For instance, the ESV adds a note to Proverbs 30:1 in regards to "I am weary, O God, and worn out.":

Revocalization; Hebrew The man declares to Ithiel, to Ithiel and Ucal"

What is "revocalization" doing in this place?

  • 2
    @NigelJ It's asking about textual criticism terminology and is perfectly on-topic.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 22:08

1 Answer 1


At the beginning the writing system for the Hebrew language only recorded the consonants. The vowels were remembered and passed on as oral tradition as one generation taught the next how to recite the scriptures.

Much later, largely during the 10th century AD, Masoretic Hebrew scribes added symbols to show which vowels they were reciting. This was useful because by that time Hebrew was close to a dead language. As the number of people who were truly fluent in Hebrew decreased it was useful to record the vowels so that those who hadn't been charged with remembering the traditional vowels could also read the scriptures.

But the question for us today is were those vowels remembered and then recorded accurately? We know that small mistakes can enter traditions over time. That even happened with the written scriptures, even though they were copied directly from other written scriptures, not from memory! Sometimes the vowels they recorded are for words which are confusing and don't make a lot of sense in the context we find them.

A revocalisation is a proposal for an alternative reading of a word with different vowels. If we keep the consonants the same, and in the same order, there are often alternative options for words using those consonants with different vowels. Bible translators may conclude that one of those alternatives makes much more sense than what the Masoretic scribes recorded. Sometimes they'll be so sure that they make their revocalisation the main translation. Sometimes they'll be less sure which is best, so they'll leave it in a footnote. In the example you found they decided their proposal was the most likely so put that in the main text, and in a footnote they've given the traditional Masoretic reading.

  • 2
    Possibly worth noting that in this particular verse, the different readings also involve different word divisions. Commented May 8, 2019 at 4:24
  • @LukeSawczak I didn't know that, thanks for the info. Yes that's another tricky issue.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 4:47
  • The phrasings "close to a dead language" and "the number of people who were truly fluent in Hebrew decreased" are somewhat unfortunate in my opinion. By the time of the Masoretes, Hebrew was no longer spoken as an everyday language for at least 500 years, but on the other hand continued to be used as a literary language for long after the Masoretes.
    – user2672
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 9:14
  • 1
    It would also be worth pointing out that many suggested revocalisations can be found in the critical apparatus of scholarly editions of the HB, and that they can sometimes be corroborated by evidence from the ancient versions. Other than that, good answer.
    – user2672
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 9:16

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