was simply too large and important a topic to be explored in such a limited space; it demanded a separate treatment. Johannes Buxtorf II confirmed that his father did not reprint this excursus because he wished to treat the matter exhaustively in another work, not because he changed his mind. Actually the elder Buxtorf did change his position on some points and certainly presented his arguments differently in Tiberias than he had in Thesaurus Grammaticus.

Tiberias is Buxtorf’s fullest and most impressive work on the history of the biblical text. He conceived it as the first of four proposed guides to the four parts of the Basel rabbinical Bible edition: Hebrew text, Targums, rabbinical Bible commentaries and Masora. It was published in 1620 in both quarto and folio formats, the latter meant to be bound with the Bible edition itself. Both editions contain the historical first section and the practical second section, but only the folio edition contains the third section of corrections to the Masora parva, magna, and finalis. . .

Tiberias was composed to be a reference work for Christian students and scholars interested in studying the Masora. . .

(pp. 219-225) Tiberias was written not only to serve as a textbook on the Masora, but also to refute Levita’s position on the age of the vowel points. Buxtorf devoted six chapters (3-9) in the first part to describing Levita’s arguments, supplying relevant historical description and offering elaborate rebuttals. Then in the next two chapters (10-11) he explained his own position, that the men of the Great Synagogue were responsible for adding the accents and vowel points. Buxtorf’s rebuttal of Levita can be divided into three parts: his sketch of Levita’s views, an historical excursus on the schools of Tiberias, and his refutation of Levita’s position in chap. 8-9. According to Buxtorf two positions on the origins of the Masora were espoused in his day: that the sages of Tiberias were its author, or that it was written by the men of the Great Synagogue. Since Levita’s argument rested partially on an historical assumption that there were flourishing schools of masoretes in Tiberias after the composition of the Babylonian Talmud, Buxtorf began his rebuttal with a review of the history of the Tiberian schools as related by Jewish historians. He gave a brief description of Tiberias, Yavneh, Sepphoris and Caesarea and their schools which is drawn mainly from the Talmud and from R. Benjamin of Tudela’s Itinerum. Then he described their gradual demise between 230, when the Palestinian Talmud was said to have been completed, and about 340 A.D. when Rabbi Hillel, the final principal of the Tiberias schools mentioned by Hebrew language histories, died. Although these histories are silent about any further activity in Tiberias they relate much about the Babylonian schools which would remain important long afterward. While Jerome mentioned a Tiberian Jewish scholar in his Preface to the Book of Chronicles (ca. 420 A.D.) this hardly proved the existence of a school there. Given the importance and prominence of the Babylonian Jewish schools for a thousand years after their decline in Palestine, Buxtorf asked, was it reasonable to assume that they would yield all claim to the preservation and pointing of the Bible to unknown scholars in provincial Palestine? Babylonian scholars were able to promote the use of the Babylonian Talmud and to relegate the Palestinian Talmud to obscurity; why were they unable to impose their authority in matters masoretic? Determining the pointing of the biblical text was, after all, not only a matter of scholarly prowess, but also as assertion of religious authority over the entire Jewish “church.” Finally, Buxtorf asked, if Elias is correct and there are many masoretes, why are only those from Tiberias mentioned? Although masoretic schools such as Levita posited would have been important enough institutions both to command the respect of those in Babylon and to catch the attention of later Jewish historians they did neither, calling their very existence into question.

After proving to his own satisfaction that Levita’s masoretic schools could not have existed after the completion of the Babylonian Talmud, Buxtorf then turned to Levita’s assumption that the Masora had to have been composed after the Talmud’s completion. He noted that the Masora is mentioned by name in at least one passage, and that another passage testifies to the existence of majusculum and minisculum letters. Still another passage credited Moses himself with the division of verses in the law, rather than to the Tiberian masoretes as Levita claimed. Although Levita attributed the elaborate gathering of statistics to the Tiberian masoretes, BT Kiddushim 30 mentions the existence of scholars who tabulated such statistics. Buxtorf also mentioned Jacob b. Hayyim’s judgment that the Masora carried higher authority than the rabbis in the Talmud where the form of the biblical text is concerned. Since the rabbis of the Talmud mentioned the Masora by name and referred to the activities of the masoretes then, Buxtorf concluded, it was reasonable to assume that the Masora was composed before the Babylonian Talmud was completed in the sixth century.

