Thursday, October 11, 2018

Notes on the Jerusalem inscription

A FEW NOTES on the recently-announced first-century CE inscription discovered near Jerusalem, the one that refers to Jerusalem with a plene spelling.

At the ETC Blog: 2,000-Year-Old Hebrew Inscription Contains Rare Spelling of Jerusalem. John Meade comments on a number of points, notably:
I’m more interested in the apparent Greek name, Dodalos, aren’t you? And what is the actual function of br “son” in this inscription? Anyways, I’ll let others speak to these matters.
At the Bible and Interpretation website, David M. Jacobson obliges: Comment on the Announcement of a New Herodian Inscription Found in Jerusalem. He proposes to read the Greek name with a different spelling. I think he's right. Paleographically, the letter in question looks more like a yod than a vav. And yod gives a more accurate pronunciation of the Greek name.

I have been pondering the spelling of the name Jerusalem in Hebrew letters. I haven't seen a full historical account anywhere, so here goes. The following is technical. But some readers will be interested. Others may want to skip the next several paragraphs.

The word "Jerusalem" is today pronounced Yerushaláyim in Hebrew. The vowel of the final syllable -áyim is an original diphthong, -*ay. By the time of the Masoretic vocalization, this diphthong had collapsed to -áyi in an accented syllable, as here, but to long "e" -ȇ in an unaccented syllable.

The normal spelling of the original -*ay diphthong in biblical Hebrew is with the yod (whether or not with the accented or unaccented Masoretic pronunciation). This is also the normal spelling in the surviving Iron Age inscriptions.

That means that the normal biblical spelling of Jerusalem in Hebrew, without the yod, is an anomaly. We would expect the longer spelling, based on how the diphthong is spelled in other words. The short spelling of Jerusalem also appears in the Khirbet Beit Lehi/Lei inscription, which I mentioned earlier.

The transmission of names tends to be conservative, so it looks like the biblical and Iron Age spelling of Jerusalem is doubly archaic. It goes back to the earliest spelling of the name, tenth century BCE or earlier, which would not have included any internal vowel letters. Hence, no yod.

So we would have expected the longer spelling in the Bible, but we get a more archaic, short spelling most of the time.

When we do start getting the longer spelling, it most likely signals that the Masoretic pronunciation Yerushaláyim was starting up at that time. This is an interesting point for the historical development of the pronunciation of Hebrew.

This new inscription is one piece of evidence that the pronunciation change was underway by the first century CE. The original press release did not specify this point, but others have noted it since (e.g., in the ETC Blog post quoted above).

The original press release also underlines that this is the earliest example of the full spelling on a stone inscription, which, as far as I know, is correct. It does not mention that the full spelling also appears a number of times in the Dead Sea Scrolls at around the same time. But that point does come up in later coverage, such as here.

There is nothing groundbreaking in this inscription. But it gives us a few bits of new information and it is good to have it.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.