Jer 15:6-9

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Wed Sep 15 12:02:24 EDT 1999

Alviero Niccacci wrote:
> Dear list-members,
> A look at Jer 15:1-10 suggests that the past tenses (qatal and wayyiqtol)
>in vv. 6b-9a describe what God did in the past in order to bring Jerusalem
>to repentance, but in vain: "(my people) from their ways did not come
>back" (v. 7bb). God's accusation and threat against Jerusalem precede:
>"You have rejected me, oracle of the Lord, you shall go back" (v. 6a);
>another God's threat follows: "and their remnant to the sword I will give
>before their enemies, oracle of the Lord" (v. 9b). Because the previous
>punishment (indicated with the past tenses in vv. 6b-9a) did not bring
>repentance, God is going to destroy the rest of his people. No one shall
>be able to avoid the disaster (vv. 1a and 5).
> The prophet receives the order of sending people away from God toward
>death (vv. 1b-4), therefore he laments (v. 10).
> Please check. Peace and all good.

Dear list-members,

I take the last line of Alviero's words as a point of departure, namely the
words "Please check." Three views have been presented regarding 15:6-9: (1)
The events are past  (AN), (2) The events are future but "prophetic past
tense" is used (RB), and (3) The events are future (RF and BR).  The
distance between (1) and (3) is enormeous, and this illustrates that the
understanding of great chunks of text can be dramatically affected by the
commentator's view of tense in relation to the Hebrew verbal system. So it
is very important to make up one's mind as to the meaning of the verbal

Already in 14:11,12, Jeremiah learns that he shall not pray for the people
because they will be destroyed. This thought is taken up in 15:1; even the
prayer of righteous men would not help the people. And then the future
judgement is described (vv 2-9). To say that only the YIQTOL of 9b refers
to a future judgement of "the remnant",  and that what is mentioned in v
6b-9a refers to past judgements is very, very strange in my eyes. Such
arguments tend to be circular because they go like this: WAYYIQTOL and
QATAL in narrative texts have past "meaning" and therefore they represent
past tense. So all WAYYIQTOLs and QATALs in any context represent past
tense, and a future meaning is not possible. To avoid (or at least reduce
circularity) one should take *all" WAYYIQTOLs and QATALs in the whole
corpus of Classical Hebrew and without any preconceived idea, and based on
the context alone, one should list all forms with present or future
meaning. This would give hundreds of examples of QATALs and WAYYIQTOLs with
future meaning; thus discarding any view that these forms were preterits.

To illustrate the problems of the mentioned approach, let me take an
example from the Aramaic of Dan 3:6, which we read in class today: "And
whoever does not fall down (YIQTOL)  and worship (WEYIQTOL), at the moment
they will be thrown (YIQTOL) into the middle of the furnace with burning
flames." Here we have three YIQTOLs, two are taken as having present
meaning, and the third as having future meaning.  On which basis do we make
our judgement? On the basis of the context.  Each word and each grammatical
form signals a concept in the minds of those having the same presupposition
pool, and the *context* shows which side of the concept is being
illuminated. This concept is often rather broad; thus the word or the form
can be used in different senses. These senses, however, are restricted by
the borders of the concept. And here is where I see the two basic problems
of discourse analysis:
(1) The axis word-concept or form-concept is not the basis for meaning, but
rather a theoretical framwork based on discourse function of verbs in
narrative texts.
(2) The range of meaning of each verb form is unnecessarily restricted
because the factor "concept" does not play any role. Because of this, the
normal context factors (apart from discourse factors) are not allowed to
play their role.

A simple way to test my claims about the weakness of discourse analysis *
as a tool for fixing meaning* is the following: Give your students a text
of Jer 15: 6-9 together with its context. Remove all the prefixes and
suffixes of the verbs (leaving only the stem) and let them translate. I
would guess that most of the students, perhaps all, would use future tense.
Such a result (or several similar results) would suggest that a restricted
view of the Hebrew conjugations is a strait-jacket rather than a helping
Discourse analysis is an excellent tool (among others) for an analysis of a
text, but is no tool for fixing the meaning of verb forms.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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