William Wickes's Treatises on the Accentuation of the Hebrew Bible

| Updated: Thu, 29 Oct 2009 | Tagged: ot, hebrew, hebrew language, accents.

The “accents” or “cantillation marks” of the Hebrew Bible provide an invaluable guide also to biblical Hebrew syntax. William Wickes, a British mathematician, wrote two “fundamental works” (Joüon-Muraoka, § 15n) on accentuation. The first, published in 1881, treated the three “poetical” books. This was followed in 1887 by a study of the rest, the twenty-one “prose” books.

These works continue to be valuable. Israel Yeivin, in his discussion of the literature on the accents,1 describes them thus:

The most important books on this subject in English (and indeed very important generally), are those of W. Wickes…. Wickes based his work on the study of the MSS and the printed editions. He describes the forms of the accent signs, their names, and their use, with a detailed description of the conjunctives used with each disjunctive. The main part of each book describes the combinations in which the accents can occur.

There is a lot to wade through! As a help, H. G. Mitchell published a pair of articles in JBL distilling Wickes’s observations into chart form (“The Prose Accents”, JBL 9 (1890), 132-135; “The Poetical Accents”, JBL 10 (1891), 144-146).

Michael Pitkowsky’s blog has a couple of nice posts about these works, one pointing to the copies on Archive.org, the other providing some bibliographic information about Wickes. Apparently he went from Cambridge to McGill in Montreal, then to London, then back to Canada, then back to England! The two Treatises both have prefaces signed from an address on the Woodstock Road, Oxford (in 1881, in what is now part of Brown’s Restaurant, by 1887 moving out to a leafier location).

On Archive.org, there are three copies of the prose volume, but only one of the poetic books:

  • A Treatise on the Accentuation of the Three So-called Poetical Books…: Archive.org
  • A Treatise on the Accentuation of the Twenty-one So-called Prose Books…: Archive.org

1 Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah (Trans. and ed. by E.J. Revell; Masoretic Studies, 5; n.p.: Scholars Press, 1980), pp. 162-3 (§ 187).