Song of Solomon & Shulamite IV

Scott Alexander Gabriel Reiss

7 September 2004

B. Cantillation

Cantillation (Jewish liturgical chant) offers a rich source of metrical data. In synagogue the בעל קריאה “lector” chants from the unvocalized Torah and Hagiographa with the help of a prompter following in a cantillated text. He reads the entire Pentateuch and the five scrolls (Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther) in an annual rotation of weekly passages on the Sabbath and holidays. The בעל תפילה “precentor” psalmodizes from a vocalized סדור “psalter”. On the Sabbath and holidays he sings psalms and songs from the Bible, as well as other prayers and poems both ancient and modern. In the Middle Ages, and as late as the twentieth century in certain Jewish communities such as those of Rome, Cairo, and Yemen, a signer cued the congregation to cantillation marks by means of chironomy or hand signals. The חזן “cantor” may double as lector or precentor in addition to his role as soloist and/or choirmaster, depending on the size, wealth, individual talents, and cultural traditions of the temple. Innumerable historical and geographical variations in synagogal custom and organization are attested. Sephardic and Jewish Yemenite liturgy includes the recitation of the Song of Songs every Sabbath Eve, but the lay readers often lack formal training in cantillation.

Two systems of cantillation marks occur in the Masorah, referred to as psalmody (Psalms, Proverbs, body of the book of Job) and prosody (prologue/epilogue of Job, and the rest of the books). Moreover Sephardic, Ashkenazi, and Yemenite cantors interpret cantillation marks differently in their trope (musical phrasing conventions).

Large MP3 files of the cantillation of each book of the Bible are available on the following site:

http://audioscripture.com/audio/0123-01/OT/OT.htm

Cantillation
                Chironomy Mehupakh

 

 

Pashta

 

 

Little Zakef

 

Great Zakef

 

Cantillation Chironomy

 

Cantillation marks belong to a complex system of punctuation or textual annotation (the dots, lines, and curves written above, below, and between Hebrew letters) that convey a huge amount of information with breathtaking economy as pertains to the following:

  1. melody, modulation, and rhythm (cantillation)

  2. tonic accents, intonation and pauses (cantillation)

  3. metrical units (logical)

  4. syntactic relationships (logical)

  5. vowels (diacritical)

  6. homographs and phonetic shifts (diacritical)

Cantillation marks (referred to collectively as טעמים taste) perform the first four functions, but are only attested in conjunction with pointing, the diacritical marks (referred to collectively as נקודות dots) that perform the last two. All arose at the same time (evolving in three rival schools over a period of five hundred years, c. 400-900), and clear distinctions are seldom drawn among the characters (including digraphs and homographs), their names (including synonyms), and their intertwined roles. Since a thousand years of unrecorded harmonic and phonetic transformations separated the punctuators from the authors of the Bible, cantillation and diacritical marks do not accurately reflect historical phenomena of the biblical period, notes and vowels the rabbis had never heard. They may however reflect the Jewish culture, music, and dialects of the time and places in which they were written, medieval Sura (in Babylonia, modern-day Iraq) and Tiberias (on the shores of the Sea of Galilee). They may also accurately represent logical relationships (grammatical and metrical) actually present in the text.

In his notes to the publication and translation into French of the anonymous Yemenite Hebrew grammar compilation Reader’s Manual (1870) Joseph Derenbourg, the Jewish French Orientalist and philologist, gives this colorful account of cantillation marks: Accentuation is like the first stuttering of an unconscious grammar, and would perhaps never have undergone this development had it not been destined to compensate for science, which had not yet been formulated. This incomparable punctuation may only be understood as the expression of a tradition that had to materialize, for want of the ability to call to its aid the exact observation of the organism of language.

Samuel Bohl1 (1611-1639), the German Orientalist and philologist, divides cantillation marks into five organizational levels. In the following table of the prosodic signs frequency refers to occurrences in the Song of Songs:

Name

Transliteration2

Psalmodic Homograph

Sign

Example

Reference

Frequency

סלוק

Silluk

Silluk

Song of Songs 1:1

117

אתנח

Atnakh

Atnakh

Song of Songs 3:11

86

סגולתא

Segolta

NA

Song of Songs 5:1

1

שלשלת גדולה

Great Shalshelet

Great Shalshelet

Genesis 19:16

0

זקף קטן

Little Zakef

NA

Song of Songs 1:2

168

זקף גדול

Great Zakef

NA

Song of Songs 5:12

7

טפחא

Tifkha

Tarkha

Song of Songs 1:5

203

רביע

Revia

Revia

Song of Songs 1:4

25

זרקא

Zarka

Tsinor

Song of Songs 5:1

1

פשטא

Pashta

NA

Song of Songs 1:3

146

יתיב

Yetiv

NA

Song of Songs 6:1

5

תביר

Tevir

NA

Song of Songs 2:17

19

גרש

Geresh

NA

Song of Songs 1:4

8

גרשים

Double Geresh

NA

Song of Songs 2:14

4

פזר קטן

Little Pazer

Little Pazer

Genesis 10:13

0

פזר גדול

Great Pazer

NA

Numbers 35:5

0

תלישא גדולה

Great Telisha

NA

Genesis 6:22

0

לגרמיה

Largameh

NA

Genesis 1:21

0

מנח

Munakh

Munakh

Song of Songs 2:12

149

מהפך

Mehupakh

Mehupakh

Song of Songs 1:8

66

מרכא

Merekha

Merekha

Song of Songs 3:1

127

מרכא כפולה

Double Merekha

NA

Genesis 27:25

0

דרגא

Darga

NA

Song of Songs 7:1

7

אזלה

Azla

Azla

Song of Songs 2:7

10

תלישא קטנה

Little Telisha

NA

Song of Songs 2:17

1

גלגל

Galgal

Galgal

Numbers 35:5

0

 

קיסר or Imperator “Emperor”

מלך or Rex “King”

משנה or Dux “Viceroy”

שליש or Comes “Captain”

משרת or Servus “Footman”

The first four groups are disjunctive (indicating syntactic breaks) or pausal, while the last is conjunctive (indicating syntactic links) or non-pausal. The following diagram illustrates the disjunctive system as it applies to half a verse:

Cantillation Marks -
          Hierarchical Structure

In practice, however, and contrary to modern nesting practices, cantillation marks hold cumulative mandates, i.e. the emperor supersedes king 2, viceroy 4, and captain 8, king 1 supersedes viceroy 2 and captain 4, viceroys 1 and 3 supersede captains 2 and 6 respectively. This economy allows for eight signs instead of fifteen. The following table represents their role as implemented in linear order:

Level 4

Level 3

Level 4

Level 2

Level 4

Level 3

Level 4

Level 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emperor

 

 

 

King

 

King

King

 

 

Viceroy

Viceroy

 

Viceroy

 

 

 

Captain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the data are arranged sequentially, four members of an inferior rank are promoted to preserve the ascending hierarchy, without respect to level and contrary to modern nesting practices. Thus, level 3 king viceroy, and level 4 king/viceroys captain. Priority between two signs of equal value (with no intervening sign of greater value) goes to the first sign, except that priority goes to the last emperor, who governs the whole verse.3

In his Treatise on the Accentuation of the Twenty-One So-Called Prose Books of the Old Testament (1887), William Wickes, the British Orientalist and philologist, calls the elaborated classification “fanciful and misleading4, and defends the rabbinical bipartition of disjunctive מלך or dominus “master” and conjunctive משרת or servus “slave”. He nevertheless lists the former in an almost identical hierarchical order (rather than, for example, alphabetically), while quibbling about a few signs that he deems over- or underrated. No one seems to ignore the subordinations. Scholars disagree in their analysis of those subordinations. The present article retains none of these theories, preferring instead to proceed by distributional analysis (used by modern linguists to determine the parts of speech).

Generative grammar, while also repudiating Bohl’s system, sees in cantillation marks evidence of constituent structure analysis.5 Tree diagrams represent the syntactic relationships of sentences, as in the following figure illustrating Genesis 6:22,

Cantillation Marks - Syntactic
          Structure

The cantillation marks are then interpreted and manipulated in much the same way as linguistic concepts such as sentence (S), noun phrase (NP), and verb phrase (VP). This interpretation of cantillation marks, however, gives no structural role to silluk, which does not even appear in the tree diagrams. The considerable refinement and flexibility that cantillation marks bring to bear on grammatical parsing also serves in the scansion of biblical meter.

