Hebrew Vowel Points in Question

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CalvinandHodges

Puritan Board Junior
Greetings:

On a previous thread Mr. Taylor West indicated that there are legitimate reasons why the Hebrew Vowel Points should be considered non-inspired. His exact words were:

The problem with such thinking is this, now that it is proven beyond doubt that the Hebrew vowel points did come many many centuries after the originals, John Owen is left with nothing to believe.
I would like to see the arguments that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Hebrew vowel points came many centuries after the originals. The standard arguments against the vowel points being inspired have been well answered by Peter Whitfield - a summary of his book can be found here: A Dissertation on the Hebrew Vowel-Points

I am not aware of any new arguments which prove the non-inspiration of the vowel points. I would be all ears (or eyes) to read such new arguments.

Those who do argue that the vowel points were invented by the Masorites in the Nineth Century A.D. seem to think that the vowel points are not inspired because they were invented at such a late date. Even if the vowel points were created at such a late date - this does not mean that the vowels they represent are not inspired. Vowels are necessary in order for a language to be spoken, and the vowels were present in the consonantal text as a matter of oral tradition (assuming that there were no pointed texts prior to 800 A.D.). The text would have to be pronounced. It would reasonably follow that the Masoretes did not invent the vowel system, but simply codified the pronunciation of the text.

As far as John Owen is concerned: His emphasis was upon the inspiration of the vowel points rather than on when precisely they did appear:

As has been said, it is the opinion of some great scholars that Ezra and his colleagues, in giving close atttention to the Holy Scriptures, devised and employed the vowel-points for a language which before had consisted only of twenty-two consonant letters. Others maintain that the points were coeval with the letters. The latter is a view that I would not oppose, although I would see no reason to defend it against all comers, provided only that those who ascribe to pointing to Ezra also allso them to have had a divine (inspired) origin. The view whcih I intend to support and defend in this Digression is that the system of Hebrew vowel-points which we now enjoy by the grace of God cannot be attributed to anyone later than the time of Ezra, and (what amounts to the same thing) that they had a divine and infallible origin, John Owen, Biblical Theology, (Pittsburgh: Soli Deo Gloria, 1994), 495.
Since Owen's major concern was that the Hebrew vowel points are a part of the inspired text - I would suggest that Owen had everything to believe.

Blessings,

Rob
 
Last edited:

Hebrew Student

Puritan Board Freshman
CalvinandHodges,

I would like to see the arguments that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Hebrew vowel points came many centuries after the originals.

Simple, we have examples of the Biblical text from the time of the monarchy, and there are no vowel points. In fact, it is not even written in the same script; it is written in an Old Hebrew [aka paleohebrew] script. Not only do we have these two silver amulets containing Biblical texts, one with the Aaronic blessing, and one with a text from Deuteronomy, but we also have several other monumental and funerary inscriptions from the time period of the monarchy that are written in this Old Hebrew script that has no vowel pointing. I have had the opportunity of studying several of these inscriptions here at Trinity, some via high definition photo databases such as Inscriptifact, and some in the context of drawings. Here is an example of a text from the time of Hezekiah with the Hebrew letters emphasized, and here is a high quality photograph of the same inscription. The Bible tells us that Hezekiah built a tunnel in order to bring water into Jerusalem during the siege of Jerusalem. We have found this tunnel, and this dedicatory inscription, which was made at the time of the breach, was likewise found there. The inscription now sits in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

As you can see from looking at these photographs, the script is very distinctive, and quite different that texts in a modern Hebrew Bible. Most importantly, it lacks any vowel pointing at all. In fact, it is due to the discovery of this script that we now know why many variants came into the textual tradition of the Hebrew Bible, such as the confusion between a dalet and a bet, the confusion between a resh and a bet, and the confusion between a gimel and a pe, all of which exist in the Hebrew Bible, and which are difficult to confuse in the modern script, but are easily confuse in the paleohebrew script.

John Owen had no knowledge of these things, as all of the Northwest Semitic Inscriptions were discovered after his death. Knowing the kind of man he was, I am sure he would have had no objection to using these inscriptions to better understand the history of the Hebrew language.

Now, also, the inerrancy of the vowel pointings are likewise really hard to maintain. There are passages in the MT, such as Proverbs 25:27b, that are completely unintelligible. There are other passages, such as Genesis 49:10c, have places where the MT vowel pointing is clearly in error. The translation of that phrase is "until Shiloh comes..." which makes no sense. However, understanding Paleohebrew, as well as other Northwest Semitic dialects such as Ugaritic, one quickly recognizes the Hebrew term bo' being used with shy and lh. The MT clearly did not divide the text properly into words, nor did it use the correct vowels. The Hebrew term <i>shy</i> is a common word in Northwest Semitic meaning something like "tribute," a word commonly used of inferiors bringing offerings to superiors. Also, in paleohebrew, the he could be used as both a 3ms suffix as well as a 3fs suffix. The difference was between a holem he [3ms] and a qamets he [3fs]. Also, the reading of Shiloh with a hiriq yod is not the way in which Shiloh is spelled in any other place in the Hebrew Bible. Hence, because of the common usage in other Northwest Semitic dialects of this phrase, and because of the awkwardness of the reading "until Shiloh comes," almost everyone says that the text should instead read, "until a tribute is brought to him." There is one other view, but it likewise rejects the MT understanding of the passage.

Also, in 1 Samuel 8:16, you have the MT reading we'et bachurekem hattob "and your choice young men," whereas the LXX reads ta boukolia humon ta agatha. The confusion here is between the Hebrew terms bachur and baqar. A het and a qoph are easily confused because of their similarities in sound. Also, it was fairly common for internal maters to not be written, hence, the absence of the shureq. However, a quick look at the text will show that the MT is in error here. Why? Because we have just gotten done speaking of a logical pair, namely, male servants and female servants. The phrase "choice young men and donkeys" is hard to see as a logical pair, but the phrase "cattle and donkeys" certainly can be seen as a logical pair. Hence, the MT's vocalization is entirely wrong here, and the Septuagint is probably correct.

It gets worse, though. The problem is that paleohebrew's orthography is different from the orthography of a modern Hebrew Bible. One can see, for example, the usage of the holem he for the 3ms only very rarely in Biblical Hebrew, but it is relatively common in paleohebrew. Also, there were dialectical differences between the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom no longer reflected in the Hebrew Bible. For example, the normal Hebrew term for "year" in the northern dialect was sht, a term not used in the Hebrew Bible, while the southern dialect used the common word that we find in the Hebrew Bible shnh. Also, it is almost certain that certain diphthongs had not yet contracted to form the vowels that we find in the MT. For example, the MT will generally mark a waw that is used for a vowel as a holem waw. However, at this early period in time, it was probably not a holem waw, but, rather, a patach and a waw. These two letters would later contract to an "o" sound, but it is clear from the data of these inscriptions that this had not happened yet. This is likewise true of other diphthongs. Hence, the text underwent updating over time in order to make it more readable to the general populous. As the Hebrew language changed, so did word forms so that people from all ages could understand the word of God.

Now, after saying all of this, I do recognize that the Masorites were passing along a tradition, and a very accurate one at that. Were it not for the Masorites, we would have no clue as to how the Hebrew vowel system works. However, that does not make their traditions somehow inerrant. As other Northwest Semitic inscriptions come in, and our knowledge of other Semitic languages such as Akkadian and Ugaritic starts increasing, we need to use this information to produce ever more accurate understandings of the Hebrew text than was expressed by the Masorites.

God Bless,
Adam
 

Hebrew Student

Puritan Board Freshman
I just wanted to correct a mistake I made. I should have said that Shiloh is not <i>normally</i> spelled with a hiriq yod, not that it doesn't occur elsewhere. While it does occur, this spelling is, by far, not the norm.

God Bless,
Adam
 

CalvinandHodges

Puritan Board Junior
Hi:

When Jesus was asked to read from the Law, Luke 4:17-20, how was He to read aloud without any vowels?

Blessings,

Rob
 

Hebrew Student

Puritan Board Freshman
CalvinandHodges,

When Jesus was asked to read from the Law, Luke 4:17-20, how was He to read aloud without any vowels?


Languages are first spoken before they are written. The Hebrew vowels were first spoken. However, when the language started being written, only the consonants were written down, and the way in which the vowels within the language worked was passed along by tradition long before the vowels were written down. Hence, if Jesus read from the Hebrew [I know that, most of the time, the NT writers quoted the Septuagint. Not sure about here, though], he would have known the vowels simply because he knew the language. Once you get into epigraphic Hebrew, or even the Qumranic material you can no longer rely upon the vowel pointings to guide you. You have to remember what vowels go between which consonants according to the rules of Hebrew morphology and the context if you are going to read it. Now, you might say, "That is hard." Indeed, it is. However, people who knew Hebrew and Aramaic well [as Jesus obviously did], could do it very easily because they had been doing it since they were a child, and also because they learned to speak those languages as their first primary language. [Unfortunately, students have to struggle].

In fact, this is an improvement over older systems of writing. Akkadian, for example, has around 750 signs that could indicate a syllable, an entire word, or could be a determinative, telling the nature of the word just mentioned. Also, many of the signs are homophonic, many of them can serve two different purposes, and many of them can indicate up to six different possible syllables. Only context can tell you which of those things any given individual sign is indicating. That is a far more complex system of writing to learn then simply remembering where the vowels go, wouldn't you say? That is why purely consonantal alphabets were formed, because indicating the vowels became way too tedious, and the Hebrews, Phoenicians, the people from Ugarit, the Moabites, and the Ammonites started using an alphabet wherein they would only indicate the consonants in order to simplify the writing down from the 700+ signs found in Akkadian.

God Bless,
Adam
 

PointyHaired Calvinist

Puritan Board Sophomore
To this day, If I recall correctly a LOT of signs in Israel and even Israeli newspapers don't have printed vowels, and they seem to do just fine. As I read somewhere when discussing no vowel pointing, "TH PRSN WH CNNT RD THS SNTNC HS RCKS N HS HD." For those who think the vowel points are ancient, explain to me why all the artifacts and ancient Hebrew manuscripts we have found so far are missing them. (E.g. the Dead Sea Scrolls and the aforementioned examples of artifacts.)
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
If I'm not mistaken, the point of those who defend the inspiration of the vowel points is not overthrown by noting that ancient artifacts and manuscripts do not have them. To take the illustration of the vowelless sentence given above:
TH PRSN WH CNNT RD THS SNTNC HS RCKS N HS HD

There is a correct way to read that. It would be wrong to read:
THou PaRSoN WHy CaNaaNiTe RoaD THeSe SaNeTooNiCe HiS RaCKS oN HouSe HaD

(Much though that reading might appeal to Joshua, it has obvious logical problems.)

So though the vowels are not represented by any signs, they are virtually present. An edition of the text which specifies what was virtually present, does not detract from the inspiration of it, as long as the specification is accurate.

FRTHR, THS FFNT STH NT.
 

DMcFadden

Puritanboard Commissioner
So though the vowels are not represented by any signs, they are virtually present. An edition of the text which specifies what was virtually present, does not detract from the inspiration of it, as long as the specification is accurate.

But, isn't that the point? There are passages where the MT seems to be in manifest error BECAUSE of how the Masoretes syllabified the text. Besides, there are places where one may raise a legitimate difference of opinion as to what was intended: Cf. Godisnowhere = God is now here OR God is nowhere. Much like the analogy of our translations today, the Masoretic scholars selected one option over another and thus imposed an interpretation upon the text which may not have been the intention of the divine author (or the human one).

Jonathan beat me to the point about the newspapers in Israel. If memory serves me (5 trips to Israel over the years), it is actually more common to see unpointed Hebrew in Israel than to see it pointed.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The fact is, the God given oracle was not confined to the consonantal text, as is clear from New Testament references to what is written, which includes the acceptance of vowel points in order to arrive at the proper meaning of the consonantal text.
 

