The "times" of Isaiah

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Wed Aug 11 23:19:40 EDT 1999

Dear Rolf,

Thank you for your contribution and for all your hard work.

I have one question for you: how did you determine whether each form 
has "past", "present", "future" etc "meaning"? (I suppose in the light 
of your previous definitions you mean not "meaning" but something like 
"temporal context"). Did you look at existing translations into 
Norwegian, English etc? Or did you look at the Hebrew text? If the 
former, you may only be exposing the inadequacies of the translators. 
If the latter, I am not sure how you can avoid circular reasoning.

I think the weakness of your method is clearly seen in your statement 
concerning Isaiah 44:12-17 that "all of [the verb forms] seem to 
represent the same time!" I suggest you look carefully at this 
passage, in Norwegian or English, and look at the potential subtleties 
in the temporal and other relationships between the various clauses in 
this passage. Think which conjunctions etc (other than "and") you 
could put between the successive lines, e.g. (based on RSV for verse 
12 only):

The ironsmith fashions it:              verbless
FIRST he works it over the coals;       WEQATAL
THEN he shapes it with hammers,         X-YIQTOL
I.E. he forges it with his strong arm;  WAYYIQTOL
MEANWHILE he becomes hungry             X-QATAL
SO THAT his strength fails,             verbless
ALSO he drinks no water                 X-QATAL
and AS A RESULT is faint.               WAYYIQTOL

Then, I suggest, you can go back and look at how the different Hebrew 
verb forms correlate with the different temporal and logical linkages 
in the text. For example, here I would note that the two X-QATALs 
correspond to a "flashback" or "meanwhile" background clause, just as 
in narrative, and the second WAYYIQTOL is in sequence with what 
precedes, again as in narrative. (Possibly the first WAYYIQTOL was 
originally WEYIQTOL but has become corrupted.) Only if you can find 
absolutely no correlation can you come back and report that there your 
"11 QATALs, 3 WEQATALs, 11 YIQTOLs, 5 WEYIQTOLs, and 9 WAYYIQTOLs" all 
represent the same time.

I accept that Isaiah may be a good final testing ground for a model of 
Hebrew verb forms, but given the complexity of the book I am not sure 
that I would use it as a starting place. Do you have a verbal model 
(beyond "all verb forms are synonymous") to test against Isaiah? Does 
it pass the test?

But you have made an interesting point in your last paragraph. This 
rather suggests to me a future perfect type of meaning for both QATAL 
and WEQATAL in this context: when "the terror of the LORD, and from 
the glory of his majesty" (2:10) are revealed, the humbling of men and 
the exaltation of the LORD (2:11) are not the next events in sequence 
but will already have happened, compare the use of X-QATAL for 
flashback and background in narrative.

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator 
Subject: The "times" of Isaiah
Author:  furuli at at internet
Date:    11/08/1999 08:58

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 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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