This week’s question: Does וראו in Exodus 24:10 mean ‘saw’ or ‘feared’?
It is basically accepted that the original Hebrew text of the Torah/Pentateuch was written only in consonants. Vowels and cantillation were supplied orally by the experienced reader. Early texts such as those found in the dead sea scrolls are absent of any diacriticals, cantillation/accent marks, and vowels. Even today Sefer Torah (Torah Scrolls) used in Synaguoge are written without vowel marks and cantillation marks as is the vast majority of modern Hebrew literature. So, if we assume that the original text of Exodus 24:10 was written without vowel points and cantillation marks both ‘saw’ and ‘feared’ become possible readings. Why are such different readings possible? Here is why… Cantillation/accent marks and vowels can radically change the meaning of a Hebrew text. The word(phrase) וראו in Exodus 24:10 can be read as either וַיִּֽרְא֣וּ (and they feared ) or as וַיִּרְא֕וּ (and they saw).
Notice, both these words are letter for letter identical as far as the consonants are concerned and in this case, they even have basically the same vowels(blue) the only difference is the accent mark(red) under the Aleph (א) which in the word feared would probably take either a Munach or a Tiphcha accent. However, as mentioned before both accents and vowels are absent in Torah scrolls, On the other hand, all the Masoretic diacriticals are present in Masoretic codices containing books of the Hebrew Bible and in printed editions of the Hebrew Bible/Tanakh. And, the Masoretic scribes, in general, preserve the reading וַיִּרְא֕וּ (and they saw) as well as printed editions of the Hebrew Bible. But either reading and both readings at the same time are possible if, of course, you are reading the Hebrew text.
For more interesting opinions of ideological nature on this verse check out: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/under-gods-feet/
POSTSCRIPT (2022/08/05) 18:30 JST: I just ran across a prolific blogger (and Accordance Bible Software user) Abram J-K over at the Words on the Word blog who also just happens to have covered a very similar issue last year in another book and passage of the Hebrew Bible/OT. I have linked the pertinent post below:
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