weqatal in Jdg 3:23

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Mon Oct 5 04:01:26 EDT 1998

Dear Bryan,

>To assert that verb forms which make visible the end of an event *in
>discourse* is not to force an issue(if that's what you mean by "brute
>facts") or to lean on analysis of discourse to our hurt.  On the contrary,
>it is a fact(the "institutional" kind   ;-)   ).
>Anyhow, I have to disagree with your interpretation of Jdg 7:13.  The first
>qatal does not present the dream at all.  It presents the *dreamer*.  As a
>whole?  O.K.  Could the writer have said _wf)ex:lom_?  Sure.  _b:xfl:miy _
>?  Sure.  Is the choice insignificant?

The QATAL presents the dreamer, but at the same time serves as a colon,
encompassing what follows. The choice of verb may or may not be significant.
>What do you mean by  "the event" in "the last presents the event as a whole
>with the tent completely fallen"?  _w:nfpal_ makes visible only the fallen
>state of the tent.  It does not present *any* of the previous activity such
>as that of the tumbling barley cake.  The use of the weqatal here,
>juxtaposed as it is to the wayyiqtol of the same root, stresses the
>completeness of the tent's condition.  It is the "punchword" of the little

The event is that the tent was completely destroyed. The participle and the
WAYYIQTOLS are glimpses of what caused the complete fall. I agree that the
WEQATAL stresses the completeness of the tents condition.

When Alexander Sperber came to the US before World war II and got hold of
copies of rabbinic bibles, he discovered that the  Biblica Hebraica did not
always follow its source(s) faithfully. The text was sometimes changed to
conform to grammatical rules. Few, if any today accept  Sperbers
grammatical views, but his lists of anomalities in the Hebrew text from the
point of view of Hebrew grammar are valuable indeed.

The point I tried to make was that any language is an institution which we
must learn to understand to master the language. Mishnaic Hebrew and the
other Semitic languages may throw some light on biblical Hebrew, but the
understanding of the details of a particular text must come from a study of
the language itself. Therefore we should not force upon the language modern
theories, but make sure that our approach really fits the language.

J. Serle represent the opposite pole of Noan Chomsky. Chomsky believes that
grammar is a biological trait in the minds of people and that language is
not primarily for communication but for expressing thoughts, while Serle
believes that grammar is a convention inside the institution of a language
and that language is for communication.  We need not accept all the views
of either linguist, but few persons today will deny that a language is an
institution. And here is my concern.

A language consists of "brute data", which can be words, clauses and the
meaning of the parts of the language. When people express themselves,
however, they do so in the light of their knowledge of the brute data and
of the conventions of the language.  Sentences expressing that someone is
baptized or arrested by the police are institutional data, that only are
meaningful in relation to the institution of the language. To understand a
dead language we must first learn to understand the brute data, the
building blocks, and then going on to the conventions and the institution.
I find discourse linguistics to be a fine tool, but I cannot accept that it
is placed above both the brute data and the institutional data of Hebrew.
It is interesting to apply the schemes of discourse analysis to Hebrew and
learn which forms are used under certain circumstances, but we should not
do the same as Sperber found regarding BH, fix the meaning of particular
forms on the basis of discourse function. It has never been demonstrated
that discourse analysis can assign meaning to particular forms, it can only
discover and predict patterns. To be more specific: If we assume that all
verbs used in a progressive narrative are perfective, we have used
discourse analysis to outrule both the brute data and the institutional
data of Hebrew.

I have learned much from Niccacci`s grammar, his discussions are always
scholarly in nature, and his conclusions are sound, given his assumptions.
However, as outlined above, I question some of these assumptions.  His
example from 1 Samuel 16:23 illustrates this point.  The RSV reads: "And
whenever the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and
played it with his hand."  What is the basis for "whenever"? Is it the two
WEQATALS or is it the combination of the two first words (the WEQATAL and
the conjunction and the infinitive)? I opt for the last possibility,
because we know that BE plus infinitive often makes a temporal clause. Even
if the RSV had "when" instead of "whenever" we would interprete the verse
frequentatively. As an aside we should also note that WENIGGEN is
iterative, not because of any discourse function but because of its
Aktionsart. If we understand QATAL as indicating the perfective aspect we
would also translate the verse as does the RSV, but in this case the
frequency is not based on an understanding of the WEQATAL  as
frequentative, but on the combination of this verb and the other mentioned

Some time ago you asked about the differences in some of the doublets of
the Bible. Not all of these can be explained as textual errors, but have
you tried to explain them on the basis of discourse analysis? My experience
in trying to learn the institution of Hebrew, is that the Hebrew of old
felt comfortable in expressing the same thing either with the prefix form
or with the suffix form without necessarily intending a semantic
difference. There were particular conventions, such as the use of WAYYIQTOL
in narrative, but a deviation from these conventions would not necessarily
indicate the minute differences some persons today are ascribing to it.
Just try to make a system out of the grammar of Isaiah 40-65.


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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