The other thing we discover by understanding 21st century grammar for Biblical Hebrew, is cultural continuity. One of the modals Dr. Cook discusses morphs for use in later writing of the same culture.
This nun-final modal appears in Torah in Avraham’s negotiation with Gd over the cities of the plain (Genesis 18:17ff), which happened about 2350 BCE. Five times he uses the nun-final form, which Dr. Cook defines as an uncertainty epistemic; it shows that Avraham isn’t claiming that he absolutely knows there are less than 50 righteous people on Sodom, he’s saying “just supposing?”
This form appears throughout Tannakh. It’s in the rest of Torah; it’s in Ruth and Samuel (in feminine gender!); it’s in Yeshayahu and Yermiyahu; it’s in Yehezqel.
After the Babylonian Captivity, a slightly different version of the nun-final form shows up over and over again in both Mishnah and Gemara. Why? The very first Mishnah is a perfect test case.
First, Mishnah Brakhot 1:1 says “From what time are they supposed to read the Shema.” “Read” is this nun-final version, qorin. This is not a commandment to read the Shema (that it is required in Jewish law is a given here), qorin means something that is supposed to happen, along with the fact that it is supposed to happen at a specific time.
Second, a rabbi’s sons come to tell him they haven’t read the Shema yet; have they violated Jewish law? He says “maybe,” chayavin. Why does he use this morphology? Because, as the complete paragraph shows, he is only supposing they did wrong. He probably doesn’t have two colleagues with him so as to constitute a court that can rule on the subject for sure, leading to a penalty. (And he’s a relative who can neither testify in nor judge the case.)
Third, the Mishnah continues with a reference to ha-neekhalin, things that are supposed to be eaten by priests from the sacrifices. Again, this might not happen, and the rest of the statement gives a timing issue related to the timing of reading the Shema.The nun-sofit form is used to report what the law says. When Mishnah reports the facts of the case, in the story about the rabbi’s sons, it uses what we think of as the “normal” masculine plural endings, for something that actually happened.
The nun-sofit form appears in Midrash Halakhah about the time of the Muslim conquest;
in Mishneh Torah by Maimonides during the Crusades;
in Shulchan Arukh by Caro in the Renaissance;
in R. Shneur Zalman of Liady’s Shulchan Arukh ha-Rav in the Enlightenment;
and in Shlomo Ganzfried’s Kitsur Shulchan Arukh in early Victorian times.
They all use it the same way Mishnah does, and they use it when they are not quoting from Mishnah.
This has consequences far beyond proving what a bad translation Septuagint is, but that goes in another part of the blog so for now, I will move on to something else.
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