Construct + Finite = Relative?

Alviero Niccacci sbfnet at
Sat Sep 9 11:48:56 EDT 2000

On  9/8/00 (Construct + Finite = Relative?) Dave Washburn wrote:

>A follow-up on the discussion of this matter:
>Peter and Liz both objected to the Gesenius-based rendering "In
>the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth" partly
>because there is no Hebrew equivalent of "when" in the text.  I
>pointed out that Gesenius seems to suggest that the combination
>of construct plus finite clause produces a relative-clause kind of
>sense.  Waltke and O'Connor seem to concur.  On p.156 they say
>"Relative clauses after prepositionally used constructs are found; in
>these three [sic] examples the relative clause is asyndetic (or
>headless, i.e. lacks a relative pronoun):"
>They give the examples of Jer 2:8 and Exod 4:13; the former has a
>finite (yiqtol) clause after )AXA:R"Y and the latter after B:YAD. 
>They continue:
>"The relative clause may be used after a construct noun with no
>prepositional force;"
>They give the example of Isa 29:1, the "city where" example we
>have already looked at.  Their second example is Gen 39:20 Qere,
>which they acknowledge includes a relative pronoun.  From there
>they go on to illustrate clauses where a construct is used before a
>non-relative, giving Lev 25:48 and 1 Sam 25:15 as examples.  They
>conclude this section with the following:
>"It is also possible for a construct of no prepositional force to stand
>before a non-relative clause.  This construction is extremely rare."
>They give the example of Hos 1:2, T:XIL.AT DIB.ER YHWH
>B:Ho$"A( which they translate "The beginning *of YHWH-spoke*
>through Hosea." 
>This last one seems rather significant for testing this approach on
>Gen 1:1, since it is clearly a construct and involves temporal
>indicators (though obviously it doesn't use R"$IYT...).  I'm not sure I
>agree with their translation, but it does suggest that a construct
>before this kind of finite clause in a temporal setting is possible.  It
>also might have some bearing on the presence of the W at the
>beginning of Gen 1:2, since the next clause in Hosea begins with a
>Again, I'm not sure I buy this approach to Gen 1:1, but it does
>seem to have some material to back it up.

Dear list mmbers:

	The syntax of Gen 1:1-3 was discussed at length in this forum (October - December, 1999) but of course this passage continues to raise problems.
	Dave Washburn's quotation from Waltke - O'Connor's grammar is appropriate. Indeed, "Relative clauses after prepositionally used constructs are found" in several cases. Besides Gen 39:20, the phrase *meqôm [in the construct state] + 'a$er* + qatal or yiqtol is found in, e.g., Gen 40:3; Lev 4:24, 33; 7:2; 14:13; Num 9:17; 2 Sam 15:21; 1 Kgs 21:19.
	However, also the case of a noun in construct state + qatal or yiqtol without a preceding 'a$er is well attested; see the following texts (some already mentioned in this forum): Exod 6:28; Lev 7:35; 25:48; 1 Sam 25:15; Psa 65:5; 81:6; Isa 15:1; 29:1; Jer 2:8; 6:15; Hos 1:2--and the list is not complete.
	This means that in these cases a finite verb (qatal or yiqtol) is used as a noun equivalent even though it is explicitely nominalized by 'a$er. Compare, e.g., *bere'$ît bara' [QATAL] 'elohîm* and *beyôm bero' [INFINITIVE] 'elohîm* (Gen 5:1), or *be`et peqadtîm [QATAL]* (Jer 2:8) and *be`et pequddatam [NOUN]* (Jer 8:12).
	This fact is not suprising for those who  believe, as I do, that qatal and yiqtol (differently from wayyiqtol, weqatal and weyiqtol--NOTA BENE!) can be used as a noun equivalent.
	If Rashi's authority and the examples just quoted are not enough to convince you, the following comment on Gen 1:1 by Ibn Ezra can be added: "According to my opinion, [the Beth] is joined [*smwk*] as in *bere'$ît mamleket yehoyaqim [Jer 27:1]*. And do not be astonished that it is connected with a past tense [pw`l `br] because this is the case with *texillat dibber Y* (Hos 1:2), *qiryat xanâ dawid* [Isa 29:1]."
	If the above analysis is correct, then a translation like "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. . ." is excluded.
	I analyze Gen 1:1-3 as follows: "In the beginning of (the fact that) God created heaven and earth, i.e. When God began to create heaven and earth [sentence 1], the earth was chaos and void [sentence 2], darkness was on the surface of the abyss [sentence 3], and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the water [sentence 4]. Then God said [sentence 5] etc."
	Sentences 2-4 are coordinated one to the other; they are main with regard to sentence 1, which depends on them.  Taken together, sentences 1-4 constitute a syntactic unit that depends on sentence 5, which contains narrative wayyiqtol, "Then God said." This wayyiqtol begins the mainline of the narrative. What precedes gives the setting of the story.
	Semantically, Gen 1:1-2 means that when God created the universe (this is the meaning of "heaven and earth"), He proceeded step by step. He first created a raw reality (if I can put it this way), then He adorned it in its various parts. There are of course similarities with the ANE creation stories, not the least in the opening sentence: "When God began to create . . ." A major difference is that the *creatio ex nihilo* seems to me clearly indicated in the Biblical text--the creation was first chaotic, then God ornamented it in different steps. Lengthy discussions on the *creatio ex nihilo* weere conducted mainly on a philosophical basis by both Jewish and Christian scholars, esp. in Medieval times. See, e.g., S. Kamin in _Scripta Hierosolymitana_ 31 (1986) 91-132.
	Peace and all good.

Alviero Niccacci

Studium Biblicum Franciscanum      Tel. +972 - 2 - 6282 936
POB 19424 - 91193 - Jerusalem      Fax  +972 - 2 - 6264 519
Home Page:
Email       mailto:sbfnet at

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list