Hebrew Student

Puritan Board Freshman
armourbearer,

The fact is, the God given oracle was not confined to the consonantal text, as is clear from New Testament references to what is written, which includes the acceptance of vowel points in order to arrive at the proper meaning of the consonantal text.

The problem is that the Jews at the time of Jesus did not have vowel pointings in their text as the Dead Sea Scrolls showed us. Also, as the Septuagint indicates, there were different understandings of how to point the vowels even before the time of Christ. So, how could a Jew living in 50BC or even 50AD know the correct meaning of the text if we need vowel pointing to arrive at the correct meaning? Also, what do you do when the vowel pointing in the MT creates something that is totally unintelligible, or something that is totally nonsensical in the context?

There is virtually no one today who defends the inerrancy of the vowel pointings. The only reason why the Puritans did it is because they did not have access to the Northwest Semitic Inscriptions, nor to Akkadian, nor to Ugaritic. Had someone like John Owen had access to this information, the way in which he stressed continuing to grow and learn, I can almost be rest assured that he would be in agreement with my perspective on this issue.

God Bless,
Adam
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The problem is that the Jews at the time of Jesus did not have vowel pointings in their text as the Dead Sea Scrolls showed us.

That is quite a leap. But supposing this were warranted by the evidence, the fact is that the vowel "sounds" would be understood as a part of the written word of God even if the vowel "signs" were not yet developed. If we approach the Old Testament as the inspired and preserved word of God, as we should, then vocalisation cannot be regarded as some kind of secondary and hypothetical study; our appeal to the OT must incoporate vocalisation as part and parcel of the canon.

Also, as the Septuagint indicates, there were different understandings of how to point the vowels even before the time of Christ.

First, the "Septuagint," what is that? Secondly, the idea that the so-called "Septuagint" reflects a variety of vocalisation. Thirdly, that the Septuagint is in any sense authoritative for those who believe the Old Testament Hebrew has been preserved in its purity. There is so much conjecture, assumption, and generalisation entailed in such a statement I will just have to pass it by.

So, how could a Jew living in 50BC or even 50AD know the correct meaning of the text if we need vowel pointing to arrive at the correct meaning?

Please read Matthew 4. Our Lord's appeal to what is written required more than the consonantal text provides. The doctrine of the inspiration and canon of the Old Testament is based in most part on the New Testament appeal to the Old Testament. If that is the case, we are not at liberty to ignore the fact that the New Testament accepts the vocalisation of the Old Testament text as authoritative.

Also, what do you do when the vowel pointing in the MT creates something that is totally unintelligible, or something that is totally nonsensical in the context?

I learn the lesson of Job and refrain from uttering that which I do not understand.

There is virtually no one today who defends the inerrancy of the vowel pointings. The only reason why the Puritans did it is because they did not have access to the Northwest Semitic Inscriptions, nor to Akkadian, nor to Ugaritic. Had someone like John Owen had access to this information, the way in which he stressed continuing to grow and learn, I can almost be rest assured that he would be in agreement with my perspective on this issue.

John Owen tells us what he thought: "For my own part I should need to be completely overwhelmed by sound reasons before I parted with any portion of my heritage, and even then it would be with extreme reluctance" (Biblical Theology, 500). I don't believe the good doctor would be taken in by the chain of conjectural reasoning which has led to the displacement of the true and certain text of the Old Testament Scriptures.
 

The Sola System

Puritan Board Freshman
Archaeological discoveries of early non-pointed texts falls short of proving that the pointing is not ancient, since the existence of non-pointed texts in our own day fails to demonstrate that we have no pointed texts on hand as well.

The invention of the points would most logically come when biblical hebrew made the transition from a vulgar language to an unspoken language used exclusively or primarily in biblical studies. It is reasonable that the vocalizations would be "understood" without pointing prior to this transition. However, after this transition, a lack of pointing would cause the interpretation of Scripture to depend entirely upon oral tradition, thus compromising the very heart of the Old Testament as sacred WRITING (rather than oral tradition). The Masoretes often use aramaic in their notes, indicating that Hebrew was not their vulgar tongue. How then could they instinctively know the pronunciation, unless they were relying upon (fallible!) oral tradition(s). For this reason, it is more likely the the vowel points were devised in the days of (the inspired scribe) Ezra, when the Israelites came back from captivity and would have needed this extra linguistic aid in the text.

Jesus said that neither a "iota" (i.e. yod) or "keraiah" (i.e. chireq) would disappear from the law. How could a 'chireq' fail to disappear if it had not even been invented yet?
 

Hebrew Student

Puritan Board Freshman
armourbearer,

That is quite a leap. But supposing this were warranted by the evidence

What makes you think that is isn't warranted by the evidence? Do you somehow believe that the dead sea scrolls have vowel pointing when I can link directly to a photo of one of the dead sea scrolls which clearly has no vowel pointing?

the fact is that the vowel \"sounds\" would be understood as a part of the written word of God even if the vowel \"signs\" were not yet developed. If we approach the Old Testament as the inspired and preserved word of God, as we should, then vocalisation cannot be regarded as some kind of secondary and hypothetical study; our appeal to the OT must incoporate vocalisation as part and parcel of the canon.

Not at all. When the confessions talk about the word of God being preserved, they are referring to the doctrines of the text, not anything having to do with vowel pointing. For example, if I say to you, "Can I have a word with you?", you don't think that I am only going to speak one word and then leave! You take that to mean, "I have *something* to tell you.

Also, can you demonstrate that at the Westminster Assembly there was any discussion of vowel pointing of Hebrew texts? Can you demonstrate that there was ever any discussion of textual variants within the Hebrew Bible? If not, don't you think it is taking them grossly out of context to argue that they had some theory like you are suggesting? Hence, that is why I can affirm what Jesus says in Matthew 4:4, because I don't believe he is talking about vowel pointing or textual variants. I believe he is talking about the purposes of God. Interestingly enough, John Calvin agrees with that interpretation:

The word does not mean doctrine, but the purpose which God has made known, with regard to preserving the order of nature and the lives of his creatures. Having created men, he does not cease to care for them: but, as “he breathed into their nostrils the breath of life,” (Genesis 2:7,) so he constantly preserves the life which he has bestowed. In like manner, the Apostle says, that he “upholdeth all things by his powerful word,” (Hebrews 1:3;) that is, the whole world is preserved, and every part of it keeps its place, by the will and decree of Him, whose power, above and below, is everywhere diffused. Though we live on bread, we must not ascribe the support of life to the power of bread, but to the secret kindness, by which God imparts to bread the quality of nourishing our bodies. [Harmony of the Gospels]

Secondly, it is absolutely untrue that the vowel points were preserved in the sense you are speaking, as even the Masoretic texts have differences between them. Consider, for example, that the systems of Ben Asher and Ben Naftali spelled the bet preposition on yisra'el differently. In the Ben Asher tradition, the shewa remains under the bet, and the yod simply has a hiriq, resulting in the reading beyisra'el. However, in the Ben Naftali tradition, that was not the case. The shewa dropped out, and the hiriq and the yod contracted to form a hiriq yod, this forming bisra'el. Also, ithe Ben Asher tradition will generally spell yissaskar while the Ben Naftali tradition will generally spell yishsakar. There are also differences between the Tiberian system, and the Babylonian-Yeminite system of vocalization. Consider Ecclesiastes 2:7. Should the reading be miqneh with a short e, or miqneh with a long e? It is the difference between possessions and cattle, and possession of cattle, i.e., the difference between an absolute and a construct. Also, is it mikol-simchah with a short o [Tiberian], or mikol simchah, with a long o, and no maqqeph? Also, even printed editions bear out the differences amongst even the individual Tiberian tradition. For example, is the the name 'ebed-melek in Jeremiah 39:16, or is it 'ebed-melak? It depends on which masoretic vocalization you use. Also, in 3:16, is it hashshamesh [a pausal form, and thus, the end of a phrase], or is it hashshemesh [an ordinary form which would not indicate the end of a phrase]? It all depends upon which MT you use. All of these differences are just in the MT alone! Was the text preserved to those Masorites whose text does not read like yours?

However, it gets worse. We have a Hexapla written by Origin, and edited in the fourth century, in which he gives a transliteration in Greek characters. For example, in Psalm 18:4, the MT has raglay, while Origin wrote the vocalization as reglai. In Psalm 36:1, the MT has le'ebed, and Origin has laabd. In Psalm 31:3, the MT has 'ozneka, while Origin has oznach. I have to ask, "Was the text preserved to Origin?" Also, saying that the vocalizations of the MT were available won't help either, because they are clearly in a linguistic line, that is, the MT reflects common linguistic changes that are directly related to how the language looked at the time of Origin.

First, the \"Septuagint,\" what is that? Secondly, the idea that the so-called \"Septuagint\" reflects a variety of vocalization.

The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that predates the time of Christ, and is, in fact, the preferred translation of the Hebrew scriptures as there are many cases where the NT quotes from the Hebrew and departs from the MT, clearly going with the Septuagint. Don't know how you would deal with the NT differing from the MT in its OT quotations.

Secondly, the Septuagint in many, many places reflects a difference in vocalization. 1 Samuel 11:5 where the Hebrew reads wehinneh sha'ul ba' 'achare habaqar. However, the LXX reads: kai idou Saoul ercheto meta to proi. The Greek term proi, however, does not mean the same thing as baqar does. Proi means something like "morning," and baqar means something like "cattle." However, one can easily see that the Septuagint understood bqr to be boqer, meaning "morning."

Also, in places like Psalm 90:3 and 90:6, the Hebrew consonants are dbr, and the MT understands this as deber [meaning pestilence], while the LXX understands it as dabar, meaning something like "thing, matter." Psalm 90:6 is, in fact, translated as pragma. So, there is virtually no question that there are pointing differences between the LXX and the MT. So, again, I have to ask. Was the text preserved to the person who translated 1 Samuel and the person who translated Psalm 90 in the LXX? Was it preserved for Origin? Was it preserved for those editions of the MT that differ from one another?

Thirdly, that the Septuagint is in any sense authoritative for those who believe the Old Testament Hebrew has been preserved in its purity. There is so much conjecture, assumption, and generalisation entailed in such a statement I will just have to pass it by.

Of course, no one is arguing that the Septuagint is authoritative, but, rather, that it is evidence that we can use to get back to the original. The issue here is what the authors wrote, not what you think they should have written. As far as the Hebrew text being preserved, that depends on what you mean. Again, given the evidence from epigraphic Hebrew, we can say that, most certainly, things such as 3ms suffixes would have been written totally different, the northern kingdom used a different word for "year," and all kinds of grammatical differences between epigraphic Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew. In fact, Biblical Hebrew is probably not even a language. Rather, it is a composite of certain rare archaic forms with an updated form of the text so that the average person could understand the word of God.

Also, as far as the Hebrew text being "preserved" in the sense you are talking about, we know that this is not even the case from the earliest copies of Biblical text available to us. In the earliest Biblical texts we have found, written on silver amulets, we have a copy of the Aaronic blessing from Ketef Hinnom. Here is the text:

ybrkk yhwh wyshmrk y'r yhwh pnyw 'lyk wysm lk shlwm

May the Lord bless you, and may he keep you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you, and give you peace.

Notice something missing? Aside from the vowels missing, the phrase "and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his face toward you" is missing. This is the earliest Biblical text we have, and, already we have a copy error. It is most probably a copy error, because of homoiteluton, since the end of the phrase just before the missing phrase and the missing phrase are the same ending. However, again, given your system, you would likewise say that it was in error. Thus, you are forced to admit that the earliest Biblical text we have has an error in it. Was the text preserved to the person who was making these amulets with this blessing on it or not?

