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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Suspended Letters

There are four suspended or elevated ("teluyah") letters in the Hebrew Bible: (1) the "nun" in , in Judges 18:30; (2) the "'ayin" in , in Psalms 80:13; (3) the "'ayin" in , in Job 38:13; and (4) the "'ayin" in , ib. verse 15. This masorah is mentioned in the Talmud, and appears to be earlier than that of the SMALL AND LARGE LETTERS.

The object in suspending the letters in question is not quite clear. The Rabbis proposed to eliminate the suspended "nun" and to read "Mosheh" (Moses) in place of "Manasseh," as Gershom was the son of Moses (1 Chronicles 23:15); it is only, they said, for the reason that Jonathan (the son of Gershom) adopted the wickedness of Manasseh that he is called "the grandson of Manasseh" (B. B. 109b; comp. Yer. Ber. 9:3). But the difficulty is that there is no record that Moses' son Gershom had a son named Jonathan, his only known son being Shebuel (1 Chronicles 26:24). On the other hand, Jonathan, the priest of the Danites, was evidently a young Levite (Judges 18:3), and not the son of Manasseh.

Commenting on the suspended "'ayin" in the word , the Midrash says that the word may also read (without the "'ayin") = "from the river or the sea." The boar or swine coming from the sea is less (another version "more") dangerous than that from the forest (Lev. R. ). This refers to the Roman government, which is compared to the swine (Gen. R.; see also Krochmal, "Moreh Nebuke ha-Zeman," ).

Regarding the suspended "'ayin" in the word , occurring twice in Job, the Talmud eliminates the letter and reads , which word has a double meaning—"rulers" and "poor"—the tyrants below who are poor and powerless above. But, it is explained, out of respect to King David the rulers in this case were not identified with the wicked; hence the spelling (Sanh. 23b; see Rashi ad loc., and Geiger, "Urschrift," p. 258).

A more plausible explanation is that the suspended letters are similar in origin to the "ḳere" and "ketib." In this case the authorities, who could not decide between two readings, whether the letter in question preceded or followed the next letter, placed it above, so that it might be read either way. Thus the original reading in Judges was probably "Jonathan, the son of Gershom in Manasseh" = (comp. Judges 6:15), e., in the land of Manasseh, whither the Danites emigrated. Another reading was "the son of Moses" (); and the suspended "nun" makes it possible to read the word either way ("Moses" or "Manasseh"). Another possible explanation is that the original reading was "Mosheh," the "nun" being introduced to suggest "Manasseh," so as to avoid the scandal of having a grandson of Moses figure as the priest of an idolatrous shrine. The suspended "'ayin" of makes the second reading , "of the city," referring to the capital Rome as alluded to in the Midrash. The word in Job, if the "shin" and "'ayin" be transposed, reads , "storms" (the plural of ); this change brings the verses into entire harmony with the context and in accord with the previous chapter (comp. Job 37:3,4,6,11 with ib. 38:1,9,22,28,34,35). On further constructions of the words in question see the critical commentaries.

T.
J. D. E.
Bibliography:
  • Eisenstein, in Ner ha-Ma'arabi, (1896), p. 7.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Suspended Letters'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/s/suspended-letters.html. 1901.

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