In the ninth chapter of Tiberias Buxtorf concluded his rebuttal of Levita by addressing the implications of Levita’s central contention: that the Hebrew accents and vowel points were human inventions. His position was based upon a curious mixture of philological, historical, and barely disguised theological argumentation. He began by contending that the very diversity of vocalization, use of Dagesh and Mappik and of accents did not suggest the unified results of one school of masoretes but a variety of conventions, reflecting the usages of individual biblical authors who naturally followed the vocalization practices current in their own days. In support of his contention Buxtorf listed page after page of variants punctuated by comments such as, “If the same people are authors both of the pointing and of the Masora, then why are there six exceptions to the common pointing?” Buxtorf followed this philological argument by rehearsing Levita’s reasons for dating the vowel points after the completion of the Talmud. His response was in essence the same as he used in Thesaurus Grammaticus, but contained far more quotations from both the Talmud and from its principal commentators such as R. Nissim, R. Isaac Alfassi and Rashi. He concluded by arguing for the religious necessity for divinely inspired vowel points. Countering Levita’s position that the vowel points were not necessary while Hebrew remained a living language, Buxtorf argued that without points there was no way to ensure the transmission of correct reading and vocalization. Buxtorf maintained that the vowels are the soul (anima) of textual readings, and that divinely inspired consonants alone were not enough to enable interpreters to understand the Hebrew Bible. If the vowel points were not part of the inspired biblical text then some sort of interpretive standard, an “independent judge,” was needed by interpreters to settle these problems. The Septuagint was unable to fulfill this role because it differed from the Hebrew not only in vocalization of individual words, but also in the consonantal text which lay behind it. If the vocalization of the Hebrew text were solely a work of human intellect rather than an intrinsic part of the inspired biblical text then the result would be a plethora of questions about individual verses which together could undermine the authority of the Word of God. As a Protestant, Buxtorf felt the consequences of such a position were theologically dangerous.

Elias Levita’s theory about the age of the Masora, the accents and the vowel points was unacceptable to Buxtorf for a variety of reasons. Historically there was no evidence that the schools of masoretes existed in Tiberias during the period after the completion of the Talmud, and if they had they would have been ignored by the ascendant Babylonian scholarly community. Buxtorf argued that the rabbis of the Talmud were familiar with the Masora, mentioning it by name and speaking of its various elements. The great diversity of conventions for vocalization and for accentuation suggested to Buxtorf not one school of masoretes in one location, but the many biblical authors living in different centuries. Levita’s theory also raised questions about the religious authority of the Hebrew Bible, since it suggested a greater role for the subjective human reader than Buxtorf felt appropriate. Fortunately both Jewish and Christian tradition suggested a historically more plausible and religiously more acceptable alternative for the origin of the vocalized Hebrew text.

The Men of the Great Synagogue were, according to Jewish tradition, a group of scholars and prophets led by Ezra the Scribe [and priest – SMR] in the early years after the Jew’s return from the Babylonian Captivity. Isaac Abravanel maintained that these men included, among others, the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, Zerubbabel, Mordecai, Yeshua son of Yehoshedek the Priest, Nehemiah and Ezra himself. Buxtorf drew upon not only the Talmud and later Jewish writings but also a number of Christian sources especially the Church Fathers when he described the Great Synagogue and its work. He cited Tertullian, John Chrysostom, Irenaeus, Eusebius and Augustine on the work of Ezra in restoring the Scripture. Then in a clever rhetorical move, he quoted explanations of the importance of the Great Synagogue written by Robert Bellarmine and Gilbert Génébrard, two prominent Catholic polemicists. By so doing he demonstrated that Catholic theologians too attached great importance to the work of the Great Synagogue. Génébrard, for example, thought that the Men of the Great Synagogue determined the canon and corrected the text of the canonical books where necessary. He attributed the Tikkune ha-Soferim to Ezra himself. Having established the historical and theological credentials of the Great Synagogue, Buxtorf then discussed their actual work.

The Men of the Great Synagogue were the first masoretes according to Buxtorf. They were responsible for closing the biblical canon and dividing it into the traditional three parts: Torah, Prophets and Writings. They, and not the Tiberian masoretes, were responsible for the introductions of verse divisions throughout the Bible. Although verse divisions in the Septuagint sometimes differed from the Hebrew text this was to be explained as the result of poor copying. Ezra and his colleagues also worked to guarantee the accuracy of individual words in the biblical text by correct copying, letter by letter, of the consonantal text and by correct vocalization of each word. Since they had access to the original autographs of each book (and some of them were themselves prophets) their work was entirely trustworthy. This is not to say that Buxtorf could answer every possible question about the Great Synagogue’s work from extant historical sources Tradition was unclear as to whether the (sic) Ezra and his co-workers had invented the present-day vowel points and accents themselves or whether they were invented by others and fell into disuse and were only restored by the Men of the Great Synagogue. It was also unclear whether they were responsible for numbering each letter, word and verse in each book to find in each case which one was in the middle, keeping a record of unique occurrences of words, and other such work. This statistical work began before the Talmud was written, according to BT Kiddushim. Buxtorf concluded his argument by quoting Azariah de Rossi’s Meor Enayim, Gedaliah ibn Yahya’s Shelshelet ha-Qabalah, Isaac Abravanel’s introduction to Pirke Abot, and the grammarian Profet Duran to the effect that the Men of the Great Synagogue had composed the Masora. Levita had admitted that most Jewish scholars believed that the Men of the Great Synagogue had composed the Masora and were responsible for the vowel points and accents. Buxtorf was convinced that they were correct and Levita was wrong.
 

