weqatal in Jdg 3:23

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Fri Oct 2 11:29:18 EDT 1998

Bryan Rocine wrote:

>How about that crazy weqatal in Jdg 3:23?   My tanslation:"And Ehud went
>out(wayyiqtol) porchward(?), and closed(wayyiqtol) the doors of the
>roof-room upon him[Eglon], and was a 'locker'(weqatal: _w:na(al_  ).
>Here are some views.  I have put them in order of "friendliness to the
>text";  that is, the degree to which the author justifies the text as it
>1.  Gesenius says plainly that it is an error(sect. 112tt).  Not very
>smiley-face  ;-)
>2.  Jouon admits that it violates the verbal system as he has described it,
>and explores the possibilities that such weqatals may be errors either in
>the text or usage(sect 119z).
>3.  Waltke and O'Connor do not mention Jdg 3:23 specifically but
>admit(following Revell) the possibility and circumstances in which a
>weqatal may have the value of a preterit(sect. 32.3).
>4.  Longacre("Weqatal forms in BH prose", _BH and Discourse Linguistics_ed.
>Bergen) admits a preterit value for Jdg 3:23 _w:na(al_ and suggests such a
>weqatal marks a climactic or pivotal point in a historical narrative.  I
>add that it is the locking of the doors which delays the entrance of
>Eglon's servants until just the moment of their master's death.  V. 25
>reads "They took(wayyiqtol) the key, and opened(wayyiqtol)," _w:hinn"h
>)a:don"yhem nop"l )arcah m"t_ "and look! their master was falling
>earthward, dead."  I am saying that the locking of the door is a critical
>element of timing in the account, coincidentally allowing Ehud's escape and
>preventing Eglon from either identifying the assassin or giving a dying
>word of instructions to the now leader-less Moab.
>Where on this scale of views do you folks fall and why?

Dear Bryan, Martin, Matthew and Paul,

Amidst an almost complete agreement between the posters about the
superiority of text linguistics as the final criterion for the
understanding of Hebrew verbs, I am tempted to voice some disagreement.
Let me start by asking a question: "You interprete the material from the
point of view of Narrative and Discourse and other discourse
classifications, but do you differentiate between "institutional facts and
brute facts" (to use the terminology of J. Serle, 1969, "Speech Acts")?

I find discourse analysis to be a useful tool, but to use it as the final
authority is done at the risk of forcing upon a dead language (Hebrew)
modern viewpoints which does not necessarily fit. When translating we must
of course scrutinize the smallest details we can find as regards lexicon,
grammar, syntax and discourse, but we must never forget that those who
wrote the text, did not do such a minutious analysis before they chose
their words (except in important places). To the contrary, they wrote the
text down rather quickly, and they chose their words on the basis of their
knowledge ot "the institution" of the Hebrew language.

This means that while discourse analysis is general and can be applied to
any language, institutional facts are language specific. Thus it is
impossible to understand the meaning and use of Hebrew verb phrases and
clauses without knowing both the institution of the Hebrew language and the
meaning of the individual verb forms. Discourse analysis can only
indirectly contribute to this because it is primarily concerned with
function and not with meaning. To illustrate: The normal narrative form of
Standard Phoenician in the first millennium is the infinitive absolute.
This does not give the infinitive absolute a new meaning, say perfectivity,
but it gives it a new function compared with the widespread narrative use
of the prefix form in other NWS dialects. Discourse analysis cannot explain
why this situation occurred, that is an institutional question. In Biblical
Aramaic we often find in narrative texts (e.g. Dan 2:8) (FNE WE)FMAR
("answering and saying"). The widespread use of this phrase does not give
the forms new meaning, nor does it give them an aspectual value. Why two
participles can be used instead of a finite verb in these cases is an
institutional question which cannot be answered by discourse analysis. We
find a similar situation in many Syriac texts, with "durative past" used in
narrative contexts.

I therefore think that neither discourse analysis nor a minute situation
analysis can help us much regarding the two passages from Jugdes which we
are discussing, but an understanding of verb meanings and institutional
facts may really help.

JUDGES 3:23 The first transitive WAYYIQTOL, the second verb phrase (object
included) with WAYYIQTOL and the WEQATAL are all telic. I view the first
two as imperfective and the third as perfective. But how can imperfectivity
accord with telicity when we see that the acts objectively were concluded?
This is not more difficult than with the "answering and saying" of Daniel -
acts which also can be viewed as telic and concluded;  or with the
infinitive absolutes of the Phoenician narrative. Our understanding of this
depends of our understanding of "the institution" of each language. If we
look at verses 24.25 we find four active participles of verbs which can be
viewed as telic ("covering", "opening", "falling", and "dieing"), where a
resultant state seemingly is stressed. Thus there was not strange for a
Hebrew to focus on a small part of the action (imperfective view) or on the
result of an action in a past context.  Objectively speaking the actions of
the three verbs of v 23 were concluded and what was objectively conveyed
would not have been different if the third verb had been a WAYYIQTOL
rather than a WEQATAL, but the subjective presentation of the viewpoint is
of course different. Judges 7:13  starts with a QATAL and ends with a
WEQATAL - the first presents the dream as a whole, and the last presents
the event as a whole with the tent completely fallen. In between we have
the same imperfective views of a small part of each action, or of the
action and the resultant stage. In a translation into English with a
general target group in mind, it is difficult to differentiate between the
QATALS ( including the WEQATAL) and the WAYYIQTOLS.

I will conclude with a quote from A. Sperber, 1966, "A Historical Grammar
of Biblical Hebrew", p 52, illustrating how he felt the traditional grammar
as a straitjacket: "Whether he admits it or not, the exeget assumes that
the laws of the Hebrew language, as laid down in the Hebrew grammar, are
binding for the Bible. Whenever a discrepancy is discovered between the
Bible and these 'established' laws, the Bible is the looser: the text is
'emended'  so as to conform with the grammar...It is high time that Bible
scholars... approach the Bible, not as schoolmasters teaching the prophets
how Hebrew sentences should be formed and Hebrew words spelled, but as
humble students of these great masters of Hebrew."


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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