The cæsura, a rhythmic pause, divides most biblical verses into two or more metrical units called stichs. (The wages of scribes were paid by the stich.) The verse is called a monostich, distich (couplet, the rhetorical unit of biblical parallelism and antithesis), tristich (tercet), etc. according to the number of stichs it contains. A secondary cæsura splits the stich into two hemistichs.

The author of the present article has coined the neologism quarterstich in order to account for the exceptional verse length and minute subdivisions that characterize biblical prosody. The Classical dactylic hexameter counts no more than seventeen syllables (the final foot being a disyllabic trochee or spondee). Nearly half of the verses of the Song of Songs run at least fifty percent longer (fifty-four verses of twenty-six syllables or more). It is highly unlikely, and contrary to the evidence provided by contemporary cantors, that poets could recite long sequences of six-syllable utterances. Unless the Bible was not publicly declaimed, contrary to modern practice, as well as historical and internal6 evidence, the quarterstich imposes itself as a necessary metrical unit.

The quarterstich is composed of one or more metrical feet. The foot (generally limited by respiratory factors to four syllables) is a rhythmic group united under a tonic accent. Hebrew is an oxytonic language, whose accent regularly falls on the last syllable of an utterance. The foot is the building block of meter. As in Anglo-Saxon poetry, unstressed syllables (slack) are not counted, keeping in mind that cantillation stress may indicate a secondary accent in polysyllables and may differ from the tonic accent of uncantillated speech.

The following figure illustrates the prosodic structure of the normalized verse of the Song of Songs, a distich each hemistich of which is composed of two quarterstichs, each in turn composed of two feet:

Cantillation Marks - Prosodic
          Structure

Cantillation marks represent this metrical hierarchy as follows:

  1. Silluk governs the verse.

  2. Atnakh (representing the cæsura) governs the stich.

  3. Little zakef (representing the secondary cæsura) governs the hemistich.

  4. Pashta and tifkha govern quarterstichs x.1 and x.3 respectively.

  5. Mehupakh, munakh, and merekha govern the foot.

In practice, however, and contrary to modern nesting practices, cantillation marks hold cumulative mandates, i.e. silluk simultaneously governs the whole verse, stich 2, hemistich 2.2, quarterstich 2.4, and foot 2.8, atnakh governs stich 1, hemistich 1.2, quarterstich 1.4, and foot 1.8, little zakef governs hemistichs x.1, quarterstichs x.2, and feet x.4, tifkha governs quarterstichs x.3 and feet x.6, pashta governs quarterstichs x.1 and feet x.2. This economy allows for sixteen signs instead of thirty-one. The following table represents their metrical role as implemented in linear order:

Level 1

Verse

Level 2

Stich 1

Stich 2

Level 3

Hemistich 1.1

Hemistich 1.2

Hemistich 2.1

Hemistich 2.2

Level 4

Quarterstich 1.1

Quarterstich 1.2

Quarterstich 1.3

Quarterstich 1.4

Quarterstich 2.1

Quarterstich 2.2

Quarterstich 2.3

Quarterstich 2.4

Level 5

Foot 1.1

Foot 1.2

Foot 1.3

Foot 1.4

Foot 1.5

Foot 1.6

Foot 1.7

Foot 1.8

Foot 2.1

Foot 2.2

Foot 2.3

Foot 2.4

Foot 2.5

Foot 2.6

Foot 2.7

Foot 2.8

Position

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

Sign

Mehupakh

Pashta

Munakh

Little Zakef

Merekha

Tifkha

Munakh

Atnakh

Mehupakh

Pashta

Munakh

Little Zakef

Merekha

Tifkha

Merekha

Silluk

The Song of Songs is composed of 117 verses, 31 monostichs (lacking atnakh) and 86 distichs. About ninety percent of the 1,253 words carry a cantillation mark (1,150 total), taking into account that some polysyllables carry two signs, and considering makef (similar to a hyphen) as a word separator. The value of the sign governing a hemistich-initial quarterstich depends on the sign governing the hemistich, i.e. pashta precedes little zakef, tifkha precedes atnakh and silluk. The 360 odd-numbered feet occur in free variation, accounting in part for widely unequal verse length. The value of the sign governing these optional feet, however, depends on the sign governing the quarterstich, i.e. mehupakh precedes pashta, munakh precedes little zakef and atnakh, merekha precedes tifkha and silluk. Thirty-three stichs contain only one hemistich, composed of tifkha followed by atnakh or silluk. Nine quarterstichs contain three feet, composed of two conjunctives followed by a disjunctive. The meter must have held a strong hold on both lector and listener alike, as its rhythmic pattern sufficed to organize verses of between fifteen and thirty syllables or more.

All of the above cantillation marks occur in the stressed syllable, including pashta, which is reiterated in the last syllable if the tonic accent falls before it. The verse thus follows a sequential pattern: ‑//‑|‑//‑||‑//‑|‑//‑: (where ‑ represents a stressed syllable, // a quarterstich division, | the secondary cæsura or hemistich division, || the cæsura or stich division, and : a verse division).

Twenty (seventeen percent) of the 117 verses follow this exact eight-sign pattern (pashta, little zakef, tifkha, atnakh, pashta, little zakef, tifkha, silluk).

Ninety-five (forty-seven percent) of the 203 stichs follow this exact four-sign pattern (pashta, little zakef, tifkha, atnakh/silluk), taking into account the regular variation in quarterstichs x.4.

The following table represents the occurrences of each of the five high-frequency disjunctive signs in the 104 stichs of only four disjunctive signs, taking into account the regular variation in quarterstichs x.4:

Quarterstich

x.1

x.2

x.3

x.4

Sign

Pashta

Little Zakef

Tifkha

Atnakh (x)

Silluk (y)

Expected

104

104

104

104 - y

104 - x

Occurrences

95

100

104

42

62

Percent

91%

96%

100%

100% 100%

While constituent structure analysis of syntactic relationships might account for such a regular overall pattern, syntax is indifferent to the one factor (number of disjunctive signs per stich) that intensifies this regularity to the point of quasi-exactitude.

The following table represents the stich distribution of each of the five high-frequency disjunctive signs, disregarding conjunctive signs:

Sign

Pashta

Little Zakef

Tifkha

Atnakh

Silluk

Occurrences

146

168

203

86

117

Environment

Follows

Precedes

Follows

Precedes

Follows

Precedes

Follows

Precedes

Follows

Precedes

Pashta

1

1

143

10

0

0

0

0

0

0

Little Zakef

10

143

8

8

146

0

0

0

0

0

Tifkha

0

0

0

146

0

0

86

0

117

0

Atnakh

0

0

0

0

0

86

0

0

0

0

Silluk

0

0

0

0

0

117

0

0

0

0

Other Disjunctive

27

2

5

4

23

0

0

0

0

0

Stich Division

108

0

12

0

34

0

0

86

0

117

The preceding conclusions7 were drawn from a mathematical model of the poem built empirically as follows:

  1. Each cantillation mark was assigned a unique identifier.

  2. Each instance of a cantillation mark was assigned a position (1 for the first sign in the verse, 2 for the second, 3 for the third, etc.)

  3. Distributional analysis of the resulting data was performed in a spreadsheet.

For technical reasons the algorithm was performed on the Unicode (UTF-8) source text based on the Leningrad Codex (written in Cairo c. 1010) available at the following Uniform Resource Locator (URL):

http://www.anastesontai.com/b-cantilee/en-cant.asp?A=31&listeB=1

The data were then checked visually against the comparison text based on the Aleppo Codex (c. 930) available at the following URL:

http://www.mechon-mamre.org/c/ct/c3001.htm

The readings of the latter received preference in case of variants. Fewer than a dozen were found.8 All of the variants listed in the text of the Aleppo Codex were retained.

6:1-6:6 serves as an example:

Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? whither is thy beloved turned aside? that we may seek him with thee.