PointyHaired Calvinist

Puritan Board Sophomore
Biggest reasons I believe vowel points came later -

1) Mesha Stele
2) Dead Sea Scrolls

No vowel points. I can accept that perhaps monuments didn't have them, but what about ancient copies of the Scripture?

Also, modern Hebrew newspapers often aren't pointed, so it's not like this has been abandoned.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Hi Johnathan,

I know there are differing views on this, even among those who hold that the Masoretic Hebrew has been providentially preserved. Back when (Biblical) Hebrew was a living language – as well the Moabite language of the Mesha Stele era – it is likely the language was well enough known where its common use did not require vowel points to be used, much as modern Hebrew today. That those to whom the preservation and copying of the Biblical text was given used it in the exemplars from which other copies were to be made (it was given to the priests – Deut 31:24-26; 31:12; 17:18), is reasonable to consider. The arguments by Johannes Buxtorf in this vein in my post above are certainly not without great merit.

There is difference of opinion among scholars as to whether the “jots and tittles” Jesus spoke of in Matt 5:18 pertain to the minutiae of the Hebrew consonants or to vowel points.

With regard to the DSS, this comment by Dr. Floyd Nolan Jones in his Chronology of the Old Testament: A Return to the Basics, is pertinent:

Actually, the Masoretic Text is the true text, not the Dead Sea Scrolls, even though the Scrolls are more than a thousand years older. The Dead Sea material was not written by the Jews who were given the charge by God to preserve and protect them. They were not of the tribe of Levi. They were Essenes, a Jewish cult of ascetics whose teachings were rife with heresies. (p. 20)​

In any case, as regards no “evidence” of vowel points before the 9th century, until the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1940s it was also asserted that we had no Old Testament mss earlier then the 8th or 9th centuries and thus could not establish the Hebrew text with certainty. A scroll could be found – from the 1st century or earlier – with vowel points, and turn things upside down as did the DSS. To argue from the lack of evidence, when there is so little representation of the manuscripts of early Hebrew, is shaky. From Canon II of THE FORMULA CONSENSUS HELVETICA:

But, in particular, the Hebrew Original of the Old Testament, which we have received and to this day do retain as handed down by the Jewish Church, unto whom formerly “were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2), is, not only in its consonants, but in its vowels—either the vowel points themselves, or at least the power of the points—not only in its matter, but in its words, inspired of God, thus forming, together with the Original of the New Testament, the sole and complete rule of our faith and life; and to its standard, as to a Lydian stone, all extant versions, oriental and occidental, ought to be applied, and where ever they differ, be conformed.​

There is some leeway there in the phrase, “or at least the power of the points”, which I take to mean that the Lord preserved the vowels in some manner, which I may not understand, but that doesn’t negate His providential working. The important thing is that the Lord did indeed preserve the Hebrew Bible, in the edition of it He wanted, with the vowels intact. This is an article of faith. We stand upon His promises.
 

PointyHaired Calvinist

Puritan Board Sophomore
I need more than condescending dismissal of the most ancient copies of the Scriptures we have found, as if Jones thinks they're not worth even wasting his time with. If anything the DSS verifies the Massoretic text, except for vowel points, and seems to back up the idea that the vowel points are no more than 2000 years old. Arguments like his will back up those who already agree, but do little to convince those who aren't sure. (And you're talking to someone who is now open to the idea that the Lord's name IS actually Yehowah!)
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I need more than condescending dismissal of the most ancient copies of the Scriptures we have found

Once you call them "Scriptures" you have already determined their canonicity apart from evidence. Why do you believe the DSS are canonical Scripture? From where have you derived your Old Testament canon?
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
I need more than condescending dismissal of the most ancient copies of the Scriptures we have found

Once you call them "Scriptures" you have already determined their canonicity apart from evidence. Why do you believe the DSS are canonical Scripture? From where have you derived your Old Testament canon?

The Dead Sea Scrolls of course contain a vast variety of different materials, but could we really dispute that amongst them are a significant number of "copies of the Scriptures"? 1QIsa a for example is very close to the Masoretic text of Isaiah. One might, of course, argue that these are poor quality copies, in the way that some argue about the earliest NT manuscripts. But it is difficult to see why people would deliberately remove existing vowel points from texts that they regarded as sacred; it is much easier to see why people would add them.

Other arguments that suggest the later addition of vowels are the addition of features like matres lectiones, that is, consonants that function to indicate the nature of the vowel. For example, the name David was originally written d-v-d; in later texts, it is more commonly spelled d-v-y-d, where the yod indicates the presence of an "i" class vowel. A quick comparison of the orthography in Kings (early) and Chronicles (later) demonstrates the point. Likewise, the common practice of "kethiv-qere", where the vowels of the word the masoretes thought you should read are attached to the consonants of a different word is hard to explain if a different set of vowels were there originally. Why not just change the whole word?

Add to that the existence of various inscriptions from a variety of early periods, all without vowels, and the evidence for the (relatively) late addition of the vowels (based, of course, on long and accurate oral tradition) seems to me to be overwhelming.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
But it is difficult to see why people would deliberately remove existing vowel points from texts that they regarded as sacred; it is much easier to see why people would add them.

