The "times" of Isaiah

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Mon Aug 16 09:19:56 EDT 1999

Dear Paul,
>Rolf, this is not a complete response, as I have only a bit of time
>right now.  But there are a couple of statements to which I would like
>to address.

>I apologize, but I was apparently under the mistaken impression that we
>were talking about the timing as found in the Hebrew text, not the
>timing as would be produced in an English translation.  I did indeed
>state something earlier which you apparently overlooked or forgot by
>this time:
>> >How do you arrive at this "timing" determination?  Is it based only
>> >the common English (and perhaps other European language) texts?  Is
>> >there really anything in the Hebrew text to prevent it from being
>> >translated, "Thus said YHWH"?  I was taught that the use of the
>> >in cases results in a more vivid text, but that is an *English* rule.
>And I also stated in two different posts that the translation was
>purposefully wooden.  There was no attempt made to put it into
>colloquial English grammatical structure.  But any translation you look
>at *would* try to adjust for the receptor language grammatical
>structure.  One of my problems with your timing analyses is that they
>seem to assume that English or some other modern European language
>structure represents the "correct" universal timing of a class of
>communication.  Rolf, there is no restraint that demands Hebrew (or any
>other language) to be expressing something in the present just because
>that is how English grammar structure expresses that concept.

I have not criticized the wooden-ness of your translation but explicitly
said that my criticism only relates to the choice of tense and mood. I have
also been talking about the temporal meaning of the *Hebrew* text, not of
an English translation; and I stated in my first post that I made my
judgements as to the temporal meaning of the verbs, on the basis of the
relationship between C, RT and ET.

There is no reason to assume that the Hebrew verbal system should be
similar to the English one. Therfore, I agree that we cannot use the
English system in a normative way (though it can be used in a descriptive
way). But there is absolutely no reason to assume that there is one Hebrew
"timing" and another English "timing". Even in Burmese and other tenseless
languages, there is a consciousness of time, and by help of adverbs and
other means it can be expressed whether an even is past, present and future
in relation to a deictic point. Different languages use different means to
express time, but a consciousness of what happened, happens and will happen
is universal. Regarding Hebrew, we must discuss the means (conjugations) to
express time, and these may differ from the English conjugations, but we
need not discuss the "timing" per se.

When I started my study of Hebrew verbs, I looked for models which were
concerned with the fundamental building-blocks of language. I found
Chomsky's generative grammar impossible to use because of its unprovable
assumptions. Chomsky has also retracted many of his earlier ideas and his
latest views are even less testable than his first ones. I also found
discourse analysis impossible to use to fix the meaning of verb forms. Even
Harald Weinreich, who was the one who invented the method of discourse
analysis with this goal in mind, said that his method was "unassailable",
i.e. it could not be tested.

I found little help in Hebrew Grammars and monographs, because most of them
build on the four-component model from the Middle Ages (and the last
century), a model which never has been tasted. The model I found, which
starts with the fundamentals, is the one of Mary Broman Olsen and H.P.
Grice with the very simple fundamental principle "semantic meaning may not
be canceled without contradiction or reinforced without redundancy."  This
means that a verb form which is claimed to represent past tense must
indicate past tense in all its occurrences (save those which can be
accounted for by linguistic observations/rules).  By using the realtionship
between C, RT, and ET, this model can be applied to *any* language without
thinking of something called "timing". I am not aware of any linguist who
will deny this. The more I work with Broman Olsen's model, the more I see
the great advantages of her scrupulously differentiation between the
smallest parts of language which represent "semantic meaning" and those
whose meaning is "conversational pragmatic implicature."

Because we do not speak Classical Hebrew but English, we must use English
as a point of reference (descriptive).  When someone says that WAYYIQTOL is
past tense, she says so with English as reference point; and the meaning is
that RT in the use of WAYYIQTOL  allways (save explainable exceptions)
comes before C. We must also presume that when you translate Isaiah 44 into
English and consistently use past tense, then you use English as a point of
reference, and your readers can rightly infer that all the verbs in your
verses can be used with past meaning; and further, that all these verses
(12 and 17) represent a situation where RT comes before C. Whether the
Hebrews used verbs in a way different from English is beyond the point. The
important thing is that *you*, by making an English translation, uses this
language as a reference, and by this, signal that RT is before C according
to your judgement.

>You might have a problem with my term "timeless" just like you rejected
>Peter's term of gnomic.  By the way, I would also have a problem with
>Peter's classification.  My term was put in quotes and hyphenated to
>show I was referring to something other than is normally indicated by
>the term.  The point I was trying to make was that the focus was more on
>the activity than on the time of the activity.  English uses the present
>to do this, and Hebrew appears to use the same forms that is used in the
>prose to describe historical events.  So my wooden translation reflected
>that "historical" form of the source language text.

I do not dispute that "the focus was more on the activity than on the time
of the activity" in Isaiah 44:12-17, but this is no reason to discard the
relationship between C, RT, and ET. You can't get it both ways but have to
choose: Either RT comes before C, coincides with C, or comes after C! To
claim that this choice is irrelevant in Classical Hebrew is tantamount to
argue metaphysically or esoretically; or at least, to discard one of the
most fundamental linguistic principles which can be applied to all other

>You also stated:
>> You did not answer my question regarding the temporal meaning of the
>> different verb forms.
>I did not refer to that question, because you never asked it of me.
>(Didn't you ask something like that of Peter?)  But, had you done so, I
>would have not answered it anyway, because the question does not pertain
>to the statements that I made in my response to your initial post.  If
>that question was in the initial post, I do not recall it.  It was
>probably hidden in the middle of the data for which I had no way of
>verifying or not.  (This borders on that question game that I said I am
>not going to get involved in.  Why don't we work with specific passages?
>Then we actually do seem to come to an understanding where each other is
>coming from, even if we never seem to agree!)

Fine! Here are the questions:  Are WAYYIQTOL and QATAL  grammaticalized
past tenses? And what is the meaning of WEYIQTOL? You translate them as
past modals just as the YIQTOLs. Is the only difference between WAYYIQTOL
and WEYIQTOL modality?
>BTW, if you do repost your response to the list, perhaps you might
>include in your form markings whether the verb is clause initial or not.
>I do believe you realize that that little fact is important to the
>verbal treatment that you are bringing into question.
>Oh, and just one quick observation, hoping that you realize that I do
>plan on a more complete response in the future.  (I will touch on the
>passage that I personally consider my favorite, Is 59, at that time.):
>In the treatment of 44:18-19, I purposely did not include them because
>the we had there another element which would have cause the explanation
>of analysis to become much too long for the list.  In brief, however,
>you do realize, I'm sure, that speech in the Tanakh just like speech in
>every day occurrences switches back and forth between historical forms
>and predictive forms and all other forms.  The quote in verse 19 does
>indeed seem to start off with a historical form, but then, with what you
>marked as yiqtols and weyiqtols, I see those as cohortatives, a non-past
>form of discourse.  The quote formula makes a difference in the
>application of the theory, Rolf.  (Sometimes I get the impression that
>you actually do know this, and you're just seeing if we know it as
>More later.  Please be patient with a busy man.
I understand your problems with time, and look forward to your future post.
BTW, I got a post from one of my students, who specializes on Qumran, this
morning. He referred to an article by  J J Collins, "Patterns of
Eschatology at Qumran", and directed my attention to the following
footnote:    "The use of tenses in the hymn [1QH 3,19-36] is confusing
since it vacillates between imperfects with Waw-Consecutive and simple


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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