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I'm looking for audio recordings of the Tanakh, but without modern or Ashkenazi Hebrew pronunciations - rather an attempt to recreate what Ancient (and Archaic) Hebrew actually sounded like.

I'm also very interested in examples of older types of cantillation. Is the Yemenite style of singing/chanting supposed to be older?

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    Hi there and welcome to MY! For different reasons it's hard to reconstruct how Hebrew was spoken in ancient times. However, Tiberian pronunciation can be more or less reconstructed (9th-10th century CE). Here's a guy attempting to do that. And it's true that many features of the Yemenite pronunciation are close to this one. – Kazi bácsi Feb 4 at 14:53
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    @Kazibácsi It sounds to me more like Yemenite pronunciation (not totally sure). I hear all three vowels in המלך as the same vowel – b a Feb 4 at 15:20
  • @Chilli If you are interested in written transcriptions, this document (p. 17) has a reconstruction of the pronunciation of (a reconstructed) Lamentations 1:1-7 in 6th century BCE Hebrew (obviously only a conjecture). – b a Feb 4 at 15:40
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – b a Feb 4 at 17:52
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It's a very difficult task to reconstruct the way Hebrew was pronounced in ancient times. As you might know, the Hebrew alphabet is an abjad, which marks consonants in most of the cases, and the vowels have to be guessed using some help, called matres lectionis. Therefore linguists could reconstruct most consonants based on similar languages, and many rabbis from the Arab world used similar technique to figure out the meaning of some rare words. Another possibility is to use transliterations of Hebrew words in other languages (e.g. Ancient Greek, Latin), but one should be careful with this for obvious reasons. However, even in the era of the Talmud there were debates on different pronunciations (Megillah 24b).

On YouTube you can find many reconstructions. Almost exclusively they do the Tiberian Hebrew, which developed in the Land of Israel in the 8th–10th centuries CE. The reason is simple, the Masoretes tried to add some kind of notation of the vowels in order to preserve the reading tradition they had. There were other traditions as well, but the Tiberian one quickly became the standard among Jews.

This recording tries show how the Tiberians pronounced the consonants. In another video he tries to read a sample text. Here's another recording from 9:11. Please note that the vocals are mostly educated guesses. Rhymes, which are really helpful to determine the exact nature of vocals, were only used from medieval Jewish poetry. This reconstruction is very similar to the Yemenite tradition, since people from the Arab world can distinguish letters that most European can't. With the help of their geographical isolation, Yemenite Jews were very keen on preserving their own traditions, which were almost intact until their moving to Israel.

Regarding the cantillation part, it is a scientific dispute whether a single tradition existed. Some researchers maintain that there was one (e.g. Haik-Vantoura, Weil), while most of them (e.g. Avenary) refuse such possibility. Since there are different cantillation marks with the same grammatical function, it is quite sure that the Masoretes had a musical tradition to read the text, but musical notation was not advance enough in those years.

  • Do the videos you link to say that they are giving the Tiberian pronunciation? The text only says "ancient Hebrew" – b a Feb 4 at 18:57
  • @ba You might be right that he does not explicitly say this word. I've added another reconstruction. – Kazi bácsi Feb 4 at 19:32
  • Thanks for the detailed answer. If you find any more videos or audio I'd be most interested in hearing them. – Chilli Feb 5 at 9:31
  • @Chilli Thanks for the kind words! If it was helpful, please consider accepting my answer. – Kazi bácsi Feb 5 at 9:34

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