Learning Hebrew is a daunting task – and that’s an understatement! It takes years of actually interacting with the Hebrew text to take steps forward in understanding the language more. One of those steps in learning Hebrew is understanding the basics of the Masoretic accent marks (not the vowels, but those other dashes, dots, and lines above and below the Hebrew consonants/words).
These accents, inserted by the Masoretes (c. 500–1000 AD) have three functions: (1) to indicate whether a word should be joined to or separated from the following word; (2) to mark the accented or “tone” syllable; and (3) to indicate a word’s melody for singing (cantillating) the text.The Hebrew Bible Insert, Quakertown: Stylus Publishing, 2002, 52
The Masoretic accents can actually help us translate and interpret the Hebrew text in a few ways. Of course, these accents aren’t inspired, but they are very helpful and shouldn’t be “casually dismissed” (ibid). The accents can help us find out which words go together and which ones don’t. They also help us learn how to divide the verse up into sections. In some ways, the Masoretic accents are like punctuation.
This is a larger discussion that’s worth looking into if you’re a student of Biblical Hebrew. While there isn’t space to go into more detail here, I do want to point out a few accent marks worth noting.
First, the silluq (a disjunctive accent). The silluq is a short vertical line under the last word of a Hebrew verse and marks a pause. (האֽרע)
Second, the ‘atnah, another disjunctive accent. This wishbone looking mark that appears under a word divides the verse into two major logical sections. When I print out the Hebrew text I always divide the verse based on the ‘atnah. Here’s what it looks like: אלה֑ים
Third, the munah (a conjunctive accent mark). This mark looks like a backward “L” and is found under a word. It joins the marked word to the following word (marking a construct chain, verb with subject, or a noun and adjective that go together). (בר֣א)
There are quite a few other Masoretic accent marks. Some are rather minor, but some are worth looking into a bit more. The ones I’ve listed above are three that should be taken into account when translating and interpreting Hebrew. Feel free to share a chart or helpful resource if you have any!
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