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Hebrew Philology

Biblical Hebrew Language

A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew 

Prof Geoffrey Khan (Regius Professor of Hebrew) with Aaron Hornkohl (Post-doctoral Researcher) and Nadia Vidro (Affiliated Researcher)

This project, which is currently funded by the Leverhulme Trust, aims to produce a grammar of Biblical Hebrew that will bring together descriptions of all the known traditions of the language. It will include the traditions that are reflected by the medieval Masoretic manuscripts, with various vocalization traditions, and also the traditions found in Hebrew Bible manuscripts from Qumran, various transcriptions of Biblical Hebrew from antiquity to the Middle Ages, and various oral reading traditions of Biblical Hebrew that have survived to modern times, including the Jewish oral traditions and the Samaritan tradition. The grammar has been commissioned by Oxford University Press as a successor to Wilhelm Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (ed. by Emil Kautzsch; trans. by Arthur E. Cowley, 1910, Oxford: Clarendon), which has traditionally been regarded as the standard grammar of Biblical Hebrew. The new grammar will incorporate material from the grammar of Gesenius, but will include substantial additions of new material. I am working on the project with my Research Associate, Dr Aaron Hornkohl, who is supported by the Leverhulme funding. 

Karaite Sources for the Tiberian Reading Tradition of Biblical Hebrew

Prof Geoffrey Khan, (Regius Professor of Hebrew)

Two projects relating to medieval Karaite sources are being undertaken in association with the larger project described above on the grammar of Biblical Hebrew. The first is a critical edition and translation of the work Hidāyat al-Qāriʾ ‘The Guide for the Reader’, which is an important source for our knowledge of the Tiberian Masoretic reading tradition of Biblical Hebrew. It was written in the 11th century C.E. by the Karaite grammar, ʾAbū al-Faraj Hārūn. A related project involves the description of Arabic transcriptions of Hebrew that are found in manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible written in Arabic script by Karaite scribes datable to the 10th and 11th centuries C.E. 

The Pronunciation of Biblical Hebrew 

Prof Geoffrey Khan (Regius Professor of Hebrew)

Another offshoot of the major project on the grammar of Biblical Hebrew is the preparation of a volume that surveys the various pronunciations of Biblical Hebrew through the ages. The starting point is the reconstruction of the Tiberian reading tradition, which formed the basis of standard Masoretic vocalization signs of the Hebrew Bible. The volume then describes the other diverse traditions that are reflected by ancient and medieval manuscripts and modern oral sources.

Linguistic Conservatism and Innovation in Biblical Manuscripts: The Masoretic Tradition versus the Dead Sea Scrolls

Aaron Hornkohl (Post-doctoral Researcher)

This research project involves a comprehensive linguistic comparison of the biblical Dead Sea Scrolls and the standard Tiberian Masoretic biblical text from the perspectives of linguistic typology and the historical development of ancient Hebrew. It will consider orthography, phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon, with the principal aims of (1) determining which material, i.e., which ‘editions’ of the relevant biblical texts, exhibits the typologically earlier linguistic profile and, where possible, (2) accounting for linguistic innovation in terms of internal and/or external factors. The results of this research, to be published in monograph form and to serve as data for a forthcoming comprehensive Biblical Hebrew reference grammar, will be a welcome and long-overdue contribution to the broader field of biblical textual criticism as they will provide a degree of objective linguistic control for gauging the extent to which ancient/medieval scribes modified the language of the biblical texts that they transmitted.

Manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah and the Pronunciation of Biblical Hebrew

Samuel Blapp (PhD student)

This project deals mainly with Biblical Hebrew manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah, which are vocalised according to the so-called Tiberian non-standard pronunciation tradition. The study aims to collect data from such manuscripts in order to elaborate a classification scheme that takes into consideration the manifold differences within the non-standard pronunciation tradition, and, in addition, to rethink the terminology that has been used to describe the manuscripts in question. This data is being compared to the biblical manuscript Leningrad Codex B19a, which serves as the base text for the modern critical editions of BHS and BHQ, and the famous Aleppo Codex wherever possible. With this comparison, it should further be possible to better situate these two major works of Masoretic scholarship within the wider context of medieval Hebrew manuscripts employing the Tiberian vocalisation system. 

