evolution of the suffixed forms

Bryan Rocine brocine at earthlink.net
Tue Jun 1 15:48:16 EDT 1999


The following is in answer to some recent queries re the BH
suffixed forms as attributions.  I welcome your comments.

Such luminaries as Bergstrasser, Bauer, Hetzron claim the
Proto-Semitic suffixed form is a "verbal noun,"  or an
attribution, as evidenced by the Akkadian permansive.  At
the other end of the evolutionary development of this form's
meaning is the form as a past tense or perfective form as
evidenced by its use in oral (direct speech) narrative, its
increased use in LBH, and, of course, its use in Rabbibic
Hebrew as the *forme historique*.  Where and when are the
in-between stages?  Where does the bulk of the biblical
corpus fall on this line of development?

Moran (1950, 1961) cites 123 cases of the suffixed form
referring to the future in the Canaanitic glosses of the
Armarna letters.  Of the 123, only one is fientive.  Fenton
(1973, 1977) and Gordon (1977)  give examples in Ugaritic of
the suffixed form, most often used with fronted morpheme
("and"), referring to the future.  Fenton and Gordon are not
as interested in the inherent stativity or fientivity of the
verb form as they are the time to which the form refers, but
I note that at least some of the examples use active roots,
and some an apparent substitution for imperatives.  The
point is that the weqatal does not have its beginnings in a
"converted" anything.  There is something about its inherent
meaning that makes it functional in past, present, and
future genres.  To me, its nature as an expression of
attribute is the common denominator.

The object is not to divest all these ancient Semitic
languages of their distinctiveness; it is to understand the
BH suffix forms.  But the BH suffixed forms do not stand in
isolation either.  Again, the question for me is at what
stage in the evolution of the suffixed forms does the bulk
of Standard Biblical Hebrew lie, i.e. at what stage of the
evolution of the suffixed forms do they lose their value as
attributions?  Before the Tanakh?  (I think this is the
majority position).  If so, the qatal is a past tense
(Revell, Hetzron, DeCaen) or a perfective (Waltke and O'
Connor), end of story.  The weqatal is a future/modal, end
of story.

Personally, I put most of the suffixed forms at an earlier
stage of development following Eskhult (1990, section
2.2.2).  For one I believe that either the thought that
suffixed forms are tenses (exactly) or aspects (exactly) is
tenuous.  Too many good counter-examples!  Nevertheless, the
suffixed forms must have some consistent, natural TAM
meaning, that being, IMO,  "the expression of an attribute,"
more or less the expression of a state.  I offer as positive
evidence the following:  the use of the suffixed form to
express simultaneity and anteriority in narrative; the
precative (doing something by saying it as in Gen 23:11
natati); the present time sense of suffixed forms when used
with stative roots in direct speech; the gnomic use of the
suffixed forms in, for example,  Pss. and Pro. referring to
the permanent character and ability of the subject; the use
of the weqatal to refer to the habitual past; the use of the
suffixed form referring to conditional time periods (e.g.
Gen 44:22, 33:13).

Hoping to help and be helped!


B. M. Rocine
Associate Pastor
Living Word Church
6101 Court St. Rd.
Syracuse, NY 13206

(office) 315.437.6744
(home) 315.479.8267

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