[7g] (c) In the present state of Old Testament vocalization as it appears in the Masoretic text, the striving after a certain uniformity cannot be mistaken, in spite of the inconsistencies which have crept in. Thus the final long vowel is, with very few exceptions (cf. §9d, and the very doubtful cases in §8k), indicated by a vowel letter—and almost always by the same letter in certain nominal and verbal endings. In many cases the use of ו to mark an ô or û, arising from contraction, and of י for ê or î, is by far the more common, while we seldom find an originally consonantal א rejected, and the simple phonetic principle taking the place of the historical orthography. On the other hand the number of exceptions is very great. In many cases (as e.g. in the plural endings ־ִים and וֹת) the vowel letters are habitually employed to express long vowels which do not arise through contraction, and we even find short vowels indicated. The conclusion is, that if there ever was a period of Hebrew writing when the application of fixed laws to all cases was intended, either these laws were not consistently carried out in the further transmission of the text, or errors and confusion afterwards crept into it. Moreover much remained uncertain even in texts which were plentifully provided with vowel letters. For, although in most cases the context was a guide to the correct reading, yet there were also cases where, of the many possible ways of pronouncing a word, more than one appeared admissible.
[7h] 3. When the language had died out, the ambiguity of such a writing must have been found continually more troublesome; and as there was thus a danger that the correct pronunciation might be finally lost, the vowel signs or vowel points were invented in order to fix it. By means of these points everything hitherto left uncertain was most accurately settled. It is true that there is no historical account of the date of this vocalization of the O.T. text, yet we may at least infer, from a comparison of other historical facts, that it was gradually developed by Jewish grammarians in the sixth and seventh centuries a.d. under the influence of different Schools, traces of which have been preserved to the present time in various differences of tradition. They mainly followed, though with independent regard to
- Thus e.g. קטל can be read qāṭal, qāṭāl, qāṭôl, qeṭōl, qôṭēl, qiṭṭēl, qaṭṭēl, quṭṭal, qèṭel, and several of these forms have also different senses.
- The most important of these differences are, (a) those between the Orientals, i.e. the scholars of the Babylonian Schools, and the Occidentals, i.e. the scholars of Palestine (Tiberias, &c.); cf. Ginsburg, Introd., p. 197 ff.; (b) amongst the Occidentals, between Ben-Naphtali and Ben-Asher, who flourished in the first half of the tenth century at Tiberias; cf. Ginsburg, Introd., p. 241 ff. Both sets of variants are given by Baer in the appendices to his critical editions. Our printed editions present uniformly the text of Ben-Asher, with the exception of a few isolated readings of Ben-Naphtali, and of numerous later corruptions.