Plene scriptum

In orthography, a plene scriptum (/plɛnɛ/; Latin plene, "fully" and scriptum, plural scripta, "[something] written") is a word containing an additional letter, usually one which is superfluous, not normally written in such words, nor needed for the proper comprehension of the word. Today, the term applies mostly to sacred scripture. Examples of plene scripta appear frequently in classical Hebrew texts, and copyists are obliged to copy them unchanged, to ensure that biblical or other sacred texts are written with universal conformity. The expression plene scriptum (Hebrew: יתר), sometimes simply described in Hebrew as מלא, is often used in contrast with defective scriptum (Hebrew: חסר), the latter implying a word in which a letter that is normally present has been omitted. Together, plene and defective scripta are sometimes described using the Hebrew phrase "haser ve yater" (Hebrew: יתר וחסר).


In the Hebrew Bible, in the first pericope of Devarim in Deuteronomy 3:21, the name "Joshua" is written in Hebrew in plene scriptum (Hebrew: יהושוע), as it possesses a superfluous "waw", and which word is normally written with only one "waw", as in יהושע. Other examples abound of this anomaly, such as the name "Jacob" (Hebrew: יעקוב) in Leviticus 26:42.[1] The Hebrew name "Issachar" (יִשָּׂשכָר), where there is a second letter shin (ש) having no function at all, is a classic example of plene scriptum. The word צידה in Genesis 27:3, where the he at the end of the word has no function at all, is another example of plene scriptum.[2]

The Babylonian Talmud discusses why the Hebrew Bible in Leviticus 23:42-43 writes for the plural word "booths" the Hebrew word סֻּכֹּת (in defective scriptum), but in the verse that immediately follows makes use of the plural word in its usual form, סֻּכּוֹת.[3] A biblical word's plene or defective characteristic has often been used in rabbinic hermeneutics to decide Halachic norms.[4] The Talmud and the rabbis explain the variations in plene and defective scriptum found in the Torah as being merely a Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai (a Law given to Moses at Sinai).[5]

In the Semitic languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic), paleographers often describe the addition of a plene consonantal letter, such as "waw" and "yod" (used in place of the vowels "o", "u", "i", and "ei"), as employing matres lectionis in its reading, although not all plene letters used in Hebrew words are indeed a matres lectionis.[6]

Variant readings

The ethnographer, Jacob Saphir (1822–1886), in his 19th-century work Iben Safir, mentions the tradition of orthography found in the Halleli Codex of the Pentateuch, in which he laid down the most outstanding examples of plene and defective scriptum copied generation after generation by the scribes.[7] The Catalan rabbi and Talmudist, Menachem Meiri (1249 – c. 1310), also brings down an exhaustive list of words in his Kiryat Sefer, showing which words are to be written by scribes in plene scriptum (Heb. מלא) and which words are to be written in defective scriptum (Heb. חסר), based on the Masoretic Text. Rabbi Jedidiah Norzi (1560–1626) wrote a popular work on Hebrew orthography contained in the Five Books of Moses, and in the five Megillot, with examples of plene and defective writings, which was later named Minḥat Shai.

In the Tikkun Soferim (the model text for copying Torah scrolls by scribes), the word plene is always used in relation to other words written in defective scriptum, not because there is necessarily anything unusual or abnormal about the word being written in such a way, but to ensure a universal layout (conformity) in scribal practices,[8] where one word in a text must be written as though it were lacking in matres lectionis, and another word in a different text (sometimes even the same word) appearing as though it was not.

Among Israel's diverse ethnic groups, variant readings have developed over certain words in the Torah, the Sephardic tradition calling for the word ויהיו in the verse ויהיו כל ימי נח (Genesis 9:29) to be written in defective scriptum (e.g. ויהי), but the Yemenite Jewish community requiring it to be written in plene scriptum (e.g. ויהיו).[9] The word mineso in גדול עוני מנשוא (Genesis 4:13) is written in Sephardic Torah scrolls in plene scriptum, with an additional "waw", but in Yemenite Torah scrolls, the same word mineso is written in defective scriptum, without a "waw" (e.g. מנשא).

Other usage

The word plene has also come to denote the horizontal bar or line written above the six double-sounding consonants in ancient Hebrew codices, whenever their assigned reading is to be read without a dagesh, or as a non-accentuated Hebrew character. These letters are the bet (ב), gimel (ג), dalet (ד), kaph (כ), pe (פ), and tau (ת). When the accentuation dot appears in the middle of these Hebrew characters, there is no plene bar written above them.

In ancient Roman usage, the phrase plene scriptum may have simply referred to Latin characters written without abbreviation.

See also


  1. Van der Hooght, Evarardi (1939). Augustus Hahn (ed.). Biblia Hebraica (in Latin). Leipzig. pp. Letter "vaw".
  2. Meiri (1956). Moshe Hirschler (ed.). Kiryat Sefer (in Hebrew). 1. Jerusalem: HaMasorah. p. 39. OCLC 233177823.
  3. Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 6b)
  4. Cf. the words of Rabbi Yishmael in Babylonian Talmud (Menahot 34b), regarding the word לטטפת ("frontlets"), in Exo. 13:16, Deut. 6:8, and Deut. 11:18, by which he learnt that Tefillin are made with four compartments; cf. Sanhedrin 3b–4b on the word קרנת ("horn of the altar"), in Lev. 4:7, vs. 18, and vs. 25, and by which verses the School of Hillel learnt how many blood oblations are required as a first resort to be put on the horns of the altar when bringing a sin-offering, and how many are actually indispensable.
  5. Ibn Abi-Zimra, David (1749). David Ashkenazi (ed.). The Responsa of the Radbaz (in Hebrew). 1. Venice., s.v. Part III, responsum # 594 (reprinted in Israel, n.d.)(OCLC 741067500)
  6. Lyons, David (1986–1987). Avigdor Shinan (ed.). "Acrostics used as a signature device in the Masoretic lists". Kiryat Sefer (in Hebrew). Hebrew University Library of Jerusalem. 61: 144.CS1 maint: date format (link), s.v. הרים (in Daniel 8:11)
  7. Saphir, J. (1874). Iben Safir (in Hebrew). 1. Mainz: Jechiel Bril. pp. 210–224. OCLC 192076334. (first printing Lyck 1866)
  8. Shapiro, Marc B. (1993). "Maimonides' Thirteen Principles: The Last Word in Jewish Theology?". The Torah U-Madda Journal. Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, an affiliate of Yeshiva University. 4: 199–200. JSTOR 40914883.; Siegel, Jonathan P. (1984). The Scribes of Qumran: Studies in the Early History of Jewish Scribal Customs, with Special Reference to the Qumran Biblical Scrolls and to the Tannaitic Traditions of `Massekheth Soferim`. Ann Arbor, Mich. p. 210. OCLC 634620432., reproduced from the author's thesis (Ph.D.), first submitted to the Department of Religion at Sir George Williams University, Montreal, Quebec 1971
  9. Yihya Saleh, Ḥeleḳ ha-Diḳdūḳ, San'a n.d. (in Hebrew), s.v. פרשת נח
  • Vatican Library Heb. Ms. 448, 11th–12th century Sephardic Torah scroll, showing in its folios the plene bar written above six of the double-sounding consonants (בג"ד כפ"ת) whenever they are to be read without a dagesh.
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