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Dave Washburn dwashbur at
Fri Nov 19 12:32:05 EST 1999

Bryan wrote:
> Welcome, Ted, to b-hebrew,


> I hope you find the discussion instructive and enjoyable.

Also agreed, though we are human here so you might have to cut 
us a little slack now and then ;-)

> As for your question, the clause about which you ask is
> followed by two clauses that clearly indicate the state of
> things at the time Elohim said "Let there be light":
> "darkness was upon the face of the deep and the Spirit (or
> wind) of God was hovering over the face of the waters."  The
> clause haytah tohu vabohu, "The world had become wildness
> and wasteland," belongs with these other two clauses and
> also describes the state of things at the time of the
> creation, IMO.  Such is a common discourse function of a
> clause that is constructed with a qatal verb form (a.k.a.
> perfect or suffixed form) in the second position in the
> clause as in veha'arets haytah tohu vabohu.  

At this point I agree about the discourse function, but I would add 
that in my own approach, qatal appears in clauses that are 
syntactically connected in some way to the preceding clause.  A 
syntactic connection can be subordination, apposition, and some 
others, or, as I think is the case here, in opposition.  (The qatal in 
1:1 is built off a connection with the preceding temporal expression 
B:R"$IYT.)  Thus, I would agree that the clauses in 1:2 express a 
situation that prevailed at the moment God spoke in 1:3; however, 
rather than "the earth became" I would suggest "But the earth was 
formeless and waste etc."  The subtle comment here is that the 
heavens were fine, but the earth still needed some forming (to say 
nothing of populating).

Notice that I
> translate "had become" rather than "became."  I am merely
> tring to avoid a possible ambiguityin English by which "the
> earth became..." may be misunderstood as an event in the
> main plotline.  I would say that the use of the qatal form
> in second position in the clause is a strong indication that
> this clause is not on the mainline of events but gives
> background information in the story.

OK.  Within those parameters, I can agree with the discourse 

> Let me explain my decision to translate as "had become"
> rather than "was."  Personally I do not consider the verbal
> root hyh to be a copula, expressing mere existence.  Rather
> I believe that it expresses a "coming about of something."
> Even if we are reluctant to limit our understanding of the
> root hyh as "a coming about," we must in Gen 1:2 come under
> the influence of the rest of the creation account which
> makes a rather conspicuous use of the root hyh.  "Let there
> be light" uses hyh.  "And there was light" uses hyh.  

Question: was there a way to express the imperative and its 
subsequent fulfillment without a copula?  I'm at a loss to figure out 
how a verbless clause could have expressed these ideas, 
especially the imperative.  It seems to me that the writer used HYH 
here because he had to...

> passing of each evening and morning is expressed with hyh.
> In all these cases, I would find an interpretation of hyh as
> merely a copulative to rob the accout of its vitality.  At
> the risk of writing some non-standard English I might
> suggest some alternative translations that attempt to
> express the vitality of hyh:  "Then God said, 'Let light
> happen,' so light happened...Evening happened; morning
> happended.  Day One."

OK, I can see this, but I wonder about extending this idea to all 
uses of HYH, especially in cases like 1:3.

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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