Ancient Hebrew Periodization and the Language of the Book of Jeremiah: The Case for a Sixth-Century Date of Composition

Aaron Hornkohl (Post-doctoral Researcher)

This study is a defense and application of the diachronic approach to Biblical Hebrew and of the linguistic dating of biblical texts. Applying a variation of the standard four-prong methodology (which incorporates criteria of late distribution, linguistic opposition, extra-biblical corroboration, and accumulation) to the biblical book of Jeremiah, thus allowing it to be dated on the basis of its linguistic profile, including both the preservation of classical features and the penetration of characteristically post-classical features. According to the results, though a literarily composite work, Jeremiah is likely a product of the transitional period between the First and Second Temple times.

The research also contributes to unraveling Jeremiah’s complicated literary development, arguing on the basis of language that the book’s  ‘short edition’, as reflected in the book’s Old Greek translation, predates that ‘supplementary material’ preserved in the Masoretic edition but unparalleled in the Greek.

The monograph resulting from this study, which constitutes a revised English translation of my Hebrew University of Jerusalem doctoral dissertation (in Hebrew), is currently in print with Brill.

Rabbinic Hebrew Philology

A Diplomatic Edition of Mishna-Codex Kaufmann (A50)

Dr Michael Rand (Lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic), Dr Aaron Hornkohl (Language Teaching Officer in Modern Hebrew), Dr Shai Heijmans (Research Associate in Hebrew & Aramaic)

The purpose of this project, which is funded by the AHRC and will run during the academic years 2016-1019, is to create a diplomatic edition of Ms. Kaufman A50, the single most important (almost) complete manuscript of the Mishna, produced in Italy in the 11th or 12th century. The manuscript comprises two basic traditions—that of the copyist and that of the vocalizer. These two fundamental strands are supplemented by numerous marginalia, as well as by the material copied by a separate scribe as a replacement for a number of folios missing from the original manuscript.

A facsimile edition of the codex was published in 1929, and the monumental research of J.N. Epstein, E.Y. Kutscher and others has established it as a source of nonpareil significance in the study of the Mishna, both textual as well as philological, with a plethora of editions and studies being dependent on its text. And yet, no complete critical edition of the text contained in this manuscript has yet been produced. This is the lacuna that our project seeks to fill.

The purpose of our diplomatic edition, which will be produced by Dr Heijmans, is not simply to represent the textual data in typeface, but to interpret them with the help of a critical apparatus. In particular, our edition will be the first to fully and systematically grapple with the vocalization of the codex, which constitutes a fundamental aspect of its contribution to the study of Rabbinic Hebrew. We intend for the edition to be published as a traditional printed book, and it will also be made available in Open Access format as a fully-searchable PDF document.

The project team are: Dr Rand (PI), Dr Hornkohl (Co-I), and Dr Heijmans (Researcher). The team will be advised by Prof. Geoffrey Khan, and we expect to be joined by a second Researcher in 2017-2019. We will cooperate in our work with two other, related projects that focus on the Mishna text: the CT-Mishna and the Digital Mishna.

Medieval Hebrew Philology

A Critical Edition of the Piyyutim of Eleazar be-rabbi Qallir 

Michael Rand (Lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic)

The liturgical poet (payyetan) Eleazar be-rabbi Qillir flourished in Byzantine Palestine in the early 7th century, a short while before the Muslim conquest of the area. His enormous poetic oeuvre, produced for performance within the context of the now-defunct Palestinian liturgical rite, has been preserved in the rite-books (siddurim, maḥzorim) of various European Jewish liturgical rites—primarily those of Italy, Franco-Germany, and the Byzantine lands—as well in hundreds of fragments from the medieval manuscript cache known as the Cairo Genizah. The Qillirian corpus, characterized by remarkable artistry and virtuoso use of the Hebrew language, served a lynchpin for the development of medieval Jewish liturgy, and its collection, collation and critical edition has been a major desideratum. The present project, in which I am engaged with Professor Shulamit Elizur of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, aims to produce such an edition. The first volume, containing the piyyutim for Rosh Hashana, was published in 2014, and the second volume, piyytim for Yom Kippur, is currently in preparation.

Judeo-Arabic Texts

The 11th century letters of Daniel b. ‘Azariah 

Magdelen Connolly (Graduate student)

My current research comprises a comparative philological study of 15th-19th century Egyptian Judaeo-Arabic folk narratives and letters from the Cairo Genizah collections, focusing on variation in registers employed in these two genres.


The Nash Papyrus

The Nash Papyrus