Genesis 1:1: independent clause or subordinate phrase

peter_kirk at sil.org peter_kirk at sil.org
Wed Dec 8 19:53:59 EST 1999


Dear Prof. Niccacci,

Many thanks again for your reply, and for the examples you quote. It 
is now clear to me from Isaiah 6:1 and Genesis 22:4 that the sentence 
structure

B-<time phrase> W-<sentence>

does occur in Hebrew, if rarely. But I note that in both these 
examples the W- is part of a WAYYIQTOL verb, and a better analysis 
might be to take these as anomalous non-sentence initial uses of 
WAYYIQTOL without sentence dividing effect, thus completing the 
parallel between Isa. 6:1 and 14:28.

Exodus 16:6-7 is different as there is no B-, I might translate 
"evening will come, and you will know... morning will come, and you 
will see...". Ruth 4:5 can be interpreted in various ways, and the 
syntax is normal if NIV is correct: "On the day you buy the land from 
Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man's 
widow...". And of course I recognise that the structure with the 
preceding WAYHI is very common.

Following up your description of "waw of apodosis", I have found the 
relevant section in GKC, which is 134d, which refers also to 112oo. 
There I have found the following additional examples of time clauses 
with B- forming a "casus pendens", as GKC calls this construction, 
separated from the main clause by waw:

Genesis 3:5:    beyom akolkem mimmennu wenipqexu `enekem...
Genesis 40:9:   baxalomi wehinne...
Exodus 32:34:   ubeyom poqdi upaqadti...
Numbers 12:12:  bece'to merexem immo wayyeakel...
1 Kings 13:31:  bemoti uqebartem

So I have to accept that this construction does occur, though it seems 
to be rather rare, and in none of these examples (except for the 
uncertain Ruth 4:5) is the following clause X-QATAL. I would indeed 
like to follow this up in your book "Syntax", and to learn more of your 
helpful approach. Unfortunately I don't have this book available at 
present. I will try to get hold of it when I go home to England soon.

As for sequences of X-QATALs, Genesis 44:3-4 does seem a rather odd 
sequence, and the events here must be at least partly sequential - at 
least being sent and leaving the city. Of the three X-QATALs in Exodus 
10:13, at least the first two must be sequential. But I must agree 
that there is probably no clear indication of sequentiality in these 
cases.

But for the present I remain unconvinced that in Genesis 1:1 the 
reader would have understood the unique combination of two very rare 
constructions rather than the apparently plain (if slightly anomalous 
in form) understanding "In the beginning God created the heavens and 
the earth".

Peter Kirk





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