The "times" of Isaiah

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Thu Aug 19 04:50:51 EDT 1999

Dear Paul,

>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.

It is important that we don't confuse the issues. What I have claimed is
that the scheme (hardly a model) of the relationship between C, RT, and ET
can be universally applied to any language. No linguist will deny that. I
have not said anything about any universal relationship between C and RT in
particular contexts.

My study of Isaiah 44 starts with the question: "What is the position of
C?" Because there is nothing signalling that C is anything but speech-time,
and the context corroborates this, I draw the conclusion that C represents
speech-time. This is not based on any model but is a judgement or
interpretation. It seems that you agree that C is speech-time. Then the
question arises: "Where is RT in relation to C?" There are several means
that in different languages can help us answer this question: (1) time
adverbials, (2) lexical expressions in the context that indicate time, and
(3) a knowledge of the tenses of the verbs used.

My model is based on cancellability, but it allows for exceptions, provided
they can be explained. It is possible to disagree with a model, but even
Waltke/O'Connor (p 460), who does not subscribe to my model, draw tha same
conclusion as when I apply the model to Hebrew: "How can forms each of
which "represent" all three English major tenses have a primarily temporal
The verbs of Isaiah cannot tell me anything about where RT is located, and
there are no adverbials that can help. I therefore have to rely on the
setting and the context.

In my view, the setting is that YHWH through Isaiah condemns the people
because of the sins that they practiced at speech time, and there was
certainly at least one who at speech-time had the occupation of making
idols. God reasons with the people through Isaiah showing that to make and
worship idols are stupid. This setting and context suggest to me (and this
is not based upon any model) that RT in the verbs of Isaiah 44:12-17
coincides with C. The translators of all the modern Bible translations of
which I am aware, take the same standpoint.

Then we come to your standpoint. I agree there is no *universal*
requirement that C and RT coincide in "generic" or any other kind of text.
And I will add that there  neither is there any *universal* requirement
about the relationship between C, RT and ET in other Hebrew text types.
This means that we cannot by pointing to the text type say that these
verses  must have past meaning. Discourse functions alone cannot tell
whether an account is past, present or future. So why do you think that
Isaiah 44:12-17 is past? Because of the verbs?

So I pose my question again: 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?

>> >
>> >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.

I am always open for good arguments detecting blind spots, but the
arguments must address the seeing spots so I can see the blind ones.
><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

If I understand your chess example correctly, it seems that we must be a
skilled worker with discourse analysis to be able to translate Hebrew
verbs. To fix a particular meaning to each verb form it not necessary, we
only need to appeal to our skill. This is not meant sarcastically, but it
rather illustrates my feeling that "panta rei"  in your theoretical
approach - it is hardly testable. You have an opportunity to  show that my
feeling is wrong by giving a thorough answer to my questions about the
meaning of verbs.

>> 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.

I agree heartily.
>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.

Your words here do not represent my views as stated above. Rememeber that I
did not start with the problems of the four-component model, but rather
with a study of the origin of this model. And I was shocked to discover
that this model is a remnant from the Middle Ages and that its principal
parts just have been delivered from professor to student, from professor to
student from that time, without ever being tested. This together with all
the problems you mention is a logical starting pont for scepticism.
>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.

Good advice!  All who are doing reaserch (or translation) should time and
again do this.



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo.

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