The "times" of Isaiah

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Thu Aug 12 17:35:01 EDT 1999

Dear Rolf,

To answer your questions in reverse:

2) I don't know. I wish I did and hope to look into this. Perhaps 
WEQATAL as a separate conjugation developed from "future perfect" WE- 
plus QATAL under the influence of analogy with WAYYIQTOL. In passages 
like Exodus 25-30 it seems to me clearly distinct from WE- plus QATAL 
and analogous to WAYYIQTOL, i.e. sequential, but with non-past and/or 
modal meaning. It may not be possible to make a definite distinction 
between two conjugations, rather there may be a range of meanings. So 
I would accept a broad range of meanings for WEQATAL, more so than for 
other conjugations, while maintaining the distinction (at least in 
principle though occasionally blurred in the Masoretic text) between 

1) This is a tricky one to answer as I am not sure how to deal with 
the concept of reference time in cases like this of general (gnomic) 
and/or habitual actions. The writer clearly has in mind the idea that 
these events have taken place in the past, continue at present (as a 
generalisation, i.e. there is not necessarily an ironsmith hammering 
at the very minute that the prophet is writing), and will doubtless 
continue in the future.

I am also not convinced of the value of such an analysis by reference 
time and deictic point for biblical Hebrew. If such an analysis simply 
defines whether an event is past, present or future with reference to 
the time of writing, it is clear that all verb forms can (at least in 
unusual circumstances) be any one of these three, and that the 
distinction (if made at all - in this instance it is not) is largely a 
pragmatic one. One might therefore conclude that Hebrew is "tenseless" 
(though that may depend on definitions). But that result merely 
confirms that this analysis has got us precisely nowhere in terms of 
understanding the Hebrew verb forms.

(This tenseless analysis depends on an understanding of YIQTOL and 
WEQATAL forms as modal or habitual rather than non-past. Well, at 
least this explains the "prophetic perfect": in general future actions 
were considered uncertain and so "modal", but for the prophets God's 
future actions were certain and so not "modal". But I remain to be 
convinced that there is no time element involved.)

To me the relevant point here for analysis of Hebrew verbs is not the 
relationship of the deictic point to the time of writing but rather 
the relationship between the deictic points or event times of the 
successive clauses within the passage. For example, in Isaiah 44:12, 
let us look at a single instance of this habitual action i.e. one 
ironsmith making one idol. In this case I would see the event time as 
advancing in lines 2,3,4 below (as regularly with WAYYIQTOL), but in 5 
(as regularly with X-QATAL) the new deictic point is before the 
previously established event time, and it establishes a new event 
time, which advances in 6; again at 7 a new event time is established 
(equivalent to that in 5) which advances again in 8.

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

I hope this helps you to understand how I am viewing this passage and 
its potential usefulness in understanding the Hebrew verb system. I 
expect that from such a starting point we can get past the rather 
negative "everything is pragmatic" arguments and start to make real 
progress on understanding the subtle semantic distinctions between 
various verb forms.

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Re: The "times" of Isaiah
Author:  furuli at at internet
Date:    12/08/1999 03:23

Dear Peter,

Before I comment on your post I have two questions:

(1) Isaiah 44:12-17: Are you saying that the relationship between the 
reference time and the deictic point of the WAYYIQTOLs is different from 
that of the YIQTOLs and? And similarly with the QATALs and the WEQATALs?

(2) In your opinion, what are the criteria for the differentiation between 
WEQATAL (as a conjugation separate from QATAL) and WE-QATAL  as a part of 
the QATAL conjugation?


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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