The "times" of Isaiah

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Tue Sep 28 11:01:50 EDT 1999

Dear Max,

It was Paul Zellmer who started the discussion about the time reference the
_koh 'amar yhwh_ formula because of a paranthesis in a post of mine. Paul
has repeatedly stressed that we cannot study the Hebrew verbal system in
the light English translation thinking; and of course, he is perfectly
right. While the Hebrews of old definitely had a cosciousnes of time (past,
present and future), my impression is that the time element in many
contexts is secondary and definitely not the most important thing.
Regarding  our formula, I think that the time element is irrelevant (and
the native Hebrew would not think about it); what matters is that the words
of the prophet are the words of YHWH - God is speaking! From this point of
view I think that C, E, and R coincides in most instances when the words
are expressed.  However, the very question is an aside as far as an
understanding of the Hebrew verbal system is concerned, because there are
few if any test examples.

      Dear Rolf,
>        I also attempt to analyse the verb forms in terms of speech (S),
>        event (E), and reference (R) times.  If I understand you
>        correctly, you are saying that in the _koh 'amar yhwh_ formula S
>        and R are the same, producing present "meaning".  What I am trying
>        to determine is how you would analyse E in such cases.  It seems
>        to me that your syllogism is as follows:
>        Major premise: If the formula represents God's voice, then 'amar
>        has a present meaning.
>        Minor premise: The formula represents God's voice (see your examples
>        from Jeremiah).
>        Conclusion: 'amar has a present meaning.
>        Your reasoning is perfectly sound, but it is the major premise
>        which I am questioning.  In some instances, as Krispenz notes and
>        as you yourself seem to admit, there are cases where a present
>        meaning is excluded.  But this overturns your major premise and
>        thus the syllogism is invalid.

As suggested above, I take E (in those cases where the prophet speaks as a
prophet) as coinciding with R and C.  The major premise of a genuine
syllogism is an all-proposition, and your reasoning above is correct. By
using the words "as it were" I would show that my "must"-proposition was a
part of a logical structure comparable to a syllogism, and provided that
the major promise was true in the particular case, the conclusion also
would be true.

>> 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.
>        I don't follow your reasoning here.  What is it about "to
>        Jeremiah" that excludes a past meaning?

In Jeremiah 27:2 we find an example of the formula which is probably a past
reference. The reporter here is Jeremiah, and he wrote to an audience to
tell them what a third part - YHWH- had said *to him*. Thus the formula is
a quote from YHWH, made by Jeremiah and adressed to his audience  However,
in 33:19 the situation is different. The lack of "to me" and similar
indicators and the use of first person on the part of God suggests that the
formula in Jeremiah's eyes represents the direct speech of God (that God
refers to himself in the third person is no wonder).  Therefore it seems
that E,R, and C coincides in this example. Even clearer examples of God
depicted as speaking directly are 29:32; 30;2,4; 31:36, and  37:6.

>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'
>> article).
>        A number of grammarians (e.g. Pardee, JCL Gibson, etc.) take the
>        formula as reflecting "the prophetic consciousness of having
>        received a message from Y." (Davidson-Gibson, para. 57 rem. 3).
>        This is perfectly compatible with the view that the prophets are
>        God's mouthpiece.  The crucial point, it seems to me, is
>        determining the time of the event (E) referred to.  I think we can
>        account for the data in a much simpler way by saying that the
>        formula refers to a past event in all cases, rather than saying
>        that it refers to a past event in some cases (cf. the examples in
>        Krispenz) while in other cases it has a present meaning.  The
>        article by Krispenz is well worth reading.

There hardly is anything like the final word in the study of dead
languages, but, as stated above, there are much more interesting areas to
explore in order to get a better understanding of the Hebrew verbal system.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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