Jer 15:6-9

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Thu Sep 16 00:23:25 EDT 1999

Dear Rolf,

I fear you are getting out of your depth and out of the scope of 
b-Hebrew here. The problem comes in deciding how to distinguish 
between taking the text in context and viewing it with theological 
presuppositions. I know that many Biblical scholars would tend to 
minimise the relevance of the context here; for they would tend to 
view this passage as an originally independent oracle which was only 
later put into the context of the book of Jeremiah which has now come 
down to us. There is clear support for such ideas in the numerous 
differences in ordering between the Hebrew and LXX of Jeremiah. 
Whatever you think of such ideas, you should at least study them 
before pronouncing that the meaning of this passage should be 
determined by its context rather than by the verb forms used within 
it. And even if the context of the passage is taken as original, your 
view of the relationship of this passage with its context is based on 
one of the possible theological understandings of this part of the 
book of Jeremiah.

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Re: Jer 15:6-9
Author:  <furuli at> at Internet
Date:    15/09/1999 11:02

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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