JER 27:18

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Wed Sep 22 17:38:24 EDT 1999

Dave Washburn wrote:

>> Dear list-members,
>> The RSV rendering of the verse is: "If they are prophets, and if the word
>> of the LORD is with them, then let them intercede (YIQTOL jussive) with the
>> LORD of hosts, that the vessels which are left in the house of the LORD, in
>> the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem may not go (QATAL) to
>> Babylon."
>> Is the reference time of the QATAL after speech time (=future), and is the
>> verb modal? Or is it past indicative, as those sticking to traditional
>> grammar would expect of a QATAL?
>In my approach, which is an amalgam of my own ideas and Galia
>Hatav's, qatal is indicative with a syntactic connection to what
>precedes.  In this case it looks like result:  "Let them
> that the vessels will not depart..." The problem is the
>preceding word, L:BIL:TIY, "lest."  This word with an indicative is an
>oddity that even the manuscripts noticed, since BHS suggests
>following the minority mss and reading YFBOW)U.  How many
>other examples of a qatal after L:BIL:TIY do you know of?  I lean
>toward the yiqtol reading, though I wouldn't go to the stake for it.

Dear Dave,

Alexander Sperber was viewed as a fine Aramaic scholar but his views
regarding Hebrew grammar have not gained much acceptance, evidently because
he was a kind of iconoclaster. However, his grammars, and particularly his
articles in HUCA immediately before World war II is worth reading because
of their data contents.

When he immigrated to the US and got hold of the old Hebrew manuscripts and
could compare Biblica Hebraica with these, he was shocked. He wrote ("A
Historical Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, 1966, Leiden: E.J. Brill, vii)

"The first result was utter confusion on my part. I saw cherished rules of
Hebrew grammar crumble, one after the other, since the actual facts as
exhibited in these Bibles did not uphold them."

What was the problem? Simply that in the different versions of Biblica
Hebraica, traditional grammar was put above the textual witness and the
text was even sometimes emended to conform with grammar. He quoted Kittel's
monograph of 1902 ("Uber die Notwendigkeit und Moglichkeit einer neuen
Ausgabe der Hebraischen Bibel", Leipzig) where Kittel wrote that it was
necessary to purge the Biblical text  of "obvious mistakes and errors of
any kind". He then asked what these "obvious mistakes and errors" were, and
answered the question this way:

"They refer to any deviation from rules and laws of Hebrew grammar. And it
is just this attitude towards the Hebrew Bible, to give the right of
priority to THE GRAMMAR and to make Scriptures conform with it, which I
refuted by saying: "Whether he admits it or not, the exegete assumes that
the laws of the Hebrew language, as laid down in the Hebrew grammar, are
binding for the Bible. Whenever a discrepancy is discovered between the
Bible and these "established" grammatical laws, the Bible is the loser: the
text is "emended" so as to conform with the grammar.... It is high time
that Bible scholars....approach the Bible not ar schoolmasters teaching the
prophets how Hebrew sentences should be formed and Hebrew words spelled but
as humble students of these masters of Hebrew" (Look out, Randall).

The BHS remedied most of the mentioned problems, but the principle that
Sperber criticised is also seen in this text - but now in the *footnotes*.
If you make a study of these footnotes, it will become clear that their
basic criterion is grammar rather than text.  Be particularly cautious when
you just find "l" ("legendum"-"read") without any quotations, or when you
find "l" together with meaningless information, as in Jer 27:18. Here we
find the following footnote: " "l" (read) YFB)W, vel ("or") c ("with") pc
MSS ("a few, i.e. 3-10 manuscripts)  B). No evidence is quoted for the
suggestion YFB)W, and no particular manuscripts are quoted for the
suggestion B). So what is the reason for this footnote? GRAMMAR!

The footnotes to Jer 23:18 are more informative but still put grammar above
text. They suggest that the two WEYIQTOLs should be changed to WAYYIQTOLs.
But none of the versions require this. The QATAL of the Peshitta and the
perfect of the Vulgate (which are referred to) can portray situations where
refence time coincides with speech time as is the case with Hebrew
WEYIQTOLs as well.  That Greek aorist is a past tense have been disputed by
two doctoral dissertations (I believe it just represents the perfective
aspect and no particular time), and the plural QATALs of the Targum
Jonathan require another Vorlage. The principal reason, therefore, for the
footnotes' suggestion that the WEYIQTOLs be changed to WAYYIQTOLs is the
traditional view of Hebrew (and Greek) grammar!  But this is pure circular
argumentation. There are literally hundreds of occurrences of such examples
where an emendation is suggested by a footnote simply on the basis of
grammar. But how can we learn Hebrew grammar if all counterexamples to the
traditional view are blotted out?

What we are studying is the Masoretic text (or the unpointed text). We know
that they distinguished between WEYIQTOL and WAYYIQTOL and that some
WEQATALs are stressed differently from others.  But we do not know *why*
they made the first mentioned distinction and stressed some WEQATALs
differently.  A phonetic explanation can be given, as Henry has done, but
if the distinction represent *semantic meaning* or pragmatics, we do not
know. Therefore, it is important to study the whole work of the Masoretes
and see if our viewpoint can account for *all* the data. It seems to me
that we in Jer 27:18 have a QATAL with future modal meaning, and this
contradicts the traditional view. Defenders of tradition: how can this be
BTW, the best examples showing that the WAY- element of WAYYIQTOL and the
WE- element of WEQATAL are just conjunctions, are those where we find a
particle before a YIQTOL	 or a QATAL (such as  L:BIL:TIY here). In
these cases WAY-/WE- are not possible, but the verb has the same "tense" as
if it were a WAYYIQTOL or a WEQATAL.

I refer to my answer to Galia; the problem with the QATAL of Jer 27:18 with
future/modal meaning is not solved, and you need not feel silly!


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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