My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.

I [am] my beloved’s, and my beloved [is] mine: he feedeth among the lilies.

Thou [art] beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as [an army] with banners.

Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me: thy hair [is] as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead.

Thy teeth [are] as a flock of sheep which go up from the washing, whereof every one beareth twins, and [there is] not one barren among them.

Cantillated Masoretic Printed Text in
                Ezra SIL SR Unicode font
 

Cantillated Masoretic Printed Text in Ezra SIL SR Unicode font

The following text represents the pronunciation of these verses:

a•na ha•lakh do•dekh ha•ya•fa ba•na•shim a•na pa•na do•dekh u•ne•vak•she•nu i•makh

do•di ya•rad l’ga•no la•a•ru•got ha•bo•sem lir•ot ba•ga•nim v’lil•kot sho•sha•nim

a•ni l’do•di v’do•di li ha•ro•e ba•sho•sha•nim

ya•fa at ra•ya•ti k’tir•tsa na•va ki•ru•sha•lam a•yu•ma ka•nid•ga•lot

ha•se•bi ei•na•yikh mi•neg•di shehem hir•hi•vu•ni sa•rekh k’e•der ha•i•zim she•gal•shu min ha•gil•ad

shi•na•yikh k’e•der har•khe•lim she•a•lu min ha•rakh•tsa she•ku•lam mat•i•mot v’sha•ku•la ein ba•hem

where ’ represents the schwa (a reduced vowel not generally affecting the syllable count), • a syllable division, the space a word division, and small caps a stressed syllable.

Roman alphabet transliterations (based on English spelling and undocumented phonetic principles) of each chapter of the Bible are available on the following site:

http://www.levsoftware.com/Vmain.htm

Structurally these verses may be represented as follows:

Level 1

Verse

Level 2

Stich 1

Stich 2

Level 3

Hemistich 1.1

Hemistich 1.2

Hemistich 2.1

Hemistich 2.2

Level 4

Quarterstich 1.1

Quarterstich 1.2

Quarterstich 1.3

Quarterstich 1.4

Quarterstich 2.1

Quarterstich 2.2

Quarterstich 2.3

Quarterstich 2.4

6:1

 

 

Yetiv

Munakh

Little Zakef

 

Tifkha

Atnakh

 

Yetiv

Munakh

Little Zakef

Tifkha

Silluk

6:2

 

 

Pashta

Munakh

Little Zakef

 

Tifkha

Atnakh

 

Pashta

 

Little Zakef

Tifkha

Silluk

6:3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mehupakh

Pashta

Munakh

Little Zakef

Tifkha

Silluk

6:4

Azla

Mehupakh

Pashta

 

Little Zakef

 

Tifkha

Atnakh

 

 

 

 

Tifkha

Silluk

6:5

 

Mehupakh

Pashta

 

Little Zakef

Merekha

Tifkha

Atnakh

 

Pashta

Munakh

Little Zakef

Tifkha

Silluk

6:6

 

 

Pashta

Munakh

Little Zakef

 

Tifkha

Atnakh

 

Pashta

 

Little Zakef

Tifkha

Silluk

In the conventional notation of prosody they may be represented as follows:

Level 1

Verse

Level 2

Stich 1

Stich 2

Level 3

Hemistich 1.1

Hemistich 1.2

Hemistich 2.1

Hemistich 2.2

Level 4

Quarterstich 1.1

Quarterstich 1.2

Quarterstich 1.3

Quarterstich 1.4

Quarterstich 2.1

Quarterstich 2.2

Quarterstich 2.3

Quarterstich 2.4

6:1

 

 

‑//

‑/

‑|

 

‑//

‑||

 

‑//

‑/

‑|

‑//

‑:

6:2

 

 

‑//

‑/

‑|

 

‑//

‑||

 

‑//

 

‑|

‑//

‑:

6:3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‑/

‑//

‑/

‑|

‑//

‑:

6:4

‑/

‑/

‑//

 

‑|

 

‑//

‑||

 

 

 

 

‑//

‑:

6:5

 

‑/

‑//

 

‑|

‑/

‑//

‑||

 

‑//

‑/

‑|

‑//

‑:

6:6

 

 

‑//

‑/

‑|

 

‑//

‑||

 

‑//

 

‑|

‑//

‑:

where ‑ represents a stressed syllable, / a foot division, // a quarterstich division, | the secondary cæsura or hemistich division, || the cæsura or stich division, and : a verse division.