Of course one should distinguish between the points as "signs" and as "sounds." As David Tsumura has shown in his commentary on 1st Samuel some difficulties in reading the MT can be resolved by a focus on its aural features.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
But it is difficult to see why people would deliberately remove existing vowel points from texts that they regarded as sacred; it is much easier to see why people would add them.

Of course one should distinguish between the points as "signs" and as "sounds." As David Tsumura has shown in his commentary on 1st Samuel some difficulties in reading the MT can be resolved by a focus on its aural features.

Matthew, I'm not following your distinction here. Can you clarify your remark for me?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Matthew, I'm not following your distinction here. Can you clarify your remark for me?

Certainly. The Reformed orthodox reject the idea that "bare letters" are the word of God. Words are symbols of meaning. A consonantal text requires vowels in order to be intelligible, and the Hebrew text was given in order to be heard. The Hebrew must have vowel "sounds" when it is read even if the vowel "signs" are not present. The Scripture's self-attestation, especially in the NT use of the OT, requires vowel sounds. The very concept of "inspired Scripture" requires the inclusion of vowel "sounds" even if they are not explicitly present in the written form of the text. On this basis the Reformed orthodox have accepted the inspiration of the pointing irrespective of archaeological evidence. To remove the pointing and leave the consonantal text in a state of neutrality is to deny the church an inspired Old Testament.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Matthew, I'm not following your distinction here. Can you clarify your remark for me?

Certainly. The Reformed orthodox reject the idea that "bare letters" are the word of God. Words are symbols of meaning. A consonantal text requires vowels in order to be intelligible, and the Hebrew text was given in order to be heard. The Hebrew must have vowel "sounds" when it is read even if the vowel "signs" are not present. The Scripture's self-attestation, especially in the NT use of the OT, requires vowel sounds. The very concept of "inspired Scripture" requires the inclusion of vowel "sounds" even if they are not explicitly present in the written form of the text. On this basis the Reformed orthodox have accepted the inspiration of the pointing irrespective of archaeological evidence. To remove the pointing and leave the consonantal text in a state of neutrality is to deny the church an inspired Old Testament.

Thanks for clarifying, though I must confess that I'm now even more confused. Who suggested that the consonantal text ever lacked vowels in the sense that you describe? Modern Hebrew script also has vowels in that sense. And since the original text of the Old Testament is the inspired Word of God, of course that inspiration includes the correct vowels that go with those consonants. However, I thought that our discussion in this thread was about the presently written vowel points. I thought (perhaps mistakenly) that this thread originated as a discussion of the idea that in the Sixteenth century some Reformed authors defended the written vowel points as belonging to the original manuscripts? And some people in this thread argued that subsequent discoveries, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and certain Hebrew inscriptions demonstrated that belief to be incorrect. Otherwise, why bring up the Dead Sea Scrolls at all, since they have no vowels and could not attest to any such tradition?

What is more, in some cases the vowels added by the masoretes direct us to read a different word than that found in the consonantal text. This may be due to changes in grammar (e.g. the use of feminine pronouns in the Pentateuch), reverence for the divine name, or because they felt that the received (consonantal) text is incorrect. One simple example would be 1 kings 17:15: did "she and he and her household eat" or was it "he and she and her household"? The vowels and the consonants don't agree. The translator has to choose between them.

As to the accurate preservation of the vowels in transmission, presumably the orthodox view is similar to that concerning the consonants of the Hebrew text. There are some places where minor errors in transmission have crept in; it is the proper task of text criticism to seek to correct those. Of course, divine preservation of the text means that no point of orthodox theology is imperiled by such challenges, and that the text that we have now, with consonants added in the late first Millennium AD by the Masoretes on the basis of traditions stretching back to the original authors, is an accurate reflection of the very Word of God.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I thought (perhaps mistakenly) that this thread originated as a discussion of the idea that in the Sixteenth century some Reformed authors defended the written vowel points as belonging to the original manuscripts? And some people in this thread argued that subsequent discoveries, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and certain Hebrew inscriptions demonstrated that belief to be incorrect. Otherwise, why bring up the Dead Sea Scrolls at all, since they have no vowels and could not attest to any such tradition?

Just to clarify, our particular offshoot commenced when the vowels per se were alleged to be unoriginal and when a brother called the DSS "Scripture."

The point of alluding to the distinction between "signs" and "sounds" is necessary in order to show that "Scripture," which carries within it the concepts of "inspiration" and "canonicity," cannot be conceived as mere unintelligible letters; the "sounds" as we have them in the MT cannot be regarded with indifference. A neutral stance in order to consider other texts and translations requires one to give up the idea of "Scripture" and to leave it in suspense while one works out one's criterion for deciding whether or not something is Scripture.

The reformed orthodox high view of Scripture presupposed the originality and integrity of the points. If one is going to challenge that presupposition one will have to commence from a vantage point other than the high view taken by the reformed orthodox.

