Constructs with finite verb.

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at
Thu Sep 7 21:19:32 EDT 2000

Dave, you have slipped from one understanding to another by adding a comma.
You started by quoting Gesenius (as translatedby Cowley presumably):

"the city where David encamped"

To me that is good English. You then went on to:

* "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth etc."

I have added the * because to me (by British standards) this is not
acceptable English. "City where" is OK, meaning the same as "city at/in
which". But "beginning when" is not. I assume that you are taking the
meaning analogously as something like "beginning at which", with "at" in it
temporal sense. But in any case you are taking this as a construct chain and
so taking "when God created..." as in some sense dependent on "beginning",
i.e. you would parse "beginning when God created..." as a noun phrase and
divide it first into "beginning" as a noun and "when God created..." as an
adjective phrase describing "beginning". But then you rewrite your
interpretation as:

"In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth..."

Now this I accept as good English. But it has a different sense. The comma
forces an alternative parse which is acceptable, as two separate
prepositional phrases, one "In the beginning" and the other "when God
created...", which are presumably to be taken as parallel, the second
explaining the first. Unfortunately this sense cannot be the meaning of the
Hebrew text as there is nothing to signal the "when". Also it does not solve
either of the problems which have been identified with this verse, for
RESHIT must be absolute again with this parsing, and you have not explained
the unique WAW at the start of verse 2.

Peter Kirk

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dave Washburn" <dwashbur at>
To: "Biblical Hebrew" <b-hebrew at>
Sent: Tuesday, September 05, 2000 2:18 PM
Subject: Re: Constructs with finite verb.

> Last night I found a relevant section in Gesenius
> on this topic. There it said that in these cases the
> whole rest of the sentence (or maybe he meant the clause
> which began with the finite verb) was in a dependent
> genitive relationship to the noun in construct.
> There was no elaboration and I'm not sure how to undersand
> what is being said. What does that mean exactly?
> Does that mean we translate it as if it were a verbal noun?
> Is that what Rashi meant? Rather than emend it
> you read these as if they were verbal nouns?

What section of Gesenius are you looking at?  The only one I could
find is 130d (p. 422 in GKC) where he says that the construct can
govern independent sentences and gives the example of Exod 4:13
and others.  He also refers there to section 155, where he says
much the same thing.  It is interesting that he doesn't mention Gen
1:1 in either of these sections, though he spends about half the
paragraph talking about this construction with time indicators.
Considering the examples he gives, such as Isa 29:1 QIR:YAT
XFNF DVWID which he renders "the city where David encamped," I
doubt that he has a verbal noun sense in mind here; it looks more
as though he would be likely to suggest for Gen 1:1 a more relative-
clause type sense: "In the beginning when God created the
heavens and the earth etc."  At least that's how I read it.  I quite
agree that he doesn't say much that is of interpretive value, but this
is more or less how I read what he does say.  Considering the
quote that was given earlier by someone, the verbal noun idea may
be what Rashi had in mind; however, I don't see any indication that
Gesenius is going in the same direction.  At the same time, it
seems to me that if B:R"$IYT is actually a construct, Gesenius'
approach has real possibilities: "In the beginning, when God
created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and
empty etc."  I could live with this :-)

Dave Washburn
"Éist le glór Dé."

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