The "times" of Isaiah

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Mon Sep 27 16:53:04 EDT 1999

Max Rogland wrote,

 Dear Rolf,
>        Thanks for the reply.  It raises two questions in my mind.
>        Firstly, what sort of present "meaning" do you attribute to the
>        formula?  Is it a "performative present", "timeless present",
>        etc.?  I was assuming that you meant the former, but please let me
>        know if that was a mistake.  Secondly, I'm curious to know why you
>        think that God's voice *must* have a present "meaning".  It does not
>        appear self-evident to me.
>        Best wishes for your research,
>        Max Rogland
>        Leiden University
>> I agree with your quote from Krispenz, that in contexts with "to me" the
>> _koh 'amar yhwh_ formula does not have a present meaning, but rather a
>> perfect or past meaning. However, I think we should distinguish between
>> "past tense" (=grammaticalized location in time) and "past meaning"
>> (location in time based on either pragmatic or semantic factors). In some
>> cases  the _koh 'amar yhwh_ formula evidently represents God's "voice" and
>> must have a present meaning. Based on such examples I think that most of
>> the occurences of the formula have present meaning.

Dear Max,

Because we cannot at the outset know whether tense is grammaticalized or
not in Hebrew, I use the relationship between speech time, event time and
and reference time to describe the time factor of a passage. In this way we
can avoid the question whether the time factor represents semantic meaning
or conversational pragmatic implicature. When reference time coincides with
speech time, we have what I call "present meaning".  Applied to  the _koh
'amar yhwh_ formula, "present meaning" includes about the same that we in
English would express by Present tense. of Perfect (However, reference time
coincides with speech time also in English Perfect).

I do not like the word "must", bacause in linguistics there is very little
that "must" be this or that. Particularly when we work with a dead
language, all our conclusions can be questioned. My use of "must" should be
seen in relation to the word "evidently", which is about the same as
"probably". What I tried to say was that, if it is true that the formula in
some cases represents God's voice, then 'amar must have present meaning in
these cases (my "must", therefore, is the logical conclusion of a
syllogism, as it were).

In the book of Jeremiah, there are several examples where the words
represent God's voice. In 37:6 God uses the words regarding his address
*to* Jeremiah (In 38:20 Jeremiah says that he "speaks" the voice of YHWH).
In 33:19 it is said that the formula is directed "to Jeremiah", and by same
way of reasoning by which we conclude that the words "to me" exclude
present meaning, we must conclude that "to Jeremiah" excludes past meaning
or even something similar to English Perfect. Another point is that the
prophets seem to be God's mouthpiece, and I think that both past meaning
and what corresponds to English perfect are *lame* compared with the
forceful "Thus SAYS YHWH" (I have not yet had time to read Krispenz'


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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