In order to properly represent what the reformed orthodox taught on this point it might be beneficial to quote John Lightfoot, a Westminster divine, and one fully conversant with all of the critical issues related to the text of the Old Testament. He wrote:

Some there be, that think the vowels of the Hebrew were not invented for many years after Christ. Which to me seemeth to be all one, as to deny sinews to a body: or to keep an infant unswaddled, and to suffer him to turn and bend any way, till he grow out of fashion. For mine own satisfaction I am fully resolved, that the letters and vowels of the Hebrew were,—as the soul and body of a child,—knit together at their conception and beginning; and that they had both one author.... Our Saviour, in his words of one 'Iota' and one small keraia (tittle) not perishing from the law, seems to allude to the least of the letters, Jod, and the least vowel and accent." -- (Works, 4:50.)
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
I thought (perhaps mistakenly) that this thread originated as a discussion of the idea that in the Sixteenth century some Reformed authors defended the written vowel points as belonging to the original manuscripts? And some people in this thread argued that subsequent discoveries, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and certain Hebrew inscriptions demonstrated that belief to be incorrect. Otherwise, why bring up the Dead Sea Scrolls at all, since they have no vowels and could not attest to any such tradition?

Just to clarify, our particular offshoot commenced when the vowels per se were alleged to be unoriginal and when a brother called the DSS "Scripture."

The point of alluding to the distinction between "signs" and "sounds" is necessary in order to show that "Scripture," which carries within it the concepts of "inspiration" and "canonicity," cannot be conceived as mere unintelligible letters; the "sounds" as we have them in the MT cannot be regarded with indifference. A neutral stance in order to consider other texts and translations requires one to give up the idea of "Scripture" and to leave it in suspense while one works out one's criterion for deciding whether or not something is Scripture.

The reformed orthodox high view of Scripture presupposed the originality and integrity of the points. If one is going to challenge that presupposition one will have to commence from a vantage point other than the high view taken by the reformed orthodox.

In order to properly represent what the reformed orthodox taught on this point it might be beneficial to quote John Lightfoot, a Westminster divine, and one fully conversant with all of the critical issues related to the text of the Old Testament. He wrote:

Some there be, that think the vowels of the Hebrew were not invented for many years after Christ. Which to me seemeth to be all one, as to deny sinews to a body: or to keep an infant unswaddled, and to suffer him to turn and bend any way, till he grow out of fashion. For mine own satisfaction I am fully resolved, that the letters and vowels of the Hebrew were,—as the soul and body of a child,—knit together at their conception and beginning; and that they had both one author.... Our Saviour, in his words of one 'Iota' and one small keraia (tittle) not perishing from the law, seems to allude to the least of the letters, Jod, and the least vowel and accent." -- (Works, 4:50.)

Thanks for the response. That really helps to clarify the issues, though I'm not sure that Lightfoot is arguing what you seem to be suggesting. Going back to post#2 in the thread, it seems that there were three options under discussion:
1) the vowels are not original: they are a "human invention" that may come from after the time of Christ. This presumably doesn't deny that some vowels existed at the time of writing (otherwise what did Moses think he was writing?), but suggests that the present vowels are an uninspired human guess at what those original vowels were.

2) "others are of opinion, they were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, as to the power of them in pronouncing and reading, though not as to the make and figures of them in writing". Like the first view, this position agrees that the vowels were not marked on the original manuscripts, but in contrast emphasizes the fact that they were accurately handed down through the tradition, preserved by God so that at the point at which they were written in by the Masoretes they clearly reflect the divinely inspired text.

3) "others believe they were ab origine, and were invented by Adam together with the letters, or however that they were coeval with the letters, and in use as soon as they were". This view suggests that Hebrew vowel consonants and vowel points were invented by Adam (!) and were transmitted together from the pen of the divinely inspired authors.

Gill clearly favors option 3 ("upon the whole it may be concluded, that they were originally put by the sacred penmen, Moses and the prophets"). The Formula Consensus Helvetica seems to allow for option 2 or 3 ("either the vowel points themselves, or at least the power of the points...are inspired" - see post #9 for the full text). Lightfoot's position seems to be option 3 (the letters and vowels of the Hebrew were,—as the soul and body of a child,—knit together at their conception and beginning"); however, he ups the ante even further when he affirms that not only the vowel points but even the masoretic accents are divinely inspired (and were presumably written from the start.

My view is that option 3 is not plausible given modern discoveries. You seem to suggest that anyone denying that is taking option 1. Rather, I think option 2 is the proper option to take, one which is fully in conformity with historic reformed orthodoxy. Whichever option you take, you are still left with the task of believing textual criticism to establish the consonants and the vowels of the inspired autographs. In that task, copies of the Scriptures such as the 1Q Isa a scroll are useful witnesses alongside the masoretic text, not least to underscore the accuracy with which the MT has been transmitted.
 

Eoghan

Puritan Board Senior
When Jesus referred to the jot and tittle he was referring to pointing/vowels in the Hebrew text he was accustomed to use.
 

