What does the term “revocalization” mean in footnotes to the ESV?
The term “revocalization” has to do with the fact that ancient Hebrew was written using consonants only. Of course, to pronounce a word you must have vowels as well; and a reader fluent in the language would know from the printed consonants and the tradition of oral reading how to pronounce the words.
As the Jewish people came to use Hebrew less and less, their scholars invented a system of writing the vowels so that readers could pronounce the Bible texts properly. The process of supplying these vowel symbols is called “vocalization,” and this is what we have in the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament.
The scholars who carried out this vocalization project were so careful and dedicated that they produced a text that students of Hebrew widely regard as almost always accurate.
On occasion, however, the ESV translators believe that another set of vowels makes a more intelligible text. The process of providing another set of vowels is called “revocalization.” In some cases they conclude this because an ancient version seems to have presupposed these other vowels, and in some very rare cases they simply think the other vowels make more sense. In cases in which there is significant scholarly opinion in favor of the revocalization, but the Masoretic vowels are also defensible, the translators have provided a marginal note offering the revocalization as an alternative.