Tanach Cantillation Concordance: A unique way to look at the Hebrew Bible

László Hunyadi
Andrew W. Mellon Fellow
Albright Institute of Archeological Research, Jerusalem
Dept. of General and Applied Linguistics
KLTE, Debrecen, Hungary

I. Purpose of work

There is a long history of the study of the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible (the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets and the Holy Scriptures). Several disciplines have studied its important properties from various viewpoints. The theological, historical, literary as well as linguistic interest of philologists of all times has largely been based on the contextual and textual analysis of the Tanach. Such an analysis is facilitated by concordances, special dictionary-like elaborations of the text, which consist of lists of identical word-forms in their textual environment thus enabling the researcher to study words (and concepts reflected by these words) as well as longer expressions (and more complex concepts) in all their occurences. Research has been based on such concordances actually for centuries now.

With time passing and Hebrew less and less remaining a spoken language, it became a necessity to preserve the original sense of the individual texts. More than a millenium ago, schools were established in Palestine to find ways of indicating the original sense of the texts by designing a special set of signs to accompany the original consonantal version. Two such sets were set up: one for the denotation of vowels (the nikuds, for grammatical information) and one for the denotation of cantillation (the trops, for melodies of public reading). Since the function of the latter was to preserve the primary semantic and communicative properties of the text, and since these properties have well-established formal (syntactic) relevance, the indication of the melodic structure by the cantillation signs also yields significant syntactic and semantic information about the text itself.

However informative these signs can be, research has practically been oriented to just the primary aspect of the text, i.e., to its consonantal form, the form scriptures were traditionally written in: concordances, the basic tools of textual research have only considered these consonantal forms. It is with the Tanach Cantillation Concordance that research can now enter a fundamentally new phase. The Tanach Cantillation Concordance offers a very special organization of text based on standard concordance format. Texts are not only organized by consonants (as usual conocordances are), but by vowels (nikuds) and cantillation signs (tropes) as well. It results in concordances in which it is not only consonantal forms of words and expression that can be found and grouped together with their appropriate textual environment, but vowel patterns aand cantillation patterns as well. The result is something similar to a hypothetical dictionary of, say, the music of Beethoven, where, in addition to a list of all the musical sounds (and their environments) used by the composer, all the rhythmic patterns of his music, regardless of the tunes they are realized in, are listed.

Similarly, this Tanach Cantillation Concordance offers the researcher the chance to view not only the words and their environment of the biblical text, but also all the possible combinations of the cantillation marks, i.e., all the possible structural cantillation units of public reading. And all this in a combination of alphabetization and vocalization as well as in the natural Hebrew textual environment, essential features, which the only cantillation condordance known to the author to have been published so far does not offer.

At last, since these signs have a direct relation to the syntactic structure of the text as well, this concordance gives the unique chance to researchers to unfold the syntactic properties of all the texts of the Tanach. In this way, one can derive a linguistic representation of the texts similar to what is nowadays called 'parsing'; with a very important difference, however: parsing is made today by the help of computers, whereas those parsings were made by hand during many decades more than a thousand years ago. What is still common in them is that one needs computers to bring to light these hidden features of the ancient texts.

II. Description of work

A. What the Tanach Cantillation Concordance does and what it does not

What it does

  1. It is a concordance of the complete Tanach, based on the Soncino Classic Collection CD-ROM, published by Davka, 1996.
  2. It displays actual Biblical text.
  3. Search has been done according to the alphabet, the vowel signs and the cantillation signs both separately and in combination (about a hundred various searches).
  4. As a result of these combinations, the various lists generated show
    1. identical roots with different vocalization and accentuation;
    2. identical vocalization patterns with different roots and accentuation;
    3. identical accentuation patterns with different roots and vocalization.
  5. Searches are of two kinds:
    1. they basically follow the patterns of the disjunctive accents in their possible combination with conjunctives, as described in earlier descriptive work showing the various actual patterns of the primary accent clauses, including atnah andsilluq;
    2. there are certain lists which show the secondary accent clauses, such as tipcha-mercha and tipcha-munah.
  6. Lists are of two kinds:
    1. alphabetical/vocalization/accentuation (unordered)
    2. ordered by frequency.
  7. References are given by book andchapter.
  8. It is an a tergo concordance which makes it possible to group together different roots with identical morphological endings.

What it does not do

  1. It does not make a morphological/lexical analysis of the word-forms.
  2. It is not a descriptive approach to cantillation: it does not describe the sequence of occurences of cantillation signs in a verse, instead, it lists all the occurences of prescribed cantillation patterns.

However, all the actual sequences of the cantillation signs are retreavable from the core list.

B. Some advantages of the Torah Cantillation Concordance

  1. It is based on the complete Tanach.
  2. It reflects the accuracy of the Soncino Tanach.
  3. With no numerical codes but actual Biblical text displayed, it is easily readable.
  4. With its searches based on the alphabet, the vowel signs as well as the cantillation signs, it combines the advantages of both the traditional (alphabetical) concordances and the existing cantillation concordance.
  5. Its a tergo feature of listing offers all the benefits of reverse alphabetizing without making a compromise to traditional values of concordances.