JP Wallace

Puritan Board Sophomore
Eoghan

How can you be sure that is what Jesus is referring to? In the Greek the two words are iota and keraia, those could in fact be be parts of the consonantal alphabet, I could see iota being representative of yod, and keraia (which in fact can mean hook or stroke) as being a part of many of the consonants, e.g lamech.

The meaning of the text in unaffected because Christ means us to understand the fullness of the revelation of the law does not pass away until all is fulfilled and whether his symbology is in relation to small stokes of the pen or vowel points is not of the essence of the argument. His meaning is not only will parts of the law not have continuing relevance but even the words, and not even the words, but the letters and not even the letters but the parts of the letters.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
In that task, copies of the Scriptures such as the 1Q Isa a scroll are useful witnesses alongside the masoretic text, not least to underscore the accuracy with which the MT has been transmitted.

First, If the Masoretic text is only a witness, where is the text? As noted, I think this approach leaves us without inspired Scripture. You have to suspend judgment until you find the Scripture. In reality it presupposes the vowel sounds were left to be discovered. This is not the reformed orthodox position.

Secondly, who affords the DSS the kind of status you have attributed them? In Isaiah you might very well have a great degree of collaboration; but in the books of Samuel it is not so neat and tidy. Some studies have suggested that the scribal tradition behind the DSS was trying to make sense of the MT in the same way the LXX attempted to do so. If this is the case, the DSS are not Hebrew alternatives, but a kind of modern translation.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The meaning of the text in unaffected because Christ means us to understand the fullness of the revelation of the law does not pass away until all is fulfilled and whether his symbology is in relation to small stokes of the pen or vowel points is not of the essence of the argument. His meaning is not only will parts of the law not have continuing relevance but even the words, and not even the words, but the letters and not even the letters but the parts of the letters.

Remove the vowels from the text of the ten commandments and you could come up with all sorts of things. Just as the thrice used "it is written" in chap. 4 presupposes a meaning of the text to be drawn from its pointing, so also "jot and tittle" would presuppose pointing even if it were not the direct and immediate reference of the terms.
 

JP Wallace

Puritan Board Sophomore
Remove the vowels from the text of the ten commandments and you could come up with all sorts of things. Just as the thrice used "it is written" in chap. 4 presupposes a meaning of the text to be drawn from its pointing, so also "jot and tittle" would presuppose pointing even if it were not the direct and immediate reference of the terms.

Rev. Winzer - I don't believe that's so - that it presupposes written vowels, of course what you say is correct the vowel sounds (as you explain very well earlier) are essential and have always been there - there 'value' that is. I just don't think a) the text in Matthew must refer to such and can only refer to such b) that Christ's meaning is significantly altered if it does not mean merely consonantal hooks and yods - the overall thrust is still present.

However if we have bibliographic evidence that iota and keiria were used to denote vowels, then that would change everything. I wonder did Aramaic/Hebrew at Christ's time have a vocabulary to describe the vowel sounds, e.g. patach or such, and/or a collective name like 'vowels' if so might it be supposed if Christ had meant vowels he would have said 'vowels'. Perhaps 'iota and keiria' was already in used metaphorically as we use 'jot and tittle' today, not in a technical but illustrative sense.

And having said all that - archaeological discoveries are almost certainly there to be made that will shine more light on this. Who knows that an early manuscript find will prove the early existence of pointing.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Hello Iain,

When you say (in post #16),

“What is more, in some cases the vowels added by the masoretes direct us to read a different word than that found in the consonantal text. This may be due to changes in grammar (e.g. the use of feminine pronouns in the Pentateuch), reverence for the divine name, or because they felt that the received (consonantal) text is incorrect. One simple example would be 1 kings 17:15: did ‘she and he and her household eat’ or was it ‘he and she and her household’? The vowels and the consonants don't agree. The translator has to choose between them.”​

which edition of the Hebrew OT are you using?
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Hello Iain,

When you say (in post #16),

“What is more, in some cases the vowels added by the masoretes direct us to read a different word than that found in the consonantal text. This may be due to changes in grammar (e.g. the use of feminine pronouns in the Pentateuch), reverence for the divine name, or because they felt that the received (consonantal) text is incorrect. One simple example would be 1 kings 17:15: did ‘she and he and her household eat’ or was it ‘he and she and her household’? The vowels and the consonants don't agree. The translator has to choose between them.”​

which edition of the Hebrew OT are you using?

I generally use BHS, which is principally based on Codex Leningradensis, as you know. But the kethiv-Qere in 1 Kings 17:15 is similarly present in an old Jewish Bible I have from 1924, which probably comes from another text type. There are some places where the pointing varies among the Hebrew manuscripts, but in general the same issues are present throughout.

iain
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I wrote to Dr. Chester W. Kulus, author of, One Tittle Shall In No Wise Pass: Destroying the Scholarly Myth That God Did Not Inspire the Vowels of the Old Testament (The Old Paths Publications, Inc., February 2, 2009; ISBN: 978-0982060872), and asked him his thoughts with regard to 1 Kings 17:15 in the text of Jacob ben Chayyim's 1524-1525 2nd Rabbinic Bible, that text which underlies the Hebrew of the AV, and he graciously answered me,

In Matthew 5:18 Jesus gave a promise, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” In this verse the word jot refers to the smallest consonant of the Hebrew alphabet, yodh. Tittle refers to the smallest vowel in the Hebrew alphabet, chirek, which is just a dot. Jesus hereby certifies that the vowels and consonants are part of the Hebrew Old Testament text and would continue until all is fulfilled. What this means is that both consonants and vowel-points are inspired. The vowel-points are not something that man added to the inspired text, but are part of the inspired text.