The verses differ considerably in the number, length, and type of clauses:

Verse

Number & Type of Clauses

Length

6:1

Independent clause; independent clause; independent clause.

25 syllables

6:2

Independent clause; infinitive clause; infinitive clause.

23 syllables

6:3

Independent clause; independent clause; independent clause.

14 syllables

6:4

Independent clause.

21 syllables

6:5

Independent clause; relative clause; independent clause; relative clause.

29 syllables

6:6

Independent clause; relative clause; relative clause; relative clause.

27 syllables

The meter, however, is flexible enough to accommodate this variation, suppressing stich 1 in verse 3 and hemistich 2.1 in verse 4, adding conjunctive feet as needed (two in quarterstich 1.1 of verse 4). The prosodic pattern’s beautiful symmetry remains nonetheless recognizable.

The rhythm concords with the rhetorical figure of parallelism, the native mode of thought of the ancient Hebrew poets:

Conclusion

King Solomon rose to power in a bloody fight for the succession of his father King David. At the decisive moment of the struggle emerged a young beauty from Shunem, Abishag, David’s nurse or wife. The Shulamite would participate not only in Solomon’s crowning but also in what is reputed to be his crowning glory, the Song of Songs, an erotic poem that would last longer than the united kingdom of Judah and Israel, longer than the First Temple, also attributed to his works.

The botanical imagery of the poem, both biblical and derived from ancient cults of fertility, reveals the sexual subtext, particularly in the four refrains and the coda that structure the rite of initiation of the nuptial hymn.

Nearly two thousand years later a group of embattled rabbis and philologists in Tiberias, seized control of the text of the Bible, created an exhaustive system of textual annotation, and imposed their interpretation on future generations of readers.

The study of cantillation marks has generally been limited to the verse. This undue restriction has blinded grammarians to the paradigmatic (or vertical) structure of the signs. Distributional analysis reveals these rhythmic patterns, linked to syntactic relationships and unwritten musical traditions, that correspond to the prosodic meter of the Song of Songs.

Song of Solomon & Shulamite III

Sources

The following versions of the Bible have been consulted:

Date

Title

Author

Language

URL

c. 250-150 BCE

Septuagint

Anonymous

Greek

http://septuagint.org/LXX (Greek fonts not necessary for most browsers and systems.)

c. 4th century CE

Unvocalized Masorah

Anonymous

Hebrew

http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/t/x/x0.htm (Hebrew fonts not necessary for most browsers and systems.)

c. 383-405 CE

Vulgate

Jerome et al.

Latin

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0060

c. 8th century

Targum Canticles

Anonymous

Aramaic

http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~jtreat/song/targum (Online in English only.)

c. 930

Vocalized Masorah

Ben Buya’a, ben Asher et al.

Hebrew

http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/t/t0.htm (Hebrew fonts available for download onsite.)

c. 930

Cantillated Masorah

Ben Buya’a, ben Asher et al.

Hebrew

http://www.mechon-mamre.org/c/ct/c0.htm (Hebrew fonts available for download onsite.)

1534

Wittenberg Bible

Martin Luther et al.

German

Widely available online

1611

King James Version

Anonymous

English

Widely available online

1744

La Sainte Bible

David Martin et al.

French

http://www.biblemartin.com/bible/bible_frm.htm

1851

Septuagint

Lancelot Brenton

English

http://www.apostlesbible.com

1917

Jewish Publication Society

Max Margolis et al.

English

http://www.mechon-mamre.org/e/et/et0.htm

For the sake of consistency all biblical citations in the present article refer to Jacobean chapter and verse number.

