1. At the time when the old Hebrew language was gradually becoming extinct, and the formation of the O.T. canon was approaching completion, the Jews began to explain and critically revise their sacred text, and sometimes to translate it into the vernacular languages which in various countries had become current among them. The oldest translation is the Greek of the Seventy (more correctly Seventy-two) Interpreters (LXX), which was begun with the Pentateuch at Alexandria under Ptolemy Philadelphus, but only completed later. It was the work of various authors, some of whom had a living knowledge of the original, and was intended for the use of Greek-speaking Jews, especially in Alexandria. Somewhat later the Aramaic translations, or Targums (תַּרְגּוּמִים i.e. interpretations), were formed by successive recensions made in Palestine and Babylonia. The explanations, derived in part from alleged tradition, refer almost exclusively to civil and ritual law and dogmatic theology, and are no more scientific in character than much of the textual tradition of that period. Both kinds of tradition are preserved in the Talmud, the first part of which, the Mišna, was finally brought to its present form towards the end of the second century; of the remainder, the Gemāra, one recension (the Jerusalem or Palestinian Gem.) about the middle of the fourth century, the other (the Babylonian Gem.) about the middle of the sixth century a.d. The Mišna forms the beginning of the New-Hebrew literature; the language of the Gemaras is for the most part Aramaic.
2. To the interval between the completion of the Talmud and the earliest grammatical writers, belong mainly the vocalization and accentuation of the hitherto unpointed text of the O.T., according to the pronunciation traditional in the Synagogues and Schools, as well as the greater part of the collection of critical notes which bears the name of Masōra (מָֽסוֹרָה traditio?). From this the text which has since been transmitted with rigid uniformity by the MSS., and is still the received text of the O.T., has obtained the name of the Masoretic Text.
E. F. K. Rosenmüller already (Handbuch für d. Liter. der bibl. Kritik u. Exegese, 1797, i. 247; Vorrede zur Stereotyp-Ausg. des A.T., Lpz. 1834) maintained that our O.T. text was derived from Codices belonging to a single recension. J. G. Sommer (cf. Cornill, ZAW. 1892, p. 309), Olshausen (since 1853), and especially De Lagarde (Proverbien, 1863, p. 1 ff.), have even made it probable that the original Masoretic text was derived from a single standard manuscript. Cf., however, E. König in Ztschr. f. kirchl. Wiss., 1887, p. 279 f., and especially his Einleitung ins A.T., p. 88 ff. Moreover a great many facts, which will be noticed in their proper places, indicate that the Masora itself is by no means uniform but shows clear traces of different schools and opinions; cf. H. Strack in Semitic Studies in memory of… Kohut, Berlin, 1897, p. 563 ff. An excellent foundation for the history of the Masora and the settlement of the masoretic tradition was laid by Joh. Buxtorf in his Tiberias seu Commentarius Masorethicus, first published at Basel in 1620 as an appendix to the Rabbinical Bible of 1618 f. For more recent work see Geiger, Jüdische Ztschr., iii. 78 ff., followed by Harris in JQR. i. 128 ff., 243 ff.; S. Frensdorff. Ochla W’ochla, Hanover, 1864; and his Massor. Wörterb., part i, Hanover and Lpz. 1876; and Ch. D. Ginsburg, The Massora compiled from Manuscripts, &c., 3 vols., Lond. 1880 ff., and Introduction to the Massoretico-critical edition of the Hebr. Bible, Lond. 1897 (his text, reprinted from that of Jacob b. Ḥayyîm [Venice, 1524–5] with variants from MSS. and the earliest editions, was published in 2 vols. at London in 1894, 2nd ed. 1906; a revised edition is in progress); H. Hyvernat, ‘La langue et le langage de la Massore’ (as a mixture of New-Hebrew and Aramaic), in the Revue biblique, Oct. 1903, p. 529 ff. and B: ‘Lexique massorétique,’ ibid., Oct. 1904, p. 521 ff., 1905, p. 481 ff., and p. 515 ff. In the use of the Massora for the critical construction of the Text, useful work has been done especially by S. Baer, in the editions of the several books (only Exod.-Deut. have still to appear), edited from 1869 conjointly with Fr. Delitzsch, and since 1891 by Baer alone.
The various readings of the Qerê form one of the oldest and most important parts of the Masora. The punctuation of the Text, however, is not to be confounded with the compilation of the Masora. The former was settled at an earlier period, and is the result of a much more exhaustive labour than the Masora, which was not completed till a considerably later time.
3. It was not until about the beginning of the tenth century that the Jews, following the example of the Arabs, began their grammatical compilations. Of the numerous grammatical and lexicographical works of R. Sa˓adya, beyond fragments in the commentary on the Sepher Yeṣira (ed. Mayer-Lambert, pp. 42, 47, 75, &c.), only the explanation in Arabic of the seventy (more correctly ninety) hapax legomena in the O.T. has been preserved. Written likewise in Arabic, but frequently translated into Hebrew, were the still extant works of the grammarians R. Yehuda Ḥayyûǵ (also called Abu Zakarya Yaḥya, about the year 1000) and R. Yona (Ahu ˒l-Walîd Merwân ibn Ǵanâḥ, about 1030). By the aid of these earlier labours, Abraham ben Ezra (commonly called Aben Ezra, ob. 1167) and R. David Qimḥi (ob. c. 1235) especially gained a classical reputation by their Hebrew grammatical writings.
From these earliest grammarians are derived many principles of arrangement and technical terms, some of which are still retained, e.g. the naming of the conjugations and weak verbs according to the paradigm of פעל, certain voces memoriales, as בְּגַדְכְּפַת and the like.
