The "times" of Isaiah

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Wed Aug 11 09:58:17 EDT 1999

Dear list-members,

I have just completed a study of all the verbs (in their contexts) in the
book of Isaiah.

Judging each form in the light of the deictic point and the reference time,
I got the following statistics.

I found 1065 QATALs and 494 WEQATALs and 250 WAYYIQTOLs, 487 WEYIQTOLs, and
1366 YIQTOLs in the book.

The following forms are in my judgement problematic for the traditional
four-component model:

240 QATALs with future meaning.
201 QATALs with present meaning (including 22% with the words "Thus says YHWH")
(This means that 41% of all qatals are somewhat problematic.)

34 WAYYIQTOLs with future meaning.
37 WAYYIQTOLs with present meaning.
(This means that 28% of the WAYYIQTOLs are problematic; if we do not count
the 65 WAYYIQTOLs in ch. 36-39, which are narrative, we find that 38% are

14 WEYIQTOLs with past meaning.
( This is 2,8% of the 487 occurrences of weyiqtol.)
25 YIQTOLs past meaning.
5 YIQTOLs with perfect meaning.
( This is 2,2% of the 1366 occurrences)

In addition I found:

64 sentence initial YIQTOLs (many are not modal in the Germanic sense of
the word, in my judgement.)
92 sentence  initial QATALs.

In narrative texts we find a regularity in the use of verb forms. The
problem with using such texts only or primarily, is that, because of the
regular pattern in the use of verbs, there are few means to test the two
competing viewpoints:
(1) The W(AYY-) element combined with YIQTOL signals a conjugation
different from YIQTOL, and the WE- element combined with QATAL signals in
many/most cases a conjugation different from QATAL/WE-QATAL Thus Classical
Hebrew has four conjugations.
(2) The W(AYY-) element and the WE-element are just conjunctions, and the
widespread use of WAYYIQTOL in past narrative accounts and the use of
WEQATAL for future time and modality simply is a linguistic convention,
i.e. it is pragmatic. Thus Classical Hebrew has two conjugations, neither
of which represents grammaticalized tense.

I can think of no better text for a test of one's theory/model than the
book of Isaiah. Some of the examples in my statistics above may be
disputed, but the bulk of them has a firm foundation., Even if only 50% of
my examples had a secure foundation, the numbers are alarming. A verbal
model must be able to account for most uses of verbs in the Bible, so why
not test yours against Isaiah and start with 44:12-17? If I have counted
correctly, we find in these verses 11 QATALs, 3 WEQATALs, 11YIQTOLs, 5
WEYIQTOLs, and 9 WAYYIQTOLs, and all of them seem to represent the same

A comparison of Isaiah 2:17 and 2:11 may show us something to look for in
our studies. In v 17 we find three WEQATALs with future meaning. In v 11 we
find a verse with exactly the same words (save a detail or two). The
setting here is also future, and this is expressed by the same two
WEQATALs, but the third WEQATAL	 in v 17 is in v 11 a QATAL. Why? Because
of the syntax! Because the subject comes first a WE- is not possible, but
the QATAL $PL has future meaning just as W$PL. We find many similar
examples throughout the Bible, and we find examples in past contexts where
an element before a YIQTOL prevents the addition of the WAYY- element as
well. The advantage of studying non-narrative texts is that we can find
these passages where it is evident that WAYY-  and WE-  are syntactic
(pragmatic) elements  and not semantic ones.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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