Verbs in Ps 18 ans 2 Sam 22

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Fri Sep 4 08:05:35 EDT 1998

Bryan Rocine wrote:

>Dear Fiends,
>I wonder why my earlier question did not illicit any responses on-list.  I
>am under the impression that folks still learn their Hebrew from texts
>which teach the "waw-conversive," that a prefixed vav(or waw) converts
>yiqtols to qatals and qatals to yiqtols.  I know Jouon-Muraoka prefers the
>term "waw-inversive"(see § 111a), Waltke and O'Connor prefers the term
>"vav-relative"(see § 33.1.2e-g), and Gesenius, "vav-consecutive"(see §§
>111-112), but they all teach the conversion doctrine.  What are we to do
>with the "un-vavved" yiqtols of Psa 18 and 2 Sam 22?  Of the three grammars
>mentioned above, only W and O'C compare the two versions of the poem(see §
>31.1.1d) and in so doing seem to contradict their § 33.1.2e-g.
>Jouon-Muraoka does describe a "preterital yiqtol" with examples from Psa 18
>but not 2 Sam 22(see § 113g-i).  He says that such yiqtols have the value
>of qatal and that a qatal would have been even a better choice of form in
>many such cases.  In all due respect I ask, better for whom?  Us?  Didn't
>the ancients understand their language better than we?  I would say that if
>the ancients used the yiqtol that chances are, the yiqtol was a better
>choice; and if our model can't explain the choice, we may need a better
>Is it o.k to try my own answer to my own question?  At the off-list
>prompting of some list members, I shall.
>A comparison of Psa 18 and 2 Sam 22 indicates that the allegedly magical
>morpheme, the so-called "vav(or waw)-conversive," no matter what exactly it
>is called,--Oh, boy, I shouldn't say many scholars, so much
>weighty tradition!!!-- does not exist.  The prefixed "narrative morpheme"
><vav-patakh-dagesh forte> on a yiqtol has discourse function rather than
>conversive power.  It makes *explicit*(like the English words _then_ and
>_so_) the consecutivity of events that is left implicit without it.
>There really is no great shortage of "un-vavved" yiqtols which represent
>single, past events, for instance, over 20 of them following the particle
>I had written:
>>Here's a comparison of some of the verb forms in Psa 18 and 2 Sam 22(the
>verse numbers conveniently correspond) which are essentially the same poem.
> How can this be?
>>Verse   root    Psa 18      2 Sam 22
>>7       $m(     yiqtol      wayyiqtol
>>12      $yt     yiqtol      wayyiqtol
>>14      r(m     wayyiqtol   yiqtol
>>15      $lx     wayyiqtol   yiqtol
>>16      glh     wayyiqtol   yiqtol
>>24      hyh     wayyiqtol   wayyiqtol
>>                 (short)      (long)
>>38      )sg     weyiqtol    wayyiqtol
>>39      npl     yiqtol      wayyiqtol
>>44      pl+     yiqtol      wayyiqtol

Dear Bryan,

I agree with you that there is no semantic difference between wayyiqtol and
yiqtol, except that wayyiqtol tend to use the apocopated form of the verb
when such a form is available, thus singalling modality (in the Semitic
sense, not in the Germanic sense). This suggests that other wayyiqtols
which have no apocopated forms are "modal" as well.

To illustrate our agreement, I quote below Prov 31:13-28 from the RSV. The
parantheses show the Hebrew form, (P = perfect, I = imperfect, IC =
imperfect consecutive). What is interesting with this proverb is that it,
from vv 10-31 is acrostic, and it is therefore not primarily governed by
narrative or discourse conventions, but rather by meter. The verbs are
therefore used in their own right. It is natural that all the verbs
represent the same time, but we find:  15 perfects, 4 imperfects, 9
imperfect consecutives, 2 passive participles, 1 active participle and 1

(13) She seeks (P) wool and flax, and works (IC) with willing hands.
(14) She is (P) like the ships of the merchant, she brings (I) her food
from afar.
(15) She rises (IC) while it is yet night, and provides (IC) food for her
(16) She considers (P) a field and buys (IC) it, with the fruit of her
hands she plants (P) a wineyard.
(17) She girds (P) her loins with strength and makes (IC) her arms strong.
(18) She perceives (P) that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does
not go out (I) at night.
(19) She puts (P) her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold (P) the spindle.
(20) She opens (P) her hands for the poor, and reaches out (P) her hands to
the needy.
(21)She is not afraid (I) of snow for her household, for all her household
are clothed (pass.p.) in scarlet.
(22) She makes (P) herself coverings, her clothing is fine linen and purple.
(23) Her husband is known (Nif p.) in the gates, when he sits (inf.c.)
among the elders of the land.
(24) She makes (P) linen garments and sells (IC) them; she delivers (P)
girdles to the merchant.
(25) Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs (IC) at the time
to come.
(26) She opens (P) her mouth with wisdom, and teaching of kindnes is on her
(27) She looks well (act.p.) to the ways of her household, and does not eat
(I) the bread of idleness.
(28) Her children rise up (P) and call her blessed IC), her husband also,
and he praises (IC) her.

As your earlier post on Psalm 107 shows, we disagree about the nature of
the Hebrew aspects. If I understand you correctly, you say that prefix
forms as well as suffix forms can be perfective or imperfective, and that
this must be construed on the basis of the context. I claim that
imperfectivity and perfectivity are connected with the verb form and not
with the context: all wayyiqtols and yiqtols are imperfective and all
qatals and weqatals are perfective.

A language which gives credence to the view that imperfective verbs in
great numbers can be used in Hebrew narrative is Syriac.  Recently I have
read "The Teachings of Addai" and the narrative parts of the gospel of Mark
in that  language. The narrative "tense" often used is a compound of a
participle and the perfect of hwa " to be" (e.g. Mark 14:1 ba)en waw),
which the grammars define as "durative past". This is  closer to, or even *
is* the imperfective aspect. I have no statistics about the use of this
compound form in other texts in Syriac, but its widespread use alone in the
mentioned texts is problematic for those demanding that the perfective
aspect alone be used in narratives.


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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