Also, what about the differences between the medieval manuscripts and the MT? In Jeremiah 14:14, does the last word read lakem or lahem? The latter is a reading typical of medieval manuscripts. Does 'imy have a waw in front of it in Isaiah 1:3? The MT doesn't have it, but around thirty medieval manuscripts do. Again, does this mean that the word of God was not preserved to these medieval people?

Also, what do you do with the book of Jeremiah. In this case, we know we don't just have the Septuagint, since we have found Hebrew Qumranic manuscripts that reflect that very text. The problem is that those manuscripts are 1/3 shorter. Now, let me ask you, was the text of Jeremiah preserved to the person writing those Qumranic manuscripts? Was the text preserved to the Septuagint translator of Jeremiah?

I learn the lesson of Job and refrain from uttering that which I do not understand.

Then why don't you do that when the vowel pointing could go one of two ways? Why is it that, when the Masorites are totally unintelligible, you are willing to give them a pass, but when vowel pointings are just ambiguous, you insist upon one particular understanding of the vowel pointing?

John Owen tells us what he thought: \"For my own part I should need to be completely overwhelmed by sound reasons before I parted with any portion of my heritage, and even then it would be with extreme reluctance\" (Biblical Theology, 500). I don't believe the good doctor would be taken in by the chain of conjectural reasoning which has led to the displacement of the true and certain text of the Old Testament Scriptures.

As you can see, it is not conjecture. Every time in history we have a way of testing your theory it fails against the evidence. Why is that? Why is it that in archaeological data from this time period from Ketef Hinnom, from the time before the time of Christ, from the time just after the time of Christ, from the medieval period, to the time of the Masorites and onward, we have all of these differences from the way you say the text should be? Now, you either have to become a conspiratorialist, and say that there is some grand conspiracy to stop the preservation of God's word for nearly 2300 years, or you have to admit that this is not conjecture, but poses very serious problems for anyone who would argue for a "preserved" Hebrew Bible in the sense you are talking about. If you choose none of these options, then what is your evidence that the ancient Hebrews were running around with Masoretic texts speaking the exact same vowel pointings?

Secondly, Owen wrote that statement before Ketef Hinnom was discovered, before all of the Northwest Semitic Inscriptions, before the discovery of Ugaritic, before anyone had the ability to study all of the the Masoritic systems, and before anyone really had the ability to study the evolution of the Hebrew vowel system over time. Again, Owen is perfectly willing to consider evidence, and, given the fact that every place we can test his theory, it fails, I would say that Owen's arguments have not withstood the test of time, and I think that, were he around, he would agree with me.

God Bless,
Adam
 

Hebrew Student

Puritan Board Freshman
The Sola System,

The invention of the points would most logically come when biblical hebrew made the transition from a vulgar language to an unspoken language used exclusively or primarily in biblical studies. It is reasonable that the vocalizations would be "understood" without pointing prior to this transition. However, after this transition, a lack of pointing would cause the interpretation of Scripture to depend entirely upon oral tradition, thus compromising the very heart of the Old Testament as sacred WRITING (rather than oral tradition).

Actually, first of all, the Hebrew that we see in the Hebrew Bible is a combination of Hebrew from different times in history, and was never spoken. While it is possible that there was a literary form of Hebrew, it is almost certain that the Hebrew Bible as we have it reflects many updates in language in order to make it easier for the people to understand the language as the language changed. Also, even if there was a literary language in Israel, it stopped being spoken, except in liturgical form and for literary uses, after the exile.

I certainly don't agree that the lack of vowel pointing would cause the interpretation of scripture to depend entirely on tradition. Perhaps given the interpretation of several passages, one might have to rely on different streams of tradition, but, as a whole, the issues of vowel pointing do not at all change the doctrines of the Hebrew Bible. The doctrines and the teachings remain the same, even though there are interpretive issues in some passages [as there are, even if you take the vowel pointings].

Finally, Aramaic was already the common language of Palestine at the time of Christ due to the influence of the Persian empire. Yet, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as the epigraphic material from the time of Christ, and just after, we do not see any vowel pointings. The first hint of vowel pointings we have is around the ninth century B.C. from the work of the Masorites.

For this reason, it is more likely the the vowel points were devised in the days of (the inspired scribe) Ezra, when the Israelites came back from captivity and would have needed this extra linguistic aid in the text.

Do you have any evidence for this?

Jesus said that neither a "iota" (i.e. yod) or "keraiah" (i.e. chireq) would disappear from the law. How could a 'chireq' fail to disappear if it had not even been invented yet?

First of all, while a yod is generally considered to be a consonant. It can be used as a mater letter [a consonant used in order to indicate a vowel], but it is still, nonetheless a consonant. Also, when Jesus speaks of a tittle, he is most probably referring to the smallest distinguishing characteristics of consonants.

Also, that raises another question. If vowel pointings existed this early, and everyone agreed, then what would be the need for mater letters, which we know existed even in Mosaic writings?

God Bless,
Adam
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
What makes you think that is isn't warranted by the evidence? Do you somehow believe that the dead sea scrolls have vowel pointing when I can link directly to a photo of one of the dead sea scrolls which clearly has no vowel pointing?

It seems "this" is being misunderstood. I was referring to the leap from your DSS evidence to the conclusion that there was no vocalisation signs. I wasn't casting doubt on the DSS evidence.

When the confessions talk about the word of God being preserved, they are referring to the doctrines of the text, not anything having to do with vowel pointing.

This is incorrect. WCF 1:8 is concerned with the text of Scripture.

Also, can you demonstrate that at the Westminster Assembly there was any discussion of vowel pointing of Hebrew texts? Can you demonstrate that there was ever any discussion of textual variants within the Hebrew Bible? If not, don't you think it is taking them grossly out of context to argue that they had some theory like you are suggesting?

The fact is that the Assembly accepted the text of Scripture which they possessed as the preserved Word. One will meet with discussions of variants but they always result in the primacy of the received texts of Old and New Testaments.

Hence, that is why I can affirm what Jesus says in Matthew 4:4, because I don't believe he is talking about vowel pointing or textual variants.

Whatever He is or is not talking about, His appeal is to what is written, and what is written contains a sense which is required by a specific understanding of the vowel pointing. This is true in each and every instance the Old Testament is appealed to as authoritative in the New Testament. You really are required to answer this point as basic to the issue.

Secondly, it is absolutely untrue that the vowel points were preserved in the sense you are speaking, as even the Masoretic texts have differences between them.

You are using phenomena to arrive at a principium. This is useless. You may as well argue that because some prophecies did not come to pass that therefore OT prophecy was fallible. One must have some organising principle with which to examine the induction of particulars. Principia must interpret phenomena, otherwise one can make of the evidence whatever one pleases.

The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that predates the time of Christ

I am fully aware of what the "Septuagint" purports to be. The fact is, you are assuming a fact which has not been established. Afterall, you don't believe it was translated by seventy-two, so why should you simply assume that it existed in some uniform edition prior to the time of Christ? As I noted, your statement contains so many assumptions and generalisations that it is impossible to answer.

Secondly, the Septuagint in many, many places reflects a difference in vocalization.

This is a generalisation you have created from the induction of particulars. It is not something you can prove to be the case from the evidence which you present. The Greek translators of the passages you have cited might have had any number of reasons for their translation choice, and you have failed to rule out the possibility of these various reasons before jumping to the conclusion which suits your theory.

Of course, no one is arguing that the Septuagint is authoritative, but, rather, that it is evidence that we can use to get back to the original.

Evidence requires uniformity in order to determine a fact. You have neither all the evidence or anything like uniformity, and therefore your conclusions are mere conjecture.

I learn the lesson of Job and refrain from uttering that which I do not understand.

Then why don't you do that when the vowel pointing could go one of two ways?

If I am going to learn the lesson of Job I must have some confidence in the Hebrew OT which is in my possession, and which requires me to accept that what I read is the word of God. If I were to conduct my studies on the basis of your procedure I would not be able to discern my right hand from the left.
 

Hebrew Student

Puritan Board Freshman
armourbearer,

It seems "this" is being misunderstood. I was referring to the leap from your DSS evidence to the conclusion that there was no vocalisation signs. I wasn't casting doubt on the DSS evidence.

No, the Dead Sea Scrolls are evidence that there was no vowel pointing at this time, as are almost all the inscriptional materials such as the ossuaries. If you would like to present evidence that there was vowel pointing, then please do so. I have presented all kinds of evidence against your position; however, I have seen none presented against my own.

This is incorrect. WCF 1:8 is concerned with the text of Scripture...
The fact is that the Assembly accepted the text of Scripture which they possessed as the preserved Word. One will meet with discussions of variants but they always result in the primacy of the received texts of Old and New Testaments.

Again, please demonstrate that that is, indeed, what this section of the confession are talking about. I would say that they are not at all talking about the text of scripture at all, but, rather, they are talking about the *teachings* of scripture which have been preserved to all generations.

Whatever He is or is not talking about, His appeal is to what is written, and what is written contains a sense which is required by a specific understanding of the vowel pointing.

Is there some discrepancy in the vowel pointing of the text Jesus is quoting? I didn't find any. You seem to have this western idea that we need to have vowel pointing in order to have meaning. That is totally incorrect. If that were the case, then all the Northwest Semitic Inscriptions would be utterly unintelligible, and yet, I have written papers on even some of the hardest of them such as Deir Alla. Will there be some discrepancies, yes, most definitely. However, even with vowel pointing you have problems such as Malachi 2:15. Also, even if it were the case that there were some discrepancy between what Christ said and the MT, you seem to have this western idea that, when you quote something that was written, you must quote it exactly. Such was not the case in the ANE, as there are many places where the meaning of the text is what is most important, not whether it was word for word. Consider, for example, the citation of Psalm 40:7, and the addition of the phrase "but a body you have prepared for me" in Hebrews 10:5. The phrase is not what is found in Psalm 40:7. However, is it an accurate quotation? Yes, if you don't take a western mindset.

You are using phenomena to arrive at a principium. This is useless. You may as well argue that because some prophecies did not come to pass that therefore OT prophecy was fallible. One must have some organising principle with which to examine the induction of particulars. Principia must interpret phenomena, otherwise one can make of the evidence whatever one pleases.

I would like to see *any* evidence to support your position. The point is that, wherever we look, the evidence is against what you are saying. What I am pointing out is, to use your analogy, not that the "prophecies" did not come to pass, but that all the evidence points to the fact that they *failed,* given what was said in the prophecies themselves. You have made the assertion, and I have shown that all the evidence is against the idea that there were people in the time of the monarchy who were running around with Masoretic texts, all using the exact same vowel pointing. Where is the evidence that these people are going around with Masoretic texts at the time of Hezekiah all using the same vowels? Because you have refused to give it I would thus say that your position is totally ungrounded, and it sounds like you have made a blind leap in the dark.

I am fully aware of what the "Septuagint" purports to be. The fact is, you are assuming a fact which has not been established. Afterall, you don't believe it was translated by seventy-two, so why should you simply assume that it existed in some uniform edition prior to the time of Christ? As I noted, your statement contains so many assumptions and generalisations that it is impossible to answer.

You do realize that this puts you in the vast minority in scholarship. Also, you are making an error in logic. Because of the fact that there is no Aprodite and no Zeus, are we therefore going to say that the Trojan War never happened, simply because there are things that are untrue in Homer's Iliad? The reason why we accept the idea of a Greek translation [or, maybe better, "a collection containing a translation of each book of the Hebrew Bible"] predating the time of Christ is because of the unity of the text as quoted in the NT, Philo, and Josephus. It is hard to say that somehow these guys got together, and made a translation that just happened to agree word for word with what we call the Septuagint. That would be quite a coincidence.

Also, no one is arguing for a "uniform" edition. Again, this is a western idea. People copied things by hand in the ancient world. Therefore, there are going to be copy errors. What we are saying is that different translators over a period of time translated each book of the Hebrew Bible, that these books have come down to us with copy errors, and, although you have to treat each text separately, by doing the sound methods of textual criticism, we can arrive at an urtext of one particular Greek translation of an individual book of the Hebrew Bible, and the urtexts of all the books of the Bible collectively are called the Septuagint. If you don't agree with that, then you have to explain the unity in the quotations from Josephus, Philo, and the NT, and how they could so remarkably agree word for word with a text that, apparently, was just a hodge podge totally different translations.

