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Babylonian Aramaic: The Yemenite Tradition.

In this long-awaited volume, Prof. Morag presents the phonology and the vocalization of the verbal forms in the reading tradition of the Babylonian Talmud as preserved in the San a Yemenite Jewish community. This is a noteworthy achievement in its own right. The premise of the volume, however, is that this tradition is particularly important because it actually preserves a synchronically valid and consistent linguistic stratum, i.e., an authentic Babylonian Aramaic tradition.

This argument has become somewhat of a dogma in recent years among Israeli scholars. The reasoning behind it is rehearsed yet again here: This tradition has many features in common with the vocalization preserved in the early manuscript Sassoon ms 263 of the Gaonic text Halakhoth Pesuqoth, and that manuscript, in turn, is known to be the most authentic witness to an authentic Babylonian tradition. I would maintain, however, that this emperor may be wearing few clothes! One of the reasons that ms 263 is prized is precisely because it is similar to the Yemenite tradition. This circular reasoning can surely carry no weight in estimating the worth of the latter. Another clue to the value of ms 263 is that it is similar in many respects to our best known eastern Aramaic dialect, Syriac, and, in particular, to the eastern sub-dialect of Syriac. Initial inspection suggests, though, that, by and large, the features shared by ms 263 and Syriac are different from the features that the former has in common with the Yemenite tradition. Moreover, the most unusual features of the Yemenite tradition (such as the best-known crux, the derived stem infinitives like qattawle, with unexpected diphthong) are best explained as erroneous, learned reading traditions rather than as reflecting an accurately transmitted dialect.

In sum, this is an important book, but its premises are badly in need of systematic reexamination.
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Author:Kaufman, Stephen A.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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