4. The father of Hebrew philology among Christians was John Reuchlin (ob. 1522), to whom Greek literature also is so much indebted. Like the grammarians who succeeded him, till the time of John Buxtorf the elder (ob. 1629), he still adhered almost entirely to Jewish tradition. From the middle of the seventeenth century the field of investigation gradually widened, and the study of the kindred languages, chiefly through the leaders of the Dutch school, Albert Schultens (ob. 1750) and N. W. Schröder (ob. 1798), became of fruitful service to Hebrew grammar.
5. In the nineteenth century the advances in Hebrew philology are especially connected with the names of W. Gesenius (born at Nordhausen, Feb. 3, 1786; from the year 1810 Professor at Halle, where he died Oct. 23, 1842), who above all things aimed at the comprehensive observation and lucid presentation of the actually occurring linguistic phenomena; H. Ewald (ob. 1875, at Göttingen; Krit. Gramm. der Hebr. Spr., Lpz. 1827; Ausführl. Lehrb. d. hebr. Spr., 8th ed., Gött. 1870), who chiefly aimed at referring linguistic forms to general laws and rationally explaining the latter; J. Olshausen (ob. 1882, at Berlin; Lehrb. der hebr. Sprache, Brunswick, 1861) who attempted a consistent explanation of the existing condition of the language, from the presupposed primitive Semitic forms, preserved according to him notably in old Arabic. F. Böttcher (Ausführl. Lehrb. d. hebr. Spr. ed. by F.Mühlau, 2 vols., Lpz. 1866–8) endeavoured to present an exhaustive synopsis of the linguistic phenomena, as well as to give an explanation of them from the sphere of Hebrew alone. B. Stade, on the other hand (Lehrb. der hebr. Gr., pt. i. Lpz. 1879), adopted a strictly scientific method in endeavouring to reduce the systems of Ewald and Olshausen to a more fundamental unity. E. König in his very thorough researches into the phonology and accidence starts generally from the position reached by the early Jewish grammarians (in his second part ‘with comparative reference to the Semitic languages in general’) and instead of adopting the usual dogmatic method, takes pains to re-open the discussion of disputed grammatical questions. The syntax König has ‘endeavoured to treat in several respects in such a way as to show its affinity to the common Semitic syntax’. Among the works of Jewish scholars, special attention may be called to the grammar by S. D. Luzzatto written in Italian (Padua, 1853–69).
The chief requirements for one who is treating the grammar of an ancient language are—
(1) that he should observe as fully and accurately as possible the existing linguistic phenomena and describe them, after showing their organic connexion (the empirical and historico-critical element);
(2) that he should try to explain these facts, partly by comparing them with one another and by the analogy of the sister languages, partly from the general laws of philology (the logical element).
Such observation has more and more led to the belief that the original text of the O.T. has suffered to a much greater extent than former scholars were inclined to admit, in spite of the number of variants in parallel passages: Is 22 ff. = Mi 41 ff., Is 36-39 = 2 K 1813–2019, Jer 52 = 2 K 2418–2530, 2 S 22 = ψ 18, ψ 14 = ψ 53, ψ 4014 ff. = ψ 70, ψ 108 = ψ 578 ff. and 607 ff.. Cf. also the parallels between the Chronicles and the older historical books, and F. Vodel, Die konsonant. Varianten in den doppelt überlief. poet. Stücken d. masoret. Textes, Lpz. 1905. As to the extent and causes of the corruption of the Masoretic text, the newly discovered fragments of the Hebrew Ecclesiasticus are very instructive; cf. Smend, Gött. gel. Anz., 1906, p. 763.
The causes of unintentional corruption in the great majority of cases are:—Interchange of similar letters, which has sometimes taken place in the early ‘Phoenician’ writing; transposition or omission of single letters, words, or even whole sentences, which are then often added in the margin and thence brought back into the text in the wrong place; such omission is generally due to homoioteleuton (cf. Ginsburg, Introd., p. 171 ff.), i.e. the scribe’s eye wanders from the place to a subsequent word of the same or similar form. Other causes are dittography, i.e. erroneous repetition of letters, words, and even sentences; its opposite, haplography; and lastly wrong division of words (cf. Ginsburg, Introd., p. 158 ff.), since at a certain period in the transmission of the text the words were not separated.—Intentional changes are due to corrections for the sake of decency or of dogma, and to the insertion of glosses, some of them very early.
Advance in grammar is therefore closely dependent on progress in textual criticism. The systematic pursuit of the latter has only begun in recent years: cf. especially Doorninck on Ju 1–16, Leid. 1879; Wellhausen, Text der Bb. Sam., Gött. 1871; Cornill, Ezechiel, Lpz. 1886; Klostermann, Bb. Sam. u. d. Kön., Nördl. 1887; Driver, Notes on the Hebr. text of the Books of Sam., Oxf. 1890; Klostermann, Deuterojesaja, Munich, 1893; Oort, Textus hebr. emendationes, Lugd. 1900; Burney on Kings, Oxf. 1903; the commentaries of Marti and Nowack; the Internat. Crit. Comm.; Kautzsch, Die heil. Schriften des A.T.2, 1909–10. A critical edition of the O.T. with full textual notes, and indicating the different documents by colours, is being published in a handsome form by P. Haupt in The Sacred Books of the Old Test., Lpz. and Baltimore, 1893 ff. (sixteen parts have appeared: Exod., Deut., Minor Prophets, and Megilloth are still to come); Kittel, Biblia hebraica2, 1909, Masoretic text from Jacob b. Ḥayyim (see c), with a valuable selection of variants from the versions, and emendations.