Prototype Theory and Hebrew Tense/Aspect (and misc.)

John Ronning ronning at
Fri Dec 17 14:27:45 EST 1999

Matthew Anstey wrote (after a very elegant answer to Paul's
question about markers of sequentiality)
> Furthermore, examples of all the
> above types of sentences I have found in BH, all over the place,
> except the clear presentation of events in reverse chronological
> order, but I have not looked hard for this. Perhaps someone can find
> an example such as "He fell over. John hit him." in BH for me, with
> both verbs in the same form.

Deut 10:3 is a good one: 
wa'a`as 'aron ... wa'epsol shney luxot
I made an ark ... and I cut out two stone tablets
The chronological sequence is quite well known from Exodus,
and it's beyond belief that anyone would have an agenda for
changing the sequence. 

Overall, however, a sequence is being followed, and the
sequence is "I made an ark . . . and put the two stone
tablets in it" but he interjects the point about carving out
the tablets, which took place quite a while before
construction on the tabernacle even began.  C. v.d. Merwe
makes the point in his grammar (if I interpret him
correctly) that since the wayyiqtol is the default or
mainline form, we should not expect strict chronological
sequence.  I think we would be much closer to actual BH if
we understood the flow of the narrative as being carried
forward by chains of wayyiqtols, rather than by individual
wayyiqtols (all or almost all sequential with each other). 
So if you have say ten wayyiqtols in a row, maybe there are
three groups (roughly, paragraphs) whose endpoints are
indeed sequential (or almost always so), but at each
paragraph "break" there can be major or minor regression

To carry on with your example above, "He fell over. John hit
him harder than he meant to, and now he's in the hospital"
would perhaps be more like BH narrative.

There are a number of other out of sequence wayyiqtols in
Deut 9 - 10 - see Driver's commentary and his consternation
due to the fact that it was obvious to him that the
narrative follows the sequence given in Exodus except for
these embarassing (to his theory) glitches.  His solution -
Deut 9-10 must depend on a different text of Exodus (i.e.,
chuck the text, not the theory).

Assuming that each wayyiqtol is sequential can result in 
some pretty odd "sequences."
shama`nu ... wannishma` (same object) (Josh 2:10-11)
wayyeleku wattiqshor ... wayyeleku (same departure) (Josh
2:4 is also probably not sequential
The whole chronology of Josh 1-4 is pretty much impossible
viewing all the wayyiqtols as sequential.  
1:11 we're crossing the Jordan in three days (for be`od
shelosheth yamim = on the third day from now see Genesis
40:13, 20), i.e. so if today is Friday we cross the river
on Sunday.
Joshua 2 (the spies and Rahab) took at least three days (v.
22), so at best (on the sequential view, leaving out that
the spies would have had to ignore their mission to spy out
more than just Jericho), Joshua would have received their
report on Sunday, but then 3:1 says he got up in the morning
- sequentially would have to be at least Monday, after the
river crossing but in context it's obviously Saturday since
it says they spent that night east of the Jordan before
crossing. 3:2-4 are instructions issued "at the end of 3
days" i.e. on Sunday, but 3:5 begins with a wayyomer that
has to be Saturday since it refers to the miracle the Lord
is going to do "tomorrow." 

3:5 may violate your principle (1) about "the principle of
minimal interpretative energy" - it's not obvious without
some thought that the chronology is reversed, so maybe we
should distinguish written narrative (which may be written
deliberately to require some careful thinking to
understand), from verbal or "ordinary" writing where the
purpose is solely to communicate.  And after all, BH already
required a fair amount of thought to read because of the
lack of vowels or vowel indicators.

So there are at least two major chronological
discontinuities (2:1 & 3:5), and some minor ones as well.  I
read one commentator who said that though 1:11 says in three
days it must have been more like five - but the crossing on
the third day is theologically crucial to the narrative as
it provides a typological link to the crossing of the Sea
and the creation narratives - it was w.r.t. the third day of
creation that dry ground came out of the sea (reproduced at
the Red Sea and the Jordan).

If one applies the "sequential paragraph" method described
above to Genesis 1, you are free to see that the order is
partly logical and partly chronological; i.e. the goal of
each "day" is accomplished sequentially, but there can be
overlapping in the events leading up to the
accomplishments.  I.e. you can take each "wayyomer"
following each "nth day" as a chronological regression back
even prior to the creation (notice the author never says
anything happened "on" such and such a day until the 7th
day).  When one does this, we are left with an account that
matches what astrophysicists and geophysicists have only
come to understand in the last few decades (yes you have to
follow up on the clues about the days not being normal

By the way, for believers in orthodox source criticism -
isn't LO' +OWB of Gen 2:18 an obvious play off of the
repeated refrain of Genesis 1 "God saw that it was good"?

Also, for those who think the flood chronology is difficult,
I refer you to Wenham's commentary - pretty simple,


John Ronning

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