This is a generalisation you have created from the induction of particulars. It is not something you can prove to be the case from the evidence which you present. The Greek translators of the passages you have cited might have had any number of reasons for their translation choice, and you have failed to rule out the possibility of these various reasons before jumping to the conclusion which suits your theory.

Of course, it would be your obligation to give these possibilities. Now, again, which is more likely. That the different translation of the Septuagint reflects different vowel pointings on a text where the only difference in meaning between the two translations would be vowel pointing, on a text that we know at one point was written without vowel pointings, or that someone who has not given us another reason, who refuses to give us any evidence at all is just simply ignoring the obvious.

Evidence requires uniformity in order to determine a fact. You have neither all the evidence or anything like uniformity, and therefore your conclusions are mere conjecture.

Again, I have to ask you, are you willing to deny that the Trojan War took place just simply because of the fact that Homer was wrong about Zeus and Aphrodite, or that he was wrong about certain weapons that actually came in time periods just before the Trojan War? Therefore, according to your logic, the Trojan War must have never taken place. However, with such an assertion you have no archaeological leg to stand on.

If I am going to learn the lesson of Job I must have some confidence in the Hebrew OT which is in my possession, and which requires me to accept that what I read is the word of God. If I were to conduct my studies on the basis of your procedure I would not be able to discern my right hand from the left.

Not at all. I study the Northwest Semitic Inscriptions. They have no vowel pointing. According to you, I should have no idea what the Siloam Tunnel Inscription says, for example, and I should have no idea what the Deir Alla' inscription says. That is just nonsense. There are good scholarly methodologies to get back to what we need, and, rather than just making a blind leap in the dark, I am more than willing to honor God with my mind, and do the hard work to get back to the original.

Also, I figured I would keep adding more, since I do not believe that the substance of what I said was addressed. For example, in Hebrews 11:21, you have a text that is clearly coming from the fact that the New Testament author was relying upon the Septuagint. It says that Jacob was dying while leaning on the top of his "staff." However, if you look in the Masoretic text of Genesis 47:31, which you say is the preserved word of God, it uses the term hammitta, which means "bed," when speaking of what he was leaning upon. There is a simple solution to this problem, and that is that the consonants mth can be pointed as hammitta or as matteh, the latter meaning "staff." If the pointing is not inspired, then we can understand why the Septuagint, and, by extension, the New Testament author said what he said, simply because he was using a different vowel pointing than the MT.

However, if you reject that, and you say that the MT vowel pointing is inspired, now you have introduced an inconsistency between the Hebrew Bible and the NT. One says he was leaning upon his staff when he talked to Joseph, the other said he was lying on his bed. Which is it?

God Bless,
Adam
 

The Sola System

Puritan Board Freshman
A Response to Hebrew Student:

1. Above, you were challenged to
"prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Hebrew vowel points came many centuries after the originals."

You then responded:
"Simple, we have examples of the Biblical text from the time of the monarchy, and there are no vowel points."

My point (in my previous post) was that the existence of ancient unpointed texts does not necessarily prove the non-existence of ancient pointed texts. We have pointed and unpointed texts today; why not back then as well? (Remember, the burden of proof in this context was on you.)

2. You told Calvin and Hodges that
"Languages are first spoken before they are written. The Hebrew vowels were first spoken. However, when the language started being written, only the consonants were written down, and the way in which the vowels within the language worked was passed along by tradition long before the vowels were written down. Hence, if Jesus read from the Hebrew [I know that, most of the time, the NT writers quoted the Septuagint. Not sure about here, though], he would have known the vowels simply because he knew the language."


Then you told me,
"the Hebrew that we see in the Hebrew Bible is a combination of Hebrew from different times in history, and was never spoken."
And,
"Aramaic was already the common language of Palestine at the time of Christ due to the influence of the Persian empire."

Which is it? Did God's people instinctively know the vowels because they knew and spoke the language, or did they NOT know the language, and rely solely on oral tradition to supply the vocalizations. This, it seems to me, is a major problem with your theory. It relies on the people knowing the language, but admits that for hundreds of years after the exile, nobody spoke the language.

Moreover, we cannot equate modern unpointed Hebrew with ancient unpointed Hebrew. Modern unpointed Hebrew is understood because it is an EXTANT SPOKEN LANGUAGE. If, as you say, biblical Hebrew was not spoken, then the pre-masoretic, post-exile reader would lack the intuitive linguistic capacity to sufficiently read the text. So long as God's people spoke some form of Hebrew, the text could remain unpointed, since they would know how to pronounce the words. When they went into captivity and returned speaking Aramaic (in the days of Ezra), they would have needed the vowel points in order to continue reading the text. This approach, unlike yours, leaves no gap of hundreds of years in which God's written revelation is at the mercy of man's oral traditions. Where is the evidence for this? It is deduced from the nature of the points and the history of God's covenant people, all within the boundaries of an orthodox doctrine of Scripture. Rather than determining my doctrine of Scripture by fluctuations in archaeological discovery, I prefer to judge the latter by the former.

3. You said,
"I certainly don't agree that the lack of vowel pointing would cause the interpretation of scripture to depend entirely on tradition."

But earlier you said,
"I do recognize that the Masorites were passing along a tradition, and a very accurate one at that. Were it not for the Masorites, we would have no clue as to how the Hebrew vowel system works."

Again, which is it? Would we really be clueless about the OT Scriptures without the oral tradition of the masoretes (aka. the "masora")?

4. You wrote,
"The first hint of vowel pointings we have is around the ninth century B.C. from the work of the Masorites."

I am assuming that this was a type-o. Otherwise, the vowel points pre-date even the Babylonian Captivity! I like it!

5. You wrote,
"When the confessions talk about the word of God being preserved, they are referring to the doctrines of the text, not anything having to do with vowel pointing. For example, if I say to you, "Can I have a word with you?", you don't think that I am only going to speak one word and then leave! You take that to mean, "I have *something* to tell you."

Wow! I do not believe that you are accurately representing the Westminster Confession of Faith on this point. Such a distinction was unknown to the divines. Furthermore, our doctrines are the result of EXEGESIS, which involves probing the meaning and significance of inspired WORDS. How can you have doctrinal preservation without a preservation of the inspired words that authoritatively teach those doctrines? This is a most peculiar doctrine of Scripture. Note the biblical emphasis on the actual words inspired by God:

The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words. (Psa 119:57 ESV)

How a sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psa 119:103 ESV)

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. (Psa 119:130 ESV)

My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words. (Psa 119:139 ESV)

I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. (Psa 119:147 ESV)

Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words. (Psa 119:161 ESV)

All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth, (Psa 138:4 ESV)
(Another pragmatic argument for singing the Psalms: it safeguards ones doctrine of Scripture!)


6. You wrote,
"If vowel pointings existed this early, and everyone agreed, then what would be the need for mater letters, which we know existed even in Mosaic writings?"

I don't know the answer to this question, but I would imagine that Ezra might. Remember my position is that of Owen: Ezra tweaked the script in order to preserve it among a people that no longer spoke Hebrew as its mother tongue. That other vowel indicators were used during the Mosaic period is in no way at odds with my position.

7. You wrote,
"as a whole, the issues of vowel pointing do not at all change the doctrines of the Hebrew Bible."

Assuming your view is correct, how do you know this for certain? You admit that we would be clueless without the vowel points, which were (supposedly) codified by the Masoretes from fallible oral tradition. By what standard are you able to test the masoretic pointing, if the masoretic pointing is (at the same time) the standard of our knowledge of ancient Hebrew? Even if you brought the LXX into the equation, you still fall far short of being able to demonstrate that the doctrines of the OT have remained substantially intact. The most you could do is argue that God has providentially preserved his Word(s) through the medium of fallible Jewish oral tradition, but even then it would fall far short of the confessional reformed doctrine of the verbal plenary inspiration of God's WRITTEN revelation.

When Jesus said "the Scriptures [i.e. WRITINGS] cannot be broken" I don't think he was talking about a mass of naked and indeterminate consonants largely dependent upon fallible human oral traditions!

I'll let you have the last word, Adam. Go easy on me! Thanks for your interaction!

Sola Scriptura,
TSS
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
No, the Dead Sea Scrolls are evidence that there was no vowel pointing at this time, as are almost all the inscriptional materials such as the ossuaries.

We possess a minute percentage of the mss. which would have been in circulation at that time. On the basis of such a small percentage you are prepared to conclude with supreme confidence that there was certainly no vocalisation system represented in the text. Scholars have proven variations on the basis of geographical locality, but you accept the evidence from one geographical locality (Qumran, of which we still know very little as a matter of fact) as determining what would have been the uniform practice of all locations. This demonstrates poor analysis, in my humble opinion.

If you would like to present evidence that there was vowel pointing, then please do so. I have presented all kinds of evidence against your position; however, I have seen none presented against my own.

The "evidence" is to be found in the very ms. to which you have referred me. The article states, "To indicate vowel sounds and open syllables the Qumran scribes frequently added a waw or a yod or a he, or less frequently, an aleph to words to help in pronunciation and in meaning." If this is what the minuscule evidence indicates, we can only guess at what a more adequate ms. evidence would reveal.

Again, please demonstrate that that is, indeed, what this section of the confession are talking about. I would say that they are not at all talking about the text of scripture at all, but, rather, they are talking about the *teachings* of scripture which have been preserved to all generations.

The Confession states, "the Old Testament in Hebrew ... and the New Testament in Greek" is the object of preservation, not the teaching. It proceeds to claim, "so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them," that is, to the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. If the teachings of Scripture are to be settled by what has been preserved then it is obvious that the teachings of Scripture are not the object of preservation.

Is there some discrepancy in the vowel pointing of the text Jesus is quoting? I didn't find any. You seem to have this western idea that we need to have vowel pointing in order to have meaning. That is totally incorrect.

I haven't espoused this idea at all. I have said that a specific meaning is inherent in the quoted text. Scholars alter the meaning by hypothesising different vowels. So meaning is attached to the vowel pointing even if meaning in general is not dependent on the vowels. My point, at this stage of the argument, was, that even if there were no vowel "signs," the authoritative appeal to a specific meaning of the consonantal text indicates that there were vowel "sounds." Vocalisation therefore cannot be seen as a secondary appendage to the consonantal text. From memory, James Barr's Comparative Philology argues this view.

What I am pointing out is, to use your analogy, not that the "prophecies" did not come to pass, but that all the evidence points to the fact that they *failed,* given what was said in the prophecies themselves.

And what I am seeking to show you is that you are prepared to make such a conclusion based on inadequate evidence and no solid criteria for weighing the evidence.

The reason why we accept the idea of a Greek translation [or, maybe better, "a collection containing a translation of each book of the Hebrew Bible"] predating the time of Christ is because of the unity of the text as quoted in the NT, Philo, and Josephus.

There is no unity of text. What we now possess is a collection of translations, revisions, etc., which originated at different periods and places. That is a scholarly consensus. Further, there is no evidence that the NT ever quotes from a single Greek translation of the Bible. It is an obvious fact that the NT never "sources" its references. There is no reason why oral teaching traditions might not form the basis for both NT quotations and Greek text forms which have come down to us under the name of the LXX.
 

Hebrew Student

Puritan Board Freshman
The Sola System [and this first part is relevant to armourbearer too],

My point (in my previous post) was that the existence of ancient unpointed texts does not necessarily prove the non-existence of ancient pointed texts. We have pointed and unpointed texts today; why not back then as well? (Remember, the burden of proof in this context was on you.)