Endnote

1 The following exposition, and the tables, are based on the work of Helmut Richter: http://www.lrz-muenchen.de/~hr/teamim. The names and hierarchical order of the members in the list (but not the subdivision of disjunctives) are based on the work of William Wickes, the British Orientalist and philologist. The figure is the author’s. [Back]

2 Transliteration is intended only to help the English speaker recognize and pronounce the names of the cantillation marks, and does not mean to imply anything about Hebrew phonetics or orthography. The blend kh represents the phoneme [x] as ‑ch in Bach. [Back]

3 These rules are known as left-parsing and right-parsing respectively, however these terms are avoided in this discussion because of the potential for confusion arising from the representation of Hebrew, a right-to-left language, in English, a left-to-right language. [Back]

4 Derenbourg once again waxes poetic:

But the worried and restless spirit of these doctors [rabbis], endlessly bent over the sacred text, divided and subdivided the words of each verse; the slightest nuances were spotted, not only breaks were noted, but also links, and despite the rule, “that a prince should not be demoted to the level of a servant, nor should the latter be promoted to the level of a ruler,” [quotation from translated source text] a veritable hierarchy was established, a rather burlesque feudal system of accents, which entertained a few subtle savants of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In this scale the lower nobility was confused with the footmen, and accents such as telisha maintained their rank of master with difficulty. Throughout the ongoing creation of new dignitaries, the small stroke, straight or curved, placed above or below the line, tilted to the right or to the left, became the insignia of new ranks. Finally the denominations overflowed and overran, whether still more distinctions were made, or the nakdânim [punctuators] invented new names for the same accents and afterwards new uses were sought for these innovations until then unknown.

Translations by the author of the present article. [Back]

5 The following exposition, and the figure, is based on the work of David Robinson and Elisabeth Levy: http://www.bfbs.org.uk/osis/masoretes.htm. [Back]

6 Nehemiah 8:1-8,

And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that [was] before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel. / And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. / And he read therein before the street that [was] before the water gate from the morning until midday,  before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people [were attentive] unto the book of the law. / And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, [and] Meshullam. / And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: / And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with [their] faces to the ground. / Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people [stood] in their place. / So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused [them] to understand the reading.

For the sake of consistency all biblical citations in the present article refer to Jacobean chapter and verse number. [Back]

7 For the sake of comparison, the following table of Esther (a book of prose) represents the stich distribution of the same five high-frequency disjunctive signs, disregarding conjunctive signs:

Sign

Pashta

Little Zakef

Tifkha

Atnakh

Silluk

Occurrences

227

284

323

156

167

Environment

Follows

Precedes

Follows

Precedes

Follows

Precedes

Follows

Precedes

Follows

Precedes

Pashta

3 3 222 29 0 0 0 0 0 0

Little Zakef

29 222 16 16 191 0 0 0 0 0

Tifkha

0 0 0 191 0 0 156 0 166 0

Atnakh

0 0 0 0 0 156 0 0 0 0

Silluk

0 0 0 0 0 166 0 0 0 0

Other Disjunctive

120 2 10 48 92 1 0 0 1 0

Stich Division

75 0 36 0 40 0 0 156 0 167

While distribution remains essentially the same, only two of the 167 verses follow the exact eight-sign pattern (pashta, little zakef, tifkha, atnakh, pashta, little zakef, tifkha, silluk).

Only fifty-two (sixteen percent) of the 323 stichs follow the exact four-sign pattern (pashta, little zakef, tifkha, atnakh/silluk), taking into account the regular variation in quarterstichs x.4.

Number of signs per stich varies considerably as follows: 40 stichs of 2 signs, 60 stichs of 3 signs, 68 stichs of 4 signs, 48 stichs of 5 signs, 44 stichs of 6 signs, 25 stichs of 7 signs, and 38 stichs of 8-15 signs.

Comparable figures for the Song of Songs are as follows: 33 stichs of 2 signs, 25 stichs of 3 signs, 104 stichs of 4 signs, 24 stichs of 5 signs, 9 stichs of 6 signs, 2 stichs of 7 signs, and 6 stichs of 8 signs. [Back]

8 Tifkha in 1:17 and 2:11, tevir in 2:13, munakh in 4:9, merekha in 6:12, all occurrences of yetiv, i.e. in 4:14, 6:1, 6:1, 8:5, 8:14. [Back]

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