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The Hebrew aphorism shiv’im punnim laTorah – lit. ‘70 facets has the Torah’ – first appeared in medieval literature, but the concept dates back centuries.

By Dov Chaikin |
Photo: Public domain

It expresses the thought that there are any number of ways of interpreting the Torah [Pentateuch] – applied by extension to the entire Tanakh [the volume of the Hebrew Scriptures].

The vowel points and cantillation marks extant in the Masoretic Text (MT) – introduced towards the end of the first millennium AD by the group of Masorites known as the Sages of Tiberias (ST) – may be construed as an example of interpretation of the ‘bare’ text, ostensibly designed to facilitate correct reading of said texts. It is a given that what the ST did must have been based on a tradition of correct reading, handed down through the ages, possibly dating back to Ezra the Scribe.

Note the emphasis on ostensibly. While the cantillation marks provide the accentuation, the (print) text lacks auxiliaries such as exclamation- and question-marks. So, a person may read ‘correctly’ following the vowel points and cantillation marks and yet miss out where a question may be implied.

A striking case in point is Isaiah 1:18...

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