The "times" of Isaiah

Paul Zellmer zellmer at
Mon Aug 16 21:31:07 EDT 1999

Rolf Furuli wrote:

Please note that we are still waxing philosophical here.  I realize that
I still owe you a response on Is 59, and there are still areas of Is 44
that you questioned in your last two posts.

BTW, you noted a couple posts ago that I treated clause medial yiqtols
like clause initial ones.  I think there is only one example of that (v
13), and that was unintentional, just as, I believe, was your marking of
the reference to the worker as a qatal.  In the case of the yiqtol, it
should have been handled consistently and treated as a frequentative,
IMO.  Was there another instance that I missed?

Since, in the philosophic post, you stated agreement with much of the
ideas put forth, I am omitting those and continuing with those areas in
which we seem to disagree.

I said, then you said:
> >I believe that an examination of generic examples in the Tanakh would
> >show that biblical hebrew handles them with the same type verbs that
> >uses to handle the time-conscious relating of past events.  That does
> >not mean that time is important to generic examples in the Tanakh; it
> >simply the form that the Tanakh uses for this class of discourse.
> >like biblical hebrew's handling of this class does not dictate that
> >English must handle it the same way, neither should English's
> >of the class prevent the hebrew from placing generic examples in a
> >past-time form.  Yet this is exactly what your methodology (not
> >your interpretations) seem to do.
> I agree that it is my methodology that dictates my interpretation of
> Hebrew forms, but not that this has its basis in English or Norwegian
> idiom. Rather its basis is the principles of modern linguistics. I do
> deny the *possibility* that what you call "generic" examples are set
in a
> past-time form in Hebrew. I would just say: "Give me the evidence!"
And to
> gather such evidence, the range of meaning of each verb form cannot be
> ignored. Therefore I look forward to hear your definition of verb
But, Rolf, I know of nowhere in modern linguistic theory that there is
any proposition put forth for a *universal* requirement that C and RT
coincide for, in this instance, what we are making reference to as
"generic examples."  Yet this co-occurrence or coincidence of these two
times are very much at the heart of your arguments.  Since the Hebrew
tends to use participles to describe activities at or close to the
present, and since I do not find a single participle here, I would say
that you would be hard put to find your basis for this timing in the
Hebrew text.  And, if it is not put forth in universal linguistic
theory, where are you getting it from?  It really does seem like you are
imposing a European language treatment on a Semitic language.

> >
> >Why is it that you listed the qatals in "Thus says YHWH" as present?
> >Because *English* does it this way.  Why is it that you keep
> >that the universal concept for the timing of the generic examples
> >in Is 44 be present time?  Because *English* does it this way.
> This is not correct! I will again stress that I study the Hebrew text
> its own right and not with English grammar as norm. Remember, for
> that I claim that Hebrew aspect is completely different from English
> aspect, although almost everybody else think they are similar.
> A study of the examples of the words "Thus )FMAR YHWH" tells me that
the C
> and RT are identical as to time. The prophet acted as the mouthpiece
of God
> - he spoke God's words- and this is the very force of his message. Not
> lame "Thus said YHWH", but the foreceful "Thus says HYWH!". There are
> 282 YIQTOLs of )MR and many, perhaps most of these refer to the
future. The
> QATAL form occurs 1,187 times and WAYYIQTOL 2,718 times; there are
> other forms. If )MR only refers to the past (and half of the 282
> have present meaning), this would mean that the verb )MR had present
> meaning in only 2,6% of its occurrences - a very low number. In
addition to
> the Hebrew context, a study of how persens spoke in behalf of their
gods or
> rulers in cognate languages, suggests a present meaning as well.
What causes you to classify the coincidence of C and RT as being
forceful while holding that past-time treatment is lame?  That again is
not a stated universal in any theory of linguistics that I've seen.
Actually (again recognizing that this proves nothing), the speakers of
two-form language of Ibanag in the Philippines have stated to me that
they see much more forceful the use of the past-time form, whether the
statement is made by representatives or the officials themselves.  The
use of a present or future-time form generally is treated as
threatening, but, since it is not completely realized yet, still
avoidable or changable to at least a small degree.

Rolf, you argue that discourse analysis "weenies" [my term, not yours]
use inductive reasoning and impose artificial meanings on various forms.
But it would appear like you could well have a blind spot to your doing
the same thing with respect to grammatical timing.
<mutually understood points and side discussions snipped>
> Do you think that each verb form has a definite semantic meaning, or
> different situations of discourse can change the meaning of a form;
> give it a meaning that it does not have in other contexts?

I hold that words and clause-types do have basic sets of semantic
meanings.  I also hold that context (both grammatical and pragmatic)
brings into focus which of those meanings is applicable in that
situation, and which are being put into the background only.

Because that last paragraph is so philosophic, I doubt you really
understand what I'm getting at.  (That's why I normally don't respond to
your questions of these types.  To answer it would either result in a
statement so long and complex that it is not appropriate for anything
short of a monograph, or it is so pithy that it will be misunderstood
and <shudder> misused.)  So let me give a non-linguistic example to
illustrate the concept:

In chess, each class of piece have a defined set of moves allowed to it.
But it can use some or all of these moves in either offense or defense
or even simply delay.  What moves is available to it at any given time,
and which of those are offensive or defensive is determined by the
context in which the piece is placed.  Just because it is prevented from
making a certain move because of the position of other pieces does not
remove that move from its basic set of moves; rather, it removes that
move from its options *in that context*.  Similarly, a change of the
context might change the function of a piece from offensive to defensive
or vice versa, but it still has the same set of moves in its repertoire.
A skilled chess player will recognize and utilize the function of the
pieces in a given context, or he will try to change the context to allow
the piece to function as he needs.  I maintain that literary context has
a similar, albeit much more complex, effect on the elements used in

> Your basic
> problem if you claim that Hebrew behave differently from other
> is to find a method which does not assume this a priori wgen you
> your data.

First of all, I claim that the rules that govern other specific
languages should not be assumed to govern Hebrew, any more than the set
of phonemes found in other languages limit the phonemes used in Hebrew.
Having said that, I recognize that we all start with the familiar in our
approach to study of a language.  So initial assumptions many times look
like what we find in our native languages or in other languages which we
have studied.  The important thing, something that was drilled into my
head in many hours in the chemistry and physics labs, is that we need to
keep in mind the assumptions that we have made and to recognize that
those can be the source of error in the analysis of the results.  If we
find ourselves with too many problems, we should be willing to modify or
even completely replace our assumptions.

Your determining of grammatical timing also makes certain assumptions.
Those are just as much a priori as any that you claim other theorists
make.  And your application has resulted in an extremely large number of
results contrary to your assumed expectations when viewed in the light
of your understanding of the four-component theory.  Your next step has
been to question the four-component theory.  What I am suspecting as the
source of much of the difficulties, though, lies in the a priori
assumptions that you made in determining grammatical timing.  If a
particular passage in Hebrew has many of the features of past-time
narrative, and grammatical timing is not the focus of the message that
the author is bringing out, why do you keep insisting that the passage
cannot be past-time narrative just because your a priori assumption says
that C and RT must be concurrent in this type of writing?  As I said
above, there is no such universal requirement in linguistic theory.

If I were in an industrial development setting, I would definitely be
advising you to go back to the drawing board and rethink the assumptions
that you made in preparing for your analysis.



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