Ludicrous Wayyiqtols

Jonathan Bailey jonathan.bailey at
Sun Dec 5 18:30:42 EST 1999

---------- Original Message ----------

>Actually, the idea of an independent source starting with a 
>wayyiqtol isn't ludicrious at all.  We have such forms all over the 
>Hebrew Bible starting new sections, new thoughts, even a whole 
>book like Jonah.  While I agree that it's possible some sources 
>were written in other languages, there's nothing inherently ludicrous 
>about a Hebrew source starting with a wayyiqtol.  See F. I. 
>Andersen, "The Sentence in Biblical Hebrew" on wayyiqtol's use to 
>begin a new idea, as well as my paper "Perspective and Purpose: 
>Understanding the Josiah Story" in _Trinity Journal_ 1991 (there's 
>also a link to it as a WordPerfect file at 

Thanks for the reference to your paper. I am aware that wayyiqtols are often used to 
begin new ideas and narratives in the bible, but have at this point not concerned 
myself too deeply as to why. My understanding has traditionally been that the 
(supposed) consecutive function of the wayyiqtol is sort of its "true" function, and the 
developments or variations from that are a result of drift in usage like I mentioned in 
my accompanying mail (which you also refuted). For instance, wayyiqtols are still 
used occasionally in the Mishna and rabbinical literature (though I certainly have not 
read any considerable sample of that segment of the Hebrew corpus) and in my 
experience the choice of the form has absolutely no grammatic function that I have 
thus run into on this list represented by anyone. It seems the rabbis used it when they 
wanted to sound more "spruchartig", like "long ago and far away...." and they wanted 
to imitate biblical or high literary forms, or they were using a technicus terminus of 
their theological/midrashic discussions. Now again according to my meager 
experience (I am still working on my MA and am still acquiring basic trade skills and 
am not yet into reading all the various papers and commentaries on the cutting edge 
of the research yet) It seems that an explanation of 'out of place' wayyiqtols is a result 
of the language's slide from the old BH to the later RH (rabbinical Hebrew) tense 

With this in mind, I will say that my statement about ludicrous was related to my 
assumption that wayyiqtols at such an earlier, "pure" state of the language (I am 
working with the early Torah view concerning Gen 1 &2) should be used 'like they are 
supposed to', that is, in their consecutive role. Of course I know that the verb situation 
in Hebrew is messy, and that the consecutive role is not universally the home of the 
wayyiqtol (if it even exists, as some would maintain!), and my wording resulted in 
confusion. I will take a look at your paper, which I have downloaded, and will keep my 
eyes open for more on these subject in the future. At any rate, I realize my use of the 
word "ludicrous" was inappropriate, regardless of my understanding of the situation. In 
over half of my mails I seem to be running into the problem of causing confusion by 
using inflammatory or literary language to make my point sound more entertaining in 
English, and should learn that technical discussions demand a dryer medium. Sorry 
for the confusion. But as I said above, I am aware that there are lots of wayyiqtols that 
begin new narratives, but my apparently inadequate understanding about their nature 
led me to believe that such useage would be of a later form, and would be less likely 
to be found in the opening chapters of Genesis (if you are like me and believe Genesis 
to be early). But to be truthful I do not know why this happens, and will do more 
research here. Thanks for the prodding.

Jonathan Bailey
MA Kandidat
Hochschule für Jüdische Studien

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