Actually, what I said was that we *do* have examples of the Biblical text from this time period written on two silver amulets which are unpointed. If you are trying to say, "Well, there were other pointed Biblical texts" I just have to ask why it is that those who made these amulets would use unpointed texts, especially sense, as others have said, the pointed texts are the "preserved word of God." It wouldn't make any sense at all.

I would also point out that the reasoning you are suggesting in your first statement could be used to prove whatever you want. This is actually relevant to armourbearer's last post too. What would happen if I said that the Torah was translated into Mycenaean Linear B Greek? We could point out all of the ancient translations, all of the political situations that would be evidence against such a notion, but you could say that, "Yes, but just because of the fact that there is no evidence that the Torah was never translated into Linear B Greek, and plenty of evidence that it was not doesn't mean that it was never translated into Linear B Greek." Now, if you are going to assert that something is true, you need some foundation. Otherwise, you can say anything you want and, so long as you can claim that "It's possible," no matter how unlikely it is, your position must be able to stand. A whole lot of absurd things can be proven from such reasoning as it is simply a leap in the dark.

2. You told Calvin and Hodges that
\"Languages are first spoken before they are written. The Hebrew vowels were first spoken. However, when the language started being written, only the consonants were written down, and the way in which the vowels within the language worked was passed along by tradition long before the vowels were written down. Hence, if Jesus read from the Hebrew [I know that, most of the time, the NT writers quoted the Septuagint. Not sure about here, though], he would have known the vowels simply because he knew the language.\"

Then you told me,
\"the Hebrew that we see in the Hebrew Bible is a combination of Hebrew from different times in history, and was never spoken.\"
And,
\"Aramaic was already the common language of Palestine at the time of Christ due to the influence of the Persian empire.\"
Which is it? Did God's people instinctively know the vowels because they knew and spoke the language, or did they NOT know the language, and rely solely on oral tradition to supply the vocalizations. This, it seems to me, is a major problem with your theory. It relies on the people knowing the language, but admits that for hundreds of years after the exile, nobody spoke the language.

Moreover, we cannot equate modern unpointed Hebrew with ancient unpointed Hebrew. Modern unpointed Hebrew is understood because it is an EXTANT SPOKEN LANGUAGE. If, as you say, biblical Hebrew was not spoken, then the pre-masoretic, post-exile reader would lack the intuitive linguistic capacity to sufficiently read the text. So long as God's people spoke some form of Hebrew, the text could remain unpointed, since they would know how to pronounce the words. When they went into captivity and returned speaking Aramaic (in the days of Ezra), they would have needed the vowel points in order to continue reading the text. This approach, unlike yours, leaves no gap of hundreds of years in which God's written revelation is at the mercy of man's oral traditions. Where is the evidence for this? It is deduced from the nature of the points and the history of God's covenant people, all within the boundaries of an orthodox doctrine of Scripture. Rather than determining my doctrine of Scripture by fluctuations in archaeological discovery, I prefer to judge the latter by the former.

I think you misunderstood me when I said that no one spoke the language after the exile. I didn't mean to say that no one spoke the text, period. What I meant was that no one spoke it as a language when they were discussing literary subjects in everyday life. Sorry if I was unclear. In other words, after the exile, the language was strictly used for liturgical and compositional purposes. I speak Biblical Hebrew, but it is not a language I use to communicate with others when I am speaking about a particular subject, even when I talk about God. The Hebrew that would be used in such instances after the exile was much more standard with common Hebrew, and reflected a much greater influence of Aramaic, and other North Semitic languages. Take, for example, the fact that no one speaks in Shakespearean English today in terms of their daily conversations. However, does that mean we have no clue as to how the English in Shakespeare's day sounded?

3. You said,
\"I certainly don't agree that the lack of vowel pointing would cause the interpretation of scripture to depend entirely on tradition.\"
But earlier you said,
\"I do recognize that the Masorites were passing along a tradition, and a very accurate one at that. Were it not for the Masorites, we would have no clue as to how the Hebrew vowel system works.\"
Again, which is it? Would we really be clueless about the OT Scriptures without the oral tradition of the masoretes (aka. the \"masora\")?

I was talking about the grammatical system in the second quotation. There is no question that we could reconstruct some of the vowels. We can do that with pre-exilic Hebrew, and that is why we know that, although the actual meanings never changed, the vowel system underwent an evolution as it was passed down. What I was talking about in the second quote was the vowel *patterns* that go with the grammatical forms of the language. These would be unknown, and could only be partially reconstructed.

In fact, the truth of what I am saying in the first sentence can be demonstrated when we understand that Egyptian Hieroglyphic is in a much more difficult boat in that we know *none* of the vowels, and the only guesses that have been made have come from comparative linguistics. However, there is an entire field of Egyptology that has developed from a language where all the vowels have been lost.

I am assuming that this was a type-o. Otherwise, the vowel points pre-date even the Babylonian Captivity! I like it!

Yup, typo. The Masorites did not live before the Babylonian captivity.

Wow! I do not believe that you are accurately representing the Westminster Confession of Faith on this point. Such a distinction was unknown to the divines. Furthermore, our doctrines are the result of EXEGESIS, which involves probing the meaning and significance of inspired WORDS. How can you have doctrinal preservation without a preservation of the inspired words that authoritatively teach those doctrines?

Simple, because, where there is a vowel pointing issue in one text, there will not be a vowel pointing issue in another text. Where there is an unsolved text critical issue in one text, there will not be an unsolved text critical issue in another text. In other words, no matter what text you use, and no matter what vowel pointings you use, if you apply the very same standards of interpretation to the text, seeking to read the text consistently, taking into consideration things like context, linguistics, etc., you will not arrive at any different doctrines.

Note the biblical emphasis on the actual words inspired by God:

The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words. (Psa 119:57 ESV)

How a sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psa 119:103 ESV)

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. (Psa 119:130 ESV)

My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words. (Psa 119:139 ESV)

I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. (Psa 119:147 ESV)

Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words. (Psa 119:161 ESV)

All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth, (Psa 138:4 ESV)

(Another pragmatic argument for singing the Psalms: it safeguards ones doctrine of Scripture!)

I would argue that none of those usages of the term "word" refers to actual, individual words. Sometimes words refer to prophetic words, sometimes to God's sovereign intentions, and sometimes to teachings. Context must determine how the word is used in each instance.

I don't know the answer to this question, but I would imagine that Ezra might. Remember my position is that of Owen: Ezra tweaked the script in order to preserve it among a people that no longer spoke Hebrew as its mother tongue. That other vowel indicators were used during the Mosaic period is in no way at odds with my position.

However, if having all of the vowels were necessary to the preservation of scripture, then why didn't Ezra make vowel systems for the whole text? It doesn't make any sense to say that he only made vowel indicators for some of the text if the preservation of the whole text relies upon the written preservation of vowels.

Assuming your view is correct, how do you know this for certain? You admit that we would be clueless without the vowel points, which were (supposedly) codified by the Masoretes from fallible oral tradition. By what standard are you able to test the masoretic pointing, if the masoretic pointing is (at the same time) the standard of our knowledge of ancient Hebrew? Even if you brought the LXX into the equation, you still fall far short of being able to demonstrate that the doctrines of the OT have remained substantially intact. The most you could do is argue that God has providentially preserved his Word(s) through the medium of fallible Jewish oral tradition, but even then it would fall far short of the confessional reformed doctrine of the verbal plenary inspiration of God's WRITTEN revelation.

Again, we would be clueless as to how the vowels looked in each grammatical form, but we would not be clueless as to the meaning of the text. Also, I would not say that the Masoretic pointing is the "standard," but it is evidence. The way we are able to test the masoretic pointing is by vowels that are indicated in other languages such as Akkadian, and with the alephs in Ugaritic. Also, mater letters in the Northwest Semitic Inscriptions enable us to test the vowel pointings, as does the Septuagint, and the work of Origin. You start getting a sense of an evolution taking place over time, and hence, even the masoritic system is the preservation of a tradition at the end of an evolution. Because the Masorites give us the general outline of the grammar at the end of that evolution, we can see, linguistically, the way in which the Hebrew vowel system evolved.

Again, I would simply go back to the fact that Egyptian Hieroglyphic has lost its vowels. However, we can still understand Egyptian texts very well. Part of it is also understanding the nature of Semitic languages and triconsonantal roots. Consonants and vowels are then added around those roots to form meaning. For example, the Hebrew root spr means "to count," while the the Hebrew term
means "number." The root 'abad means "to serve" while the Hebrew term 'ebed means "servant." Hence, there are only so many meanings any given word can have, given its root. Also, there are very strong patterns in Hebrew that are recognizable such as the verb+subject+object syntax. You also have the context in general. This is how you are able to have no written vowels, and yet, have a text that is substantially understood in terms of its teachings. Yes, it is quite different then our western insistence on everything being indicated for us. We have to do more hard work to determine what is going on. However, should we not do that, and miss out on God's truth? That is the question.

God Bless,
Adam
 

Hebrew Student

Puritan Board Freshman
armourbearer,

We possess a minute percentage of the mss. which would have been in circulation at that time. On the basis of such a small percentage you are prepared to conclude with supreme confidence that there was certainly no vocalisation system represented in the text. Scholars have proven variations on the basis of geographical locality, but you accept the evidence from one geographical locality (Qumran, of which we still know very little as a matter of fact) as determining what would have been the uniform practice of all locations. This demonstrates poor analysis, in my humble opinion.

However, we do have the Dead Sea Scrolls, and we do have extrabiblical epigraphic material from this time period. None of them have vowel pointing. Also, there is no question that there is geographical variation. That is a given. But, let me ask, is this material pointed or unpointed? Also, I don't just determine this from the information from Qumran. I determine it also from material before and after Qumran that likewise has no vowel pointing. Again, it is all of the evidence together that presents the problem. You have a continuous line of manuscripts none of which contain any vowel pointing until the time of the Masorites. There is absolutely no break.

The "evidence" is to be found in the very ms. to which you have referred me. The article states, "To indicate vowel sounds and open syllables the Qumran scribes frequently added a waw or a yod or a he, or less frequently, an aleph to words to help in pronunciation and in meaning." If this is what the minuscule evidence indicates, we can only guess at what a more adequate ms. evidence would reveal.

However, all of those are mater letters, and they did not *always* use maters to indicate vowels. Also, the use of mater letters is even done in epigraphic Hebrew. That was the way the text was before the Masorites started their work. However, none of these people wrote mater letters in every instance. If, indeed, the vowels were so important that you had to have every vowel indicated, why did they not indicate the vowel in every single place? Also, why is it that the qumranic material uses these mater letters in different ways from pre-exilic Hebrew? Worse than that, why is it that these mater letters are sometimes used, and sometimes not used in manuscripts? For example, some textual variation involves one manuscript using a mater, and another manuscript not using a mater. How do you know whether the vowel pointing is correct or not?

The Confession states, "the Old Testament in Hebrew ... and the New Testament in Greek" is the object of preservation, not the teaching. It proceeds to claim, "so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them," that is, to the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. If the teachings of Scripture are to be settled by what has been preserved then it is obvious that the teachings of Scripture are not the object of preservation.

Actually, both sides agree that the Old Testament has been preserved. The issue is the mechanism. Did God inspire certain vowel pointings, for which there is no evidence, or did he allow for certain ambiguities in vowel pointing, and certain textual variants, all the while having none of the doctrines of the Old Testament affected by it? That is they way I believe he preserved the Old Testament. As I said earlier, where one text has textual variation, another text will not. Where one text has a vowel pointing issue, the other will not. The issue is the mechanism [which the confession does *not* address] not the fact of preservation. Also, do you point to individual words of scripture to correct false teachers, or to the teachings of scripture? Do you say, "Scripture teaches x?" No, sometimes it requires many words of scripture. Sometimes, in order to illustrate your point, you have to read an entire story. Either way, in these instances, you are not appealing to individual "words." That is why I say that it is totally anachronistic to read back into the text something that the Westminster Assembly never discussed.