What is written in the Traditional Hebrew Masoretic text are the preserved, inspired words of God. In addition to copying the Words of God, the Masoretes wrote notes in the margins. What the Masoretes wrote in the margins are similar to the notes found in the margin of your King James Bible. The notes are not part of the Words of God. The notes may help you to understand the Bible but they are not the Bible itself. And so the Masoretes faithfully copied the written text and put explanatory notes in the margin. We follow the written text and do not use the margin notes to overthrow the written text.

In reference to I Kings 17:15 the written text is [SIZE=+1]aYh±w"-awhi[/SIZE]. The translation of these words is accurate in the King James Version as she and he. These are alternate spellings for these words. For instance, sometimes the word for she is spelled [SIZE=+1]ayhi([/SIZE]. In reference to the spelling for the word she ([SIZE=+1]awhi[/SIZE]) in I Kings 17:15, many verses in the Pentateuch use the same spelling: Genesis 3:12, 20; 4:22; 7:2; 10:12; 12:14, 18, 19; 14:7, 8; 19:20, 38; 20:2, 5, 12; 22:20, 24; 23:2, 15, 19; 24:44; 25:21; 26:7, 9; 27:38; 29:9, 25; 32:19; 34:14; 35:6, 19, 20, 27; 37:32; 38:16, 21, 25; 43:32; 47:6; 48:7; Exodus 8:15; 22:26; 31:13, 14, 17; Leviticus 2:6, 15; 5:12; 6:2, 10, 18, 22; 10:12, 13, 17; 11:6, 26; 13:4, 8, 11, 12, 22, 23, 25, 27, 28, 42, 52, 55, 57; 14:44; 15:3, 23, 25; 17:11, 14; 18:7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 22; 20:14, 21; 22:12; 23:3, 36; 25:10, 11, 12, 33; 27:4; Numbers 5:28; 8:4; 13:18, 19, 20, 27, 32,; 14:8; 15:25; 18:19; 19:9; 21:6, 26; 32:4; 33:36; Deuteronomy 2:20; 3:11; 4:6; 11:10; 20:20; 24:4; 30:11, 12, 13.

While the spelling in I Kings 17:15 may not be the usual spelling, yet it is an acceptable spelling.​


[end Kulus]

--------

I found another contemporary defense of the authenticity of the vowel points by Thomas Daniel Ross,

Evidences for the Inspiration of the Hebrew Vowel Points

The Debate over the Inspiration of the Hebrew Vowel Points


His site is, Theological Compositions

--------

P.S. I don't want to make this a big debate (I'm quite busy at present), but rather to show that those who use the King James and other Reformation-era Bibles may have confidence in the Hebrew text they are based on (as well the Greek).
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
I wrote to Dr. Chester W. Kulus, author of, One Tittle Shall In No Wise Pass: Destroying the Scholarly Myth That God Did Not Inspire the Vowels of the Old Testament (The Old Paths Publications, Inc., February 2, 2009; ISBN: 978-0982060872), and asked him his thoughts with regard to 1 Kings 17:15 in the text of Jacob ben Chayyim's 1524-1525 2nd Rabbinic Bible, that text which underlies the Hebrew of the AV, and he graciously answered me,

In Matthew 5:18 Jesus gave a promise, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” In this verse the word jot refers to the smallest consonant of the Hebrew alphabet, yodh. Tittle refers to the smallest vowel in the Hebrew alphabet, chirek, which is just a dot. Jesus hereby certifies that the vowels and consonants are part of the Hebrew Old Testament text and would continue until all is fulfilled. What this means is that both consonants and vowel-points are inspired. The vowel-points are not something that man added to the inspired text, but are part of the inspired text.

What is written in the Traditional Hebrew Masoretic text are the preserved, inspired words of God. In addition to copying the Words of God, the Masoretes wrote notes in the margins. What the Masoretes wrote in the margins are similar to the notes found in the margin of your King James Bible. The notes are not part of the Words of God. The notes may help you to understand the Bible but they are not the Bible itself. And so the Masoretes faithfully copied the written text and put explanatory notes in the margin. We follow the written text and do not use the margin notes to overthrow the written text.

