Prophetic Perfects in the Psalms

Daniel Wagner dan.wagner at
Wed Apr 18 23:35:39 EDT 2001

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Charles David Isbell <cisbell at>
To: Biblical Hebrew <b-hebrew at>
Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2001 7:29 PM
Subject: Re: Prophetic Perfects in the Psalms

> Yet in English as well, we use tenses rather loosely in certain contexts.
> We have a historical present, do we not?  "A guy walks into a bar with a
> parrot on his shoulder, ..."  is something that clearly has already happened
> or we could not tell about it.  But the present tense form lends an air of
> immediacy or participation in an actual event.
> Also, if I should say, "You are dead," I can clearly be referring to an
> event yet in the future, again despite the use of a present tense form.
> So why could not a prophet use the perfect form to describe something that
> he believed was absolutely certain to happen, even though it was strictly
> still in his future?
> Charles David Isbell

I agree. Excluding poetry (where there seems to be considerable license, though not without purpose i think), of the 965 "simple future" QATAL's, how many cannot easily work with the kind of exceptions illustrated above in English? Perhaps a few are also textually uncertain. Once we get past such special use exceptions (which include the "prophetic perfect" of GK106n), is there really much data to the contrary? I'd be interested to see it. Perhaps it is substantial and i'm open to considering it, but my impression at this point is that where there is a vast amount of data -- normally consistent -- then "the exception proves the rule" if it is rare enough and has reasonable explanation. (Same applies to WAYYIQTOL even more consistently, excluding some poetry and some textually uncertain "exceptions.")

Dan Wagner

PS And if we find consistency in their ability to communicate past time in Hebrew by a combination of form and syntax alone (i.e., fully independent of contextual indication), then we should expect the same to be true for other categories related to time (e.g., future, frequentative, [+ modal]). I think such expectation is rewarded. (Although i confess i have no clue how Biblical Aramaic works, if perhaps it has some non-contextual means of indicating tense.)

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Rolf Furuli" <furuli at>
> To: "Biblical Hebