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Tiberian Hebrew is an oral tradition of pronunciation for ancient forms of Hebrew, especially the Hebrew of the Bible, that was given written form by masoretic scholars in the Jewish community at Tiberias in the early middle ages, beginning in the 8th century. This written form employed symbols added to the Hebrew letters; the symbols are called niqqudot (for vowels) and cantillation signs. Though the written symbols came into use in the early Middle Ages, the oral tradition they reflect is apparently much older, with ancient roots.
The Tiberian system of vocalisation for the Hebrew Bible represented its own local tradition. Two other local traditions that created written systems during the same period are referred to geographically as the vocalisations of "The Land of Israel" (not identical to Tiberias) and "Babylon". The former system had little or no historical influence, but the Babylonian system was dominant in some areas for many centuries, and even survives to this day. Unlike the Tiberian system, which mostly places vowel points under the Hebrew letters, the Babylonian system mostly places them above the letters, and is thus called the "supralinear" vowelisation.
As mentioned above, the Tiberian points were designed to reflect a specific oral tradition for reading the biblical text. But later they were applied to other texts (one of the earliest being the Mishnah), and used widely by Jews in other places with different oral traditions for how to read Hebrew. Thus the Tiberian vowel points and cantillation signs became a common part of Hebrew writing.
Last updated: 10-21-2005 08:58:39