I haven't espoused this idea at all. I have said that a specific meaning is inherent in the quoted text. Scholars alter the meaning by hypothesising different vowels. So meaning is attached to the vowel pointing even if meaning in general is not dependent on the vowels. My point, at this stage of the argument, was, that even if there were no vowel "signs," the authoritative appeal to a specific meaning of the consonantal text indicates that there were vowel "sounds." Vocalisation therefore cannot be seen as a secondary appendage to the consonantal text. From memory, James Barr's Comparative Philology argues this view.

I apologize for the misunderstanding. However, in the case of what you wrote, I never argued otherwise. What I did say was that the vowel pointing can be ambiguous, in which case, two different people could read the same text, and come up with different pronunciation because of the ambiguity in the text, and that the vowel pointings have changed over time, as is evidenced in what I gave you before. In other words, ambiguity and evolution are the problem with what you are saying. On the other hand, I would say that a lack of vowels does not change the message of the entirety of the Hebrew Bible at all. Certain passages may be made difficult, but the entire message remains unchanged.

And what I am seeking to show you is that you are prepared to make such a conclusion based on inadequate evidence and no solid criteria for weighing the evidence.And what I am seeking to show you is that you are prepared to make such a conclusion based on inadequate evidence and no solid criteria for weighing the evidence.

Which, again, you are asserting, but not showing. It is all of the evidence together, from every period in history that speaks loudly and clearly against what you are saying. That is the problem. It is not just the Qumranic material; it is the epigraphic material, the material from Amarna, the material from Ugarit, the material from Origin, the medieval manuscripts, the different traditions of Masoretic pointings as well as the differences even within those traditions. That is quite a bit of evidence. I don't understand how one could say that this is somehow insufficient.

There is no unity of text. What we now possess is a collection of translations, revisions, etc., which originated at different periods and places. That is a scholarly consensus.

Of course, but you are thinking of the different translations of the individual books. For example, the translator of the book of Proverbs does not have the same methodology as the translator of the book of 1 Kings. All of these books originated at different times and at different places [except for the Septuagint proper, which probably originated in Alexandria], and, because there were different translators at different times and different places, you cannot assume that the translation of every book is homogeneous. That is certainly a scholarly consensus. However, to argue that there are no urtexts of the individual books is not even close to a scholarly consensus. Paul Kahle is the only person I can remember who argued such a position, but his views never convinced most scholars.

Further, there is no evidence that the NT ever quotes from a single Greek translation of the Bible. It is an obvious fact that the NT never "sources" its references.

Again, this is a totally western mindset. Paul quotes from pagan authors, and doesn't source it. Isaiah in Isaiah 27 references the Ugaritic Baal epic, taking characteristics of Baal, and applying them to the Lord, and yet, Isaiah never cites it. Again, this idea that you are somehow obligated to cite sources in the way you are suggesting was just not a part of the ANE.

There is no reason why oral teaching traditions might not form the basis for both NT quotations and Greek text forms which have come down to us under the name of the LXX.

Yes there is, because they are totally and completely identical. Greek is not a word order language, and Greek has a large vocabulary. It would simply be an amazing coincidence that all of these traditions had the exact same words, in the exact same order over many different people, and many different authors.

God Bless,
Adam
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
However, we do have the Dead Sea Scrolls, and we do have extrabiblical epigraphic material from this time period. None of them have vowel pointing. Also, there is no question that there is geographical variation. That is a given. But, let me ask, is this material pointed or unpointed? Also, I don't just determine this from the information from Qumran. I determine it also from material before and after Qumran that likewise has no vowel pointing. Again, it is all of the evidence together that presents the problem. You have a continuous line of manuscripts none of which contain any vowel pointing until the time of the Masorites. There is absolutely no break.

This is quite a bold claim -- a continuous line of mss. You may want to read some more on the subject and modify this statement to accord with the fragmentary nature of the evidentiary record which scholars generally mention with a note of regret. I repeat, you are seeking to prove too much from too little.

However, all of those are mater letters, and they did not *always* use maters to indicate vowels.

This is an irrelevant objection. If the fragmentary ms. evidence indicates a vocalisation tendency then there is no reason to suppose that the same tendency would not be found in a fuller record. Once again I draw attention to the fact that you are simply proving too much with too little.

Actually, both sides agree that the Old Testament has been preserved.

Good; so we don't expect to hear any more nonsense about the preservation of the teaching at the expense of the text.

Also, do you point to individual words of scripture to correct false teachers, or to the teachings of scripture?

The first option. Our Lord proved the resurrection on the basis of the tense of a single word, and the apostle proved the proper recipient of Abraham's promise on the basis of the number of a single word; and both really come down to jots and tittles in the original.

It is all of the evidence together, from every period in history that speaks loudly and clearly against what you are saying.

By your own admission your evidence is confined to a few places and periods. This should give you pause before making broad claims.

I leave off the discussion of the Septuagint as it is becoming more detailed to little purpose. The fact is that different academics point to various translations and revisions of the Greek version in order to substantiate the integrity of the MT vowel points. One example from memory is Waltke's Hebrew Syntax (I forget the precise name of the book). Waltke is also useful for showing some of the internal evidence for the vowel points.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
“If an all-powerful God cannot control the vehicle of His self-revelation, then His power and nature can be questioned.” Elmer Towns, (Theology for Today, Lynchburg: University Press, 1994, p. 49.)


Adam (Hebrew Student),

Regarding our view that God preserved His word in the apographia, both the Hebrew and Greek, and that we have intact Bibles translated from them, you take the unenviable position of seeking to disillusion us of our cherished faith. A constant refrain of yours after your attempted refutations is, “It gets worse, though.” (post #2)

You say,

“we need to use this information [of new mss / linguistic discoveries] to produce ever more accurate understandings of the Hebrew text than was expressed by the Masorites.” (ibid.)​

Your assumption that God has not minutely preserved His word in apographic texts, while reflecting the views of your Greek scholar brethren (and their bitter fruits?), is a view certainly not shared by all, and they not ignoramuses either.

Your main cry against us is that we do not have “evidences” to support our claim God preserved His word in the manner we hold. When the 2001 book, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, came out, with its denial of the historicity of Abraham and the patriarchs, the Biblical history of Israel, including the united kingdom of David and Solomon, did we have “evidences” to prove the existence of Abraham, et al? After a while Christian scholars and Egyptologists debunked much of the work, and provided good support for the Biblical record. When the evolutionists revile our views of a special creation by a personal-infinite Supreme Being to whom we are all accountable (being His creatures), have we “evidences” to support our faith in His revelation of Himself to us through His word and by His Spirit? Well, yes, we do have at least as good evidences for the Biblical view (in various scientific disciplines) as our detractors have for their “Big Bang”, life out of inorganic matter, and the eternality of matter views. But, no human actually being at the Creation (before Adam was made), we have no direct scientific proofs for it. Nor can we scientifically prove our God’s existence. So we assert our confidence and knowledge are based upon presuppositions, the primary one being that God has spoken to humankind through His revealed word, and that because of the knowledge He has given to us, we therefore are able to know both Him, and the creation He has made and placed us in. Our epistemology is founded upon God’s revelation through His written word. We know because He has given us true knowledge. This knowledge is in His word, made alive to us by His Spirit.

So when I am asked to give evidences for what I believe based upon God’s promises, I refer back to those promises – as the foundation of my presuppositions. And, despite your exegeses, it is clear to many that He has promised to preserve His word in the minutiae. To that in a moment.

You said,

“Had someone like John Owen had access to this information, the way in which he stressed continuing to grow and learn, I can almost be rest assured that he would be in agreement with my perspective on this issue.” (post #10)​

The problem with that view is you exactly replicate the Roman Catholic position concerning the unreliability of the Masoretic text the Reformers based their doctrine of Sola Scriptura on. The alternative to Owen’s and the Reformers’ view would have been to capitulate to Rome, and give up the Reformation, as it would have had no Divine foundation to stand upon. Owen operated by presuppositions as trumping supposed “evidences”, as do we. Was the Reformation founded upon ignorance and lack of knowledge?

You say, regarding the Confessions, and Matthew 4:4 (post #13), “When the confessions talk about the word of God being preserved, they are referring to the doctrines of the text . . . I believe he [Christ] is talking about the purposes of God. Interestingly enough, John Calvin agrees with that interpretation,” and then you but partially quote Calvin.

Elsewhere in his commenting on that verse (Matt 4:4) Calvin says, “The word does not mean doctrine, but the purpose which God has made known,” and what is that purpose? [He has Christ saying], “I have no reason to expect that he will support me in a different manner from what he has promised in his word”, i.e. by making bread as you [Satan] suggest. For, says Calvin, “Christ did not consider himself to be at liberty to change stones into bread, without the command of God.” We are back to the words of God, His commands, promises, i.e., “the purposes which God has made known” to us. All the commands, all the promises, sayings, etc. of the Lord are revealed in individual words grouped together in sentences. It all comes down to words. It is not thoughts, doctrines, promises apart from the words that reveal them.

When you say of the list regarding individual or groups of actual words in Scripture supplied by TSS (in post #17): “I would argue that none of those usages of the term ‘word’ refers to actual, individual words. Sometimes words refer to prophetic words, sometimes to God's sovereign intentions, and sometimes to teachings. Context must determine how the word is used in each instance,” – in this I find your exegesis of these examples poor. Whether they result in “prophetic words . . . God’s sovereign intentions . . . [or] to teachings”, they all come from actual words – individual words and words in sentences – so you may not exclude the words themselves from the meaning.

In Jeremiah 26:1, 2 we have two different uses of “word”; in verse 1 it means prophetic message; in verse 2 the first use concerns individual words in a group, and the second use refers to an individual word by itself.

“In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah came this word from the LORD, saying,

Thus saith the LORD; Stand in the court of the LORD's house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the LORD's house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word”​

We have many promises of God to preserve his words – individual words making sentences – for His people. From Isaiah 59:21,

As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.​

What are these “words” the Lord has put in our mouths? They are His Scriptures. They are prophecies, commands, promises, everything in His written word, which is built upon the individual words He gave His prophets and apostles. You can’t legitimately separate them.

It is written, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:8). Will it stand only in Heaven, and not among men? When Jesus said,

“It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”​

was He talking of commandments, purposes, promises, warnings, etc.? Yes, of course! But these are all conveyed through individual words. So was he talking of every individual word that proceeds out of the mouth of God as well? Yes, He was. All the words, from each to every. How can this not be understood? And if we are to live by every word God speaks to us, shall He not make sure we have them? It is written, that He by “his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3) – and since we must live by His every word we trust He will perform that which He has promised.

This is my foundation, His promises. This is my presupposition, the truth and abiding power of His word. “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” He saith, “but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). He is the Almighty, “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11).

“However [you say], it gets worse.” (post #13)

“The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that predates the time of Christ, and is, in fact, the preferred translation of the Hebrew scriptures as there are many cases where the NT quotes from the Hebrew and departs from the MT, clearly going with the Septuagint.” (post #13)​

You assert things that are yet to be proven. When it is doubted the Septuagint existed in some uniform edition prior to the time of Christ, you say, “You do realize that this puts you in the vast minority in scholarship.” You go on to say,

“The reason why we accept the idea of a Greek translation [or, maybe better, ‘a collection containing a translation of each book of the Hebrew Bible’] predating the time of Christ is because of the unity of the text as quoted in the NT, Philo, and Josephus. It is hard to say that somehow these guys got together, and made a translation that just happened to agree word for word with what we call the Septuagint. That would be quite a coincidence.”​

Would you please show me some of these “word for word” phenomena? And even if you could, let me enter a remark on this by LXX scholars Karen Jobes and Moisés Silva, in their Introduction to the Septuagint (Baker, 2000):

Biblical quotations in Jewish writings, the NT, and the early Christian fathers provide additional and important data for reconstructing the various recensions. This evidence is problematic for several reasons. With few exceptions, the extant manuscripts of these writings date from after most of the recensional activity had occurred. Furthermore, when these texts were themselves copied, they would often be corrected intentionally or unintentionally toward Origen’s (or Lucian’s or some other) text at some point in their transmission. Moreover, even if the original quotation within these texts could be recovered with certainty, it is still not clear that the text would represent a standard edition of the Bible. It may simply have been an idiosyncratic paraphrase produced by the author. (p. 283)​

It was said in another thread, “After 1900 years of searching, archaeology has failed to produce a single piece of papyrus written in Greek before c.150 A.D. that any writer of the New Testament used for a ‘quotation’.”

And worse! You say,

“...when Jesus speaks of a tittle, he is most probably referring to the smallest distinguishing characteristics of consonants” (post #14)​

The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd. ed. (BDAG), (Danker, Frederick William, ed., Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 428d), states regarding “tittle” in Matthew 5:18, [size=+1]keraia[/size] is used to refer to “part of a letter, a serif” . . . or to “accents and breathings”. Evidently the BDAG considers it can be used for either consonants or vowels.

Re Genesis 47:31 and Hebrews 11:21, your solution to this difficulty is not the only one, and there are solutions which do not assume the error of the Masoretic text and correctness of the Septuagint. I’ll give two. John Owen, Volume 7 on Hebrews (or 24 in full set) says,

It is certain that in the days of Jerome the Hebrew reading was unquestionably "mittah," a "bed," as it is now; for he blames the LXX for misinterpreting the word. (Quæst. Hebr.)....

Others say, the apostle makes use of this variety in expression to represent the entire posture and action of Jacob in this adoration. For whereas he was very weak and infirm, being near the time of his death, (which is observed in the story,) upon the coming of Joseph to him he sat upon the side of his bed, with his staff in his hand; a posture which he may be easily conceived to be in. At the end of his discourse with him, addressing himself unto the solemn adoration of God, he so bowed towards the bed’s head as that he supported himself with his staff, to preserve himself in a posture of reverence for his divine meditation. Wherefore, Although I will not contend that the word in that place hath a double signification, of a "bed" and a "staff," yet this is the true solution of this difficulty. The apostle did not design a precise translation of the words of Moses, but intended only to express the same thing. And whereas that was undoubtedly the posture of Jacob in the worshipping of God which we have declared, the apostle useth his liberty in expressing it by his "leaning on his staff." For that he did both, namely, "bow towards the head of the bed," and at the same time "lean on his staff," we are assured by comparing the divine writers together. (p. 129)​

And then David Cloud, in his book, Things Hard to be Understood: A Handbook of Biblical Difficulties. He says.

...Hebrews 11:21 does not refer to Genesis 47:31, but to Genesis 48:1-22. Genesis 47:29-31 records the occasion wherein Jacob requested Joseph to bury him with his fathers in the land of Israel. This is not the occasion of which Hebrews 11:21 refers. Genesis 48 records the occasion wherein Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons. These events did not occur at the same time, for Genesis 48:1 says that the events of chapter 48 occurred subsequent to the events of chapter 47. The Old Testament Hebrew does not tell us that Jacob worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff, when he blessed Jacob’s sons, but the Holy Spirit tells us this in Hebrews 11:21. It is not a translation of the Septuagint; it is new revelation by the Holy Spirit through the writer of Hebrews. (p. 179)​


I will bring up Psalm 12:6, 7,

The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.

Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.​

and you will no doubt tell me that proper grammar dictates it be translated otherwise! As learned as you are, however, you will be aware that an entire exegetical tradition – both Jewish and Christian – exists supporting the translation of the AV above (though it is often effectually suppressed by the one-sided rendering of modern translations). But let’s not get hung up arguing that verse (those interested in seeing a defense of it see here, and for Will Kinney’s new articles page, here), as there are many more which posit the Lord’s preservation, and are undisputed textually, as I have noted above.


You say,

“Now, if you are going to assert that something is true, you need some foundation. Otherwise, you can say anything you want and, so long as you can claim that ‘It's possible,’ no matter how unlikely it is, your position must be able to stand. A whole lot of absurd things can be proven from such reasoning as it is simply a leap in the dark.” (post #19)​

I have already shown my foundation. 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.

As I said earlier, it is an unenviable position you take. You provide fodder for the cannon of Bart Ehrman, with the variants and textual differences you allege. Listen to him:

“Even so, what is one to make of all these differences? If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don’t have the very words of scripture? In some places, as we will see, we simply cannot be sure that we have reconstructed the original text accurately. It’s a bit hard to know what the words of the Bible mean if we don’t even know what the words are!

This became a problem for my view of inspiration, for I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place. If he wanted his people to have his words, surely he would have given them to them (and possibly even given them the words in a language they could understand, rather than Greek and Hebrew). The fact that we don’t have the words surely must show, I reasoned, that he did not preserve them for us. And if he didn’t perform that miracle, there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words.” (Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who changed the Bible and Why, p. 11)​

We have lost our trust in scholars who tell us that the readings in our Bibles are a crapshoot, but maybe with the “hard work” of those in the text-critical industry we may some day – maybe – have a semblance of what God tried to preserve for His people, but didn’t succeed in doing Himself. In this post-critical era we are tired of academia turned against the church, tired of the “experts” lording it over the minds of God’s people with their destructive dogmas and methodologies. Tired of experts from the academy telling us that the Ecclesiastical Text of the Reformation church is no good. We have His word, His promises, and His presence. We have a battle to fight, and we won’t do it with a broken sword, or an uncertain trumpet: He has provided for us, having foreseen the attack of the devil on His word from the beginning. He has preemptively acted, giving us the preserved Hebrew and Greek text editions, and a trustworthy translation into English (and many other languages), even before modern textual criticism began developing its arsenal intended to destroy confidence in the Bible. The Lord struck first, and we are still able to marshal His weaponry in the battle. In the Reformation He not only brought back sound doctrine and ecclesiology, He fulfilled His promise to minutely preserve His word for all nations, that the gospel might go forth to all, before the end of the age.

The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated in to the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope. WCF 1:8​

Here we stand, in the faith of our fathers, which is living still.
 
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Hebrew Student

Puritan Board Freshman
Jerusalem Blade,

I do not have time for a full reply, as I have been very busy, but I will address your substantive points as best as I can.

First of all, I am well familiar with Israel Finklestein's arguments. I have professors who know him, and argue against him. The problem is that Finklestein knows that what he is saying is untrue, even at the time he wrote it. There is plenty of evidence for the things he mentions; in fact, the Bible itself is evidence that those things took place. There are Hebrew Scholars and archaeologists who are not even Christians who recognize that Finklestein is hard left in his scholarship. He is a hard empiricist, and, unless he can see the names "Moses," Aaron," etc., they must not have existed. The problem is that the culture, backgrounds, and scenarios outlined by the Bible fit very well with the history of the time period, and thus, it is evidence that these things happened. However, because he is a hard empiricist by nature, he doesn't accept that line of argumentation. My point is that there is no evidence period, not even anything that could be argued as evidence, for masoretic texts from the time of the Puritans existing at the time of Hezekiah, and the idea that everyone is running around with the exact same idea of how the vowels should read.

Secondly, while messages are made up of words, you may not need all of the words there to convey the message. For example, one could leave the Elohim out of Genesis 1:3, and the "and he said" would still be understood to refer to God, given that he is the only animate noun that could take a masculine singular verb in the context. The problem is that meaning is made up of so much more than just the words that are used. For example, you have Chomsky's X-bar theory which connects meaning to syntax. The word "to put, place" will have a theta role of three, and thus, when you are looking to lexical forms, and you pose a lexical meaning of a word as "to put, place," you cannot argue for that meaning if the word itself does not have a theta-3 theta role.

Also, consider that meaning is built in terms of pragmatics as well. I will use Kate Kearns' example. For example, let us take the sentence "I forgot the paper!" All of words are there. Thus, the meaning should not change. What happens if I put that it the context of a detective story, where the detective is going over crime scene photos at the end of the movie, and all of the sudden she gets this light coming on in her head, and she said, "I forgot the paper!" How is that different from a person getting to a meeting, and the boss asking for the paper he handed to you, and you replying, "I forgot the paper!" Also, how is that different from a husband getting home from work, and his wife asking him, "I need you to give me that newspaper I asked you to get so I can cut out the coupons." Does it mean the same thing if he says, "I forgot the paper!"

The whole point of this demonstration is that words are only part of meaning. Yes, words must be there, but language is flexible enough that you don't need the exact words there every time in order to produce the exact same meaning. However, you argue that if a few words may be missing in one text, or we may have a vowel pointing issue in one text, then this will effect all of the promises of God! I would say that, given the flexibility of language, and the way meaning in language works, that is impossible. Thus, I would argue that the words that are used are only one contributing factor to the nature of meaning. Meaning can even extend to the entire langue. Because of the multifaceted nature of meaning within language, I would say it is totally invalid to say that the promises of God are made up of individual words. The same meaning can be described even by totally different words, if the grammar, syntax, pragmatics, and sometimes even phonology in the case of onomatopoeia, are changed in compensation.

Also, I never said that there was total agreement between the citations of the Septuagint found in the Jewish writings, Josephus, and the New Testament. What I said was that they agree so much, that, if it doesn't go back to an original urtext, it would be an amazing coincidence. So, yes, I recognize the differences, but I also recognize the great similarity between them. The point that Silva and Jobes are making are with regards to the *differences* between the text. The question has to do with how we are going to categorize these differences that we do have, and they are arguing that it is difficult to call a quotation from a Jewish writer, Church Father, etc. that differs from the LXX a different reading since he could have been paraphrasing.

Here is an example of what I am arguing. It is well known that we have around 5700 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. While there are a lot of variants, most of them are garbage readings. In terms of actual viable variants, we have less than 2% of the New Testament differing. Now, is that mere coincidence? If it is, then what we know as "Matthew" must simply be a collection of several different early Christian writings that were eventually codified into one book that we now call "Matthew." Now, we know that this is absurd. The point is that, when you have substantial agreement, it is irrational to then try to divide it up and say that there is actually no urtext for this book. The burden of proof would be on you to show how you can have so much agreement between these authors, and yet have their be no urtext.

The problem with all of the ideas that you presented to try to harmonize Genesis 47 with Hebrews 11 is that you ignore that Hebrews 11 agrees entirely with the Septuagint at Genesis 47:11:

LXX Genesis 47:31: prosekunesen Israel epi to akron tes hrabdou autou.

NT: Hebrews 11:21: prosekunesen epi to akron tes hrabdou autou.

Notice that these phrases are almost entirely identical, and thus, why would anyone argue that he is referring to some other text, or that he does not mean to refer to the words that are spoken in this text? Worse than that, there is another problem, namely, that the Hebrew is awkward in Genesis 47:31. It uses the verb chawah, which is commonly used with prostrating oneself in worship. That verb is almost always translated in the Septuagint with proskuneo, which we have here in Hebrews 11:21, and which is likewise an awkward meaning here in Hebrews 11:21. Hence, why would the author of the New Testament go out of his way to make odd grammar if he is just meaning to describe something that happened that has nothing to do with a quotation of scripture, or that he is meaning to quote some other text a chapter later that does not use the term in this context that happens to agree with the way the Septuagint normally translates the unusually used term in Genesis 47:31? It simply doesn't make any sense.

