Friday, February 22, 2008

The Samaritans' Pronunciation of Genesis 1:1

My Introductory Hebrew class was reading Genesis 1 today, and we wrestled with the old, fun problem of whether the story begins with "in the beginning" or "when God began to..." or (most likely) "in the beginning, when..." The BHS textual apparatus makes an interesting reference to appendix II of Paul Kahle's 1959 book on text and translation, The Cairo Geniza. This appendix gives a transliteration recorded at Nablus in 1917 by Hellmut Ritter and Arthur Schaade of how the Samaritan community was pronouncing chuncks of Genesis and Exodus. BHS understands their pronounciation of the first word of Gen 1:1 to lend support to reading "In the beginning." Below is a scan of part of p. 318 (click to enlarge). You can see that overall there are quite a few differences between Samaritan pronunciation and both standard Jewish and scientific/academic pronounciation of biblical Hebrew:

3 Comments:

Blogger James F. McGrath said...

I've decided to bestow upon you the highly prestigious 'E for Excellent' award. Feel free to substitute a letter you feel more appropriate from the alphabet the Samaritans used...

Mon Feb 25, 01:18:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous learnfrenchwiththebible said...

You might also want to mention that the BHS textual apparatus also mentions Origen's Βρησιθ vel Βαρησηθ (-σεθ).

Mon Feb 25, 10:04:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Robert Holmstedt said...

Stephen,

May I suggest that "In the beginning, when..." is the least likely of readings for Gen 1.1?

The construction in Gen 1.1 has firm Semitic parallels, including strong internal BH support, all of which suggests a *restrictive* relative clause reading, e.g., "In (the) beginning that...".

I've discussed the verse and its syntax in an article in the latest VT (58/1 (2008): 56-67). In addition to the Akkadian examples briefly cited in the article, I could now add relative clause data from other Semitic languages, such as Epigraphic South Arabian.

What we see in Gen 1.1 is a very basic Semitic construction. The Samaritan pronunciation, with the article, likely reflects an interpretive tradition which deviates from the syntax of the non-Samaritan tradition.

Cheers,
Robert

Tue Feb 26, 01:02:00 PM GMT-5  

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