Ludicrous Wayyiqtols

Dave Washburn dwashbur at
Mon Dec 6 13:30:20 EST 1999

> >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 
> system.

Actually it could simply be deliberate archaism.  I've been told that 
Ben-Gurion, I think it was, used to use wayyiqtols occasionally 
when addressing certain groups just to see who was paying 
attention or perhaps just to throw them off!  I tend to think this kind 
of archaism is what we see in a lot of the sectarian Dead Sea 
Scrolls etc.  Hence, the "out of place" wayyiqtols in later Hebrew 
have less to do with drift than with desire for the old days, akin to 
the English speaker who uses the archaic pronouns in prayers and 
such.  Strictly within BH, I don't think the non-sequential 
wayyiqtols are out of place.  I think they're perfectly normal usage, 
especially when one considers how many there are and how 
frequently they occur.

> 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. 

No problem.  Actually, within the traditional (so to speak) view of 
the wayyiqtol your statement was perfectly legitimate.  I just don't 
happen to buy that view :-)

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. 

OK.  Be aware that the Josiah paper reflects a much earlier stage 
in the development of my theory; there I'm still pretty much 
operating under Andersen's approach.  But it was the number of 
wayyiqtols that begin new thoughts, that I found in the Josiah 
passages, that sparked my interest and started me on the road to 
the idea that I currently hold (for a full treatment of that you can 
also download my Hebrew Studies paper "Chomsky's Separation of 
Synatx and Semantics" via a link on that same page).

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.

I do go with early dating of Genesis, and while I agree that it's 
possible some of the material we have (especially genealogies and 
such) may have been passed down in other languages, I lean 
toward the idea that we are pretty well stuck with the language and 
the text as it is and must deal with it on its own terms.  Don't 
apologize, there was no confusion at least on my part.  

Dave Washburn
Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.
                                   Psalm 86:11

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