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Inspiration of the Bible: Bulletin Articles

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Hebrew Vowels and Bible Integrity

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

Q.

If the Hebrew language originally had no vowels, how do we know we have the Old Testament text as God intended?

A.

It is true that the Hebrew alphabet originally had no vowels. For many centuries, Jews wrote the language without any vowels. But that did not mean that there was any doubt or irresolvable uncertainty about the meaning of the words. When Jews grew up learning their language, just like Americans, they grew up learning how to pronounce words and how to write them. The only reason vowels (which are actually a system of points [dots] and other diacritical markings) were invented was so that Jews who did not speak Hebrew (like the Hellenistic Jewish widows of Acts 6) and non-Jews would be able to pronounce the words. The most widely used pointing system was developed by the Masoretes between A.D. 600-1000 (“The Masoretes and…,” 2002; “Aaron ben…,” 2010). Working primarily in the Palestinian cities of Tiberius and Jerusalem, as well as in Babylonia (modern Iraq), these Jewish scribes/scholars were meticulous in their efforts to preserve the Hebrew text in their transcriptions (known as the Masoretic text). We now know they did an outstanding job, because as the Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered in the 1940s) have gradually been examined, it has become apparent that the condition of the Hebrew text in the second half of the first millennium A.D. was virtually the same as reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls that date back to the first century B.C. Like the New Testament, the text of the Old Testament has been preserved to the extent that Christians may be assured that they are in possession of the Word of God as He intended.

REFERENCES

“Aaron ben Moses ben Asher” (2010), Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/benAsher.html.

“The Masoretes and the Punctuation of Biblical Hebrew” (2002), British & Foreign Bible Society, http://lc.bfbs.org.uk/e107_files/downloads/masoretes.pdf.




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