With regards to the article you cited on Psalm 12, and with regards to the mismatch of genders between 'imrah and the masculine suffixes in verse 8 discussed in the article, everything the article cites in Psalm 119 is in parallelism, and it is common, in parallelism, to have what is called gender parallelism. One gender will be used in the first line, and another gender will be used in the second line. Also, noun/pronoun parallelism is common in Hebrew Poetry as well, which would likewise be relevant to the texts that were brought up in Psalm 119. Hence, all of these are irrelevant to the relationship between two words in two different strophes like we have in Psalm 12. Now, I will grant that disharmony can occur even in those instances, but no one would ever accept those passages in Psalm 119 instances which prove it for that reason. It is interesting, though, what John Calvin's view was on the referent to those suffixes:

Some give this exposition of the passage, Thou wilt keep them, namely, thy words; but this does not seem to me to be suitable. David, I have no doubt, returns to speak of the poor, of whom he had spoken in the preceding part of the psalm. [Commentary on the Psalms]

Now, I will allow for either reference for the suffix. I think that the mismatched genders is awkward, but allowable grammatically. However, the "words" here are not referring to the scriptures as a whole, or every single word in the scriptures. The scriptures are not the context of the passage. If you read the Psalm in its context, you will find that God says that, as a result of the groaning of the weak and needy, he will protect those who are weak and needy from those who seek to harm them [v.6]. It is only after this that you have a discussion of the purity of the words [v.7]. Thus, because we are in the context of a promise, I would take the term "word" here, not to be the individual words to the text of scripture, as scripture is not the context, but rather to the promises of God, and, particularity, the promise that he will take care of the needy and protect them.

Also, with regards to Bart Ehrman's position, I find it interesting that you agree with him on one point. If we don't have exactly every word, and there are no text critical problems, then we cannot have the inspired word of God. You agree with him wholeheartedly on that. The problem is that Ehrman can see that the assertion that we somehow have every single individual word that was written down was somehow preserved for us is untenable. The key is to reject the assertion that you and Bart Ehrman start with, namely, that in order for God to have preserved his word, he must have preserved it by keeping ever single individual word in tact. I can simply reject that view of preservation, and say that my view centers on the teachings of the text, and that, while there may be texts that deal with vowel pointing and textual variation, there will be other clear texts against which we can read the more obscure texts. However, the doctrines and teachings of scripture remain in spite of those difficulties. If you take that view of preservation, all Bart Ehrman can do is misrepresent it.

I don't think anyone is destroying anyone's confidence in the Bible. We have a remarkable textual tradition and, although we have textual variation, we have a very pure text which has had none of its doctrines altered. What I do see is the destruction of any view of preservation that would assert that every single individual word must be there in order for God to have preserved his word. You can't argue with the Bart Ehrmans of the world with that view.

God Bless,
Adam
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Hello Adam,

I must say I appreciate your respectful and scholarly tone, if not your point of view. I hope my vigorous – and sometimes passionate – style is not offensive to you. I have great respect for your in-depth study of Hebrew and related languages. Only it appears to me a counsel of despair to hold the view of language and meaning you do, a conclusion of necessity forced upon you by your inability to resolve the disparities and difficulties of the texts you know. Put another way, you cannot see the forest for the trees. Only if we don’t have – or know – the exact words of God is your view “useful”. You say,

“ . . . while messages are made up of words, you may not need all of the words there to convey the message.”

“The problem is that meaning is made up of so much more than just the words that are used.”

“The whole point of this demonstration is that words are only part of meaning. Yes, words must be there, but language is flexible enough that you don't need the exact words there every time in order to produce the exact same meaning . . . Because of the multifaceted nature of meaning within language, I would say it is totally invalid to say that the promises of God are made up of individual words. The same meaning can be described even by totally different words, if the grammar, syntax, pragmatics, and sometimes even phonology in the case of onomatopoeia, are changed in compensation.”​

While there may be some truth to your idea that one can convey the same meaning with different sets of words, this is not the case with the Scripture as it was originally given. God did not say, “Preserve My thoughts” or “the meaning in what I say,” but rather, of “all the words that I command thee to speak . . . diminish not a word” (Jer 26:2). He also said, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deut 4:2). Not only does He mean do not add to or diminish from the commandments, but from any word He spoke. That would seem to me a no-brainer. Given the sorry state of textual affairs you perceive, you must arrive at the conclusion you have.

I can say, “Bring me the pencil.” I could also say, “The piece of wood with graphite in it, give it to me.” And any number of variations, which would confirm your saying, “you don't need the exact words there every time in order to produce the exact same meaning”. But God said what He said, saw to it it was written word for word, and that we would have the words that were written.

By metonymy I understand that “word” or “words” may refer to “prophetic messages, doctrines, promises, commandments, etc”, but all these are comprised of individual words which should not be excluded, as they are the necessary vehicles for the larger meanings, and are often included in the meaning:

And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law.

There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them (Joshua 8:34, 35).


Blessed be the LORD, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant (1 Kings 8:56).​


You go on,

“My point is that there is no evidence period, not even anything that could be argued as evidence, for masoretic texts from the time of the Puritans existing at the time of Hezekiah”​

In his book, A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament *, Robert Dick Wilson (of Princeton TS, and after the reorganization, WTS) said,

In the remainder of this chapter and in the immediately following pages, I shall confine myself to the text, and shall endeavor to show that in view of the evidence bearing upon its origin and transmission the Hebrew text of the Massoritic Bible now in our possession is substantially reliable. (p. 65)

As to the text, or written form, of the documents of the Old Testament, as they issued from their authors, it is obvious that, if we do not have exact copies of the original writings, it will be impossible for us to be sure that we have the very words of the prophets who wrote or approved these writings. In my discussion of the text, therefore, it is my endeavor to show from the evidence of manuscripts, versions, and the inscriptions, that we are scientifically certain that we have substantially the same text that was in the possession of Christ and the apostles and, so far as anybody knows, the same as that written by the original composers of the Old Testament documents. p. 8​

* In plain text or other formats.

Those interested in some background on Professor Wilson, see the intro here: Is the Higher Criticism Scholarly?

You will no doubt, Adam, say to me, “But Dr. Wilson died in 1929, before the DSS were discovered, and many other finds!” Yet this does not invalidate his research into the Hebrew.


To answer with regard to the Dead Sea Scrolls I present an excerpt from Thomas Holland’s, Crowned With Glory: The Bible from Ancient Text to Authorized Version, chapter seven, “Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls” (his footnotes are in red type, per the online version):

The Proto-Masoretic Text

These manuscripts are called Proto-Masoretic because they agree with the Masoretic Text, yet date before the Masoretic Text became the official Hebrew Bible. It should be noted that the Dead Sea Scrolls have greatly enhanced the evidence supporting the authority of the Masoretic Text. Until the findings at Qumran (as well as findings at Wadi Murabbaat), the oldest Masoretic Texts dated to the Middle Ages. With Qumran, we now have manuscripts almost a thousand years older that are Masoretic. Most of the scrolls from Cave 4 are of this text-type and represent biblical books such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, the Minor Prophets, and some fragments of the Law and Historical books.

The most noted group is perhaps the Isaiah Scrolls. Two scrolls containing the book of Isaiah were found in Cave 1. The first is sometimes called the St. Mark’s Manuscript (1QIsa.a) because it was initially owned by St. Mark’s Monastery. The second is sometimes called the Hebrew University manuscript of Isaiah (1QIsa.b) because it is owned by that university. Both represent the Masoretic Hebrew Text and are major victories for the Masoretic Text and the Authorized Version.

Textual scholar Dr. James C. VanderKam has pointed out that 1QIsa.a is almost identical to the copies of Isaiah dating to the Middle Ages. Any differences are minor and hardly ever affect the meaning of the text. [James C. VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 126.] Dr. Menahem Mansoor, another textual scholar, has likewise stated that most of the differences are spelling or grammatical changes. Those that do not fall into this type are minor, such as an omission or addition of a word or two, or the mixing of Hebrew letters. [Menahem Mansoor, The Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 74-75.] One such minor variant is found in Isaiah 6:3. The Masoretic Text and the King James Bible read, "Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts." The St. Mark’s Isaiah text reads, "Holy, holy is the LORD of hosts." Therefore, while 1QIsa.a may be in error in its omission of the third holy, the contents of this scroll overwhelmingly support the Masoretic Text.

As close as this scroll is to the Masoretic tradition, the Hebrew University’s Isaiah scroll is closer. [Ibid., 79.] Textual scholar Dr. Ernst Wurthwein concurred, calling the agreement between 1QIsa.b and the Masoretic Text "striking." [Ernst Wurthwein, The Text of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 144.] Considering that a thousand years separate the Isaiah Scrolls from their Masoretic counterparts, the term striking may be an understatement. In either case, the evidence from Qumran demonstrates the Traditional Hebrew Text existed long before the Middle Ages, once again establishing the biblical principle of preservation.

About forty percent of the biblical texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are Masoretic. Further, the group of manuscripts listed by Dr. Tov as unique to Qumran also resembles the later Masoretic Text. [VanderKam, 143.] These texts account for twenty-five percent of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Therefore, among the biblical books of Dead Sea Scrolls, sixty-five percent reflect the Traditional Text of the Old Testament.

Providing additional support to the Masoretic readings among the Dead Sea Scrolls are findings at Wadi Murabbaat and Masada. In 1951, caves at Wadi Murabbaat, which is south of Qumran near the Dead Sea, were discovered which contained biblical manuscripts. The major difference here is that these biblical texts exclusively reflect the Masoretic Text. [Mansoor, 28.] These manuscripts, however, are slightly younger and are believed to have been written between 132 and 135 AD. Still, their relationship to the Masoretic Text of the Middle Ages is virtually identical to that of the Proto-Masoretic Qumran group. [Ibid., 31.] The findings at Murabbaat include the Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Minor Prophets, and the book of Psalms.

Between 1963 and 1965 manuscripts were discovered while excavating Masada, the famous rock fortress where Jewish nationalists withheld the advances of the Roman army in 73 or 74 AD. Masada is farther south of Qumran than Wadi Murabbaat, along the western coast of the Dead Sea. These manuscripts must date before the fall of the fortress, which place them before 74 AD. Fourteen scrolls containing biblical texts were found that agree extensively with the Masoretic Text. The only possible exception to this amazing agreement is the book of Ezekiel, and even there the textual variants are extremely minor. [Wurthwein, 31.]

.... Regardless of who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls [following a discussion of where the library hidden at Qumran came from –SMR], we can safely state that there is little in them that can be used against the Traditional Hebrew Text. In fact, because the evidence from Qumran overwhelming supports the Masoretic Hebrew Text, we must say the findings at Qumran strongly favor the Traditional Text and the Authorized Version. Additionally, as we have seen, findings at Murabbaat and Masada exclusively support the Masoretic Text, proving that the established text accepted as the oracles of God (Romans 3:1-2) was the Traditional Hebrew Text. The Scrolls may have been concealed and hidden for thousands of years, but God did not forget them. Today, they bear testimony to the Providential Hand in the keeping of Scripture. (pp. 132-134, 139-140)​

The book is no longer available online, the AOL site having been shut down, but the hardcopy book is highly recommended as a contemporary scholarly classic – irenically presented – defending the Authorized Version. It can be purchased at Amazon.

We have the Hebrew text the Lord Jesus and the apostles had in the first century. He affirmed the purity of the text He had; this is sufficient to show it was kept intact till His time. The Masoretic text we have is in continuity with His Proto-Masoretic text. According to promise, God has kept His words intact for His people. This was the faith of the Reformation divines, and it is ours.

To keep this short (as I myself am busy as well), a brief word about your remarks on Ehrman – and on my view of preservation. As you know, Ehrman’s approach really critiques the modern textual enterprise (both Old Testament and New would be included) in its saying that while we do not have the very words preserved, seeing as the numerous variants preclude this knowledge, we do have “the doctrines and teachings of scripture”. Ehrman goes on to say (see quote in post #22) that if God did not preserve His words how can we claim He inspired them, seeing we don’t even have them? His critique does not apply to my view. Now I have not studied his writings sufficiently at this point to see what he would say with regard to my position – I have collected sufficient materials, all I need is the time to study them.

My take is you got lost among the trees.
 
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