In reference to I Kings 17:15 the written text is [SIZE=+1]aYh±w"-awhi[/SIZE]. The translation of these words is accurate in the King James Version as she and he. These are alternate spellings for these words. For instance, sometimes the word for she is spelled [SIZE=+1]ayhi([/SIZE]. In reference to the spelling for the word she ([SIZE=+1]awhi[/SIZE]) in I Kings 17:15, many verses in the Pentateuch use the same spelling: Genesis 3:12, 20; 4:22; 7:2; 10:12; 12:14, 18, 19; 14:7, 8; 19:20, 38; 20:2, 5, 12; 22:20, 24; 23:2, 15, 19; 24:44; 25:21; 26:7, 9; 27:38; 29:9, 25; 32:19; 34:14; 35:6, 19, 20, 27; 37:32; 38:16, 21, 25; 43:32; 47:6; 48:7; Exodus 8:15; 22:26; 31:13, 14, 17; Leviticus 2:6, 15; 5:12; 6:2, 10, 18, 22; 10:12, 13, 17; 11:6, 26; 13:4, 8, 11, 12, 22, 23, 25, 27, 28, 42, 52, 55, 57; 14:44; 15:3, 23, 25; 17:11, 14; 18:7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 22; 20:14, 21; 22:12; 23:3, 36; 25:10, 11, 12, 33; 27:4; Numbers 5:28; 8:4; 13:18, 19, 20, 27, 32,; 14:8; 15:25; 18:19; 19:9; 21:6, 26; 32:4; 33:36; Deuteronomy 2:20; 3:11; 4:6; 11:10; 20:20; 24:4; 30:11, 12, 13.

While the spelling in I Kings 17:15 may not be the usual spelling, yet it is an acceptable spelling.​


[end Kulus]

--------

I found another contemporary defense of the authenticity of the vowel points by Thomas Daniel Ross,

Evidences for the Inspiration of the Hebrew Vowel Points

The Debate over the Inspiration of the Hebrew Vowel Points


His site is, Theological Compositions

--------

P.S. I don't want to make this a big debate (I'm quite busy at present), but rather to show that those who use the King James and other Reformation-era Bibles may have confidence in the Hebrew text they are based on (as well the Greek).

Hi Steve,
I don't particularly want to prolong this either, but your friend's comments above seem confused, and in many ways reinforce the point that I am making. These are clearly not simply interchangeable spellings for "he" and "she"; the combination of the consonants of "he" with the vowels of "she" is unpronounceable in hebrew, and vice versa. It is true that in the early hebrew represented by the Pentateuch, with a handful of exceptions, the 3rd person feminine pronoun is not distinguished from the masculine in the consonantal text (hence the masoretic corrections throughout the Pentateuch, which further illustrate my point). However, 1 Kings 17 is not part of the Pentateuch and the example does not use a masculine pronoun for the feminine but includes both. The consonants suggest one order (she and he); the vowels, which here correspond exactly with the consonants in the marginal note) suggest the opposite order. Since the vowels in the text go with the consonants in the margin, if the marginal text is uninspired, so too must the vowel points be.

Again, the fundamental problem lies in not recognizing that there are three distinct positions, as I demonstrated earlier:

1) the vowels are not original: they are a "human invention" that may come from after the time of Christ. This presumably doesn't deny that some vowels existed at the time of writing (otherwise what did Moses think he was writing?), but suggests that the present vowels are an uninspired human guess at what those original vowels were. This would be essentially what we do with the original writings from the Qumran community. There are no vowels written in, so scholars have to recreate them. This actually isn't that hard if you know Hebrew well, but I can understand why we as Christians might be uncomfortable with this view.

2) "others are of opinion, they were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, as to the power of them in pronouncing and reading, though not as to the make and figures of them in writing". Like the first view, this position agrees that the vowels were not marked on the original manuscripts, but in contrast emphasizes the fact that they were accurately handed down through the tradition, preserved by God so that at the point at which they were written in by the Masoretes they clearly reflect the divinely inspired text.

3) "others believe they were ab origine, and were invented by Adam together with the letters, or however that they were coeval with the letters, and in use as soon as they were". This view suggests that Hebrew vowel consonants and vowel points were invented by Adam (!) and were transmitted together from the pen of the divinely inspired authors.

I am not arguing position 1) but position 2). That the God-inspired vowels were not written down in the original text but were accurately passed down orally, so that when the masoretes came to add them, the vowels they wrote down were accurately recorded. In some cases, as in the Pentateuch, they clearly updated the original vowels of the text to reflect contemporary Hebrew usage in terms of feminine pronouns. I don't know why that is controversial among people who would allow the English Bible translations to reflect customary patterns of English speech (you vs thou). Elsewhere, as in 1 Kings 17, the masoretes are quite clearly doing (believing) text criticism, of the kind that we all believe to be appropriate (unless you simply choose to baptize a single manuscript - not all of the majority text manuscripts are the same). In most cases, as here, no point of doctrine is at stake.

It is possible that the vowel points are earlier than the documents that we presently have. It may be that future archaeological discoveries may shed more light on this issue. But for now, the evidence seems overwhelming to me that the original manuscripts did not have written vowel points - and that that shouldn't cause us to lose any sleep about the reliability of our Biblical texts. With the Formula Consensus Helvetica, I think that that is a responsibly Reformed position.
 
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