Construct + Finite = Relative?

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at
Mon Sep 11 21:58:48 EDT 2000

Dear Prof Niccacci,

Thank you for your clarification about these double sentences. I am
beginning to see that your suggestion is a possible parsing of Gen 1:1-2,
although I note that in none of the examples you give does the apodosis
start with waw and a noun followed by the verb, as in verse 2. So I still
see you parsing as a rather forced one. For there is very little, only
perhaps the pointing on one vowel (the very first one!), which might suggest
to readers that they should understand the text according to this rare
construction rather than in the much more obvious sense "In the beginning
God created..." And we of course have evidence from LXX and Vulgate that
that is exactly how it was understood in ancient times. I think we need to
be very careful before preferring a construction which is a priori so
improbable over one which seems so obvious.

Peter Kirk

----- Original Message -----
From: "Alviero Niccacci" <sbfnet at>
To: "Biblical Hebrew" <b-hebrew at>
Sent: Monday, September 11, 2000 4:49 AM
Subject: Re: Construct + Finite = Relative?

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

>Good stuff!  I just have one question that has surfaced already
>several times in this discussion, and would greatly appreciate your
>> 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.
>I think I follow this, but could you elaborate on the nature of the
>coordination, especially what effect the WAW at the beginning of
>verse 2 (sentence 2 in your layout) has on the clause itself?  This
>has been a sticking point in the discussion, and I don't really have
>an answer, at least not using the Gesenius/W&O approach.

Dear Dave Washburn:

In order to answer you kind question, I will need to develop a rather long
argument, I'm afraid.

The Waw at the beginning of Gen 1:2, i.e., that of *we-ha'arec*, is of the
type traditionally called "waw apodoseos," that is the waw that introduces
the apodosis. Apodosis is, of course, the main element of a conditional
clause--the other, subordinate element is the protasis, e.g., If you do good
[protasis], you will be honored [apodosis].
I did not adopt this terminology because I noticed that the so-called waw of
apodosis is not always present in the texts although the construction
remains the same. In my _Syntax of the Verb_ I called it instead "The
Two-Element Syntactic Construction" (see Chapter 8 of my book), a
designation that exactly describes that structure but is much too long.
Afterwards I used the term "double sentence." (German-speaking grammarian
called it "die Pendenskonstruktion.") In order to make up a double sentence,
protasis and apodosi need occur in this sequence, not in reverse order.
In BH both protasis and apodosis show an amazing variety of forms that are
different grammatically but equivalent syntactically, i.e., they play the
same function. The whole Chapter 8 of my Syntax is devote to this subject.

Coming now to the specific topic of presence / absence of waw at the
beginning of the apodosis, I quoted examples having in the apodosis, for the
axis of the past, wayyiqtol, or waw-x-qatal, or x-qatal, or simple qatal
without any difference (see Chapter 8 of my book). The same can be said of
the apodosis in the axis of the future: it shows weqatal, or waw-x-yiqtol,
or x-yiqtol, or simple yiqtol, again without any difference.

A couple of examples for the past axis may suffice:
Isa 6:1 "In the year . . . [bi$nat..., circumstance with the function of
protasis] -- I saw (wa'er'eh, WAYYIQTOL) the Lord [apodosis]"
versus 14:28 "In the year . . . [bi$nat..., protasis] -- came (hayâ, QATAL)
the following oracle [apodosis]";
1Kgs 15:1 "in the year . . . [bi$nat..., protasis] -- king Abijam ruled
[malak, QATAL, apodosis]"
versus the parallel 2 Chron 13:1 "in the year . . . [bi$nat..., protasis] --
king Abiyah ruled (wayyimlok, WAYYIQTOL, apodosis]."

Examples for the future axis are as follows:
Gen 44:9 "The one among your servants with whom it (the cup) shall be found
['a$er yimmace' 'ittô..., protasis] -- he shall die [wamet, WEQATAL,
versus 44:10 "The one with whom it (the cup) shall be found ['a$er yimmace'
'ittô, protasis] -- he shall be (yihyeh, YIQTOL) my slave [apodosis]";
1 Kgs 13:31 "When I shall die [bemôtî, protasis] -- you shall bury
(ûqebartem, WEQATAL) me in the grave... [apodosis]"
versus Exod 40:36 "When the cloud was taken up [behe`alôt, protasis] -- the
people of Israel would go onward [yis`û, YIQTOL, apodosis]."

As mentioned above, the double sentence is of a special type of construction
for the fact that has a circumstance before the finite verb. In that it
distinctively differs from the usual type of sentence in BH, in which the
finite verb takes the first place.

The fact that waw is optional at the beginning of the apodosi does not
support in any way the opinion of those who claim that waw is an optional
element before a finite verb form, i.e., that qatal is the same as weqatal,
and yiqtol is the same as wayyiqtol. The evidence shows that, as far as the
apodosis is concerned, qatal interchanges with wayyiqtol (not with weqatal),
and yiqtol with weqatal (not with wayyiqtol). Further note that waw is
optional in the sense that the verb forms just mentioned--those with waw and
those without--exhange in the texts as shown above.

Finally, waw is really an optional element of a sentence when it directly
precedes a component that is not a finite verb form; e.g.,
* 'el-ha'i$â 'amar [WITHOUT WAW]* "To the woman, on the one side, (God)
said" (Gen 3:16)
versus * ûle'adam 'amar [WITH WAW]* "To Adam, on the other side, (God) said"
Both sentences are off-line, dependent on the main-line wayyiqtol that
precedes, * wayyo'mer YHWH 'elohîm 'el-hannaxa$ * "The Lord God said to the
serpent" (3:14). Together, 3:14-17 form a syntactic, indivisible unit. Note
these and similar sentences, with and without waw, are equivalent
syntactically, while of course they are different grammatically and
presumably also pragmatically.

Peace and all good.

Alviero  Niccacci

Studium Biblicum Franciscanum      Tel. +972 - 2 - 6282 936
POB 19424 - 91193 - Jerusalem      Fax  +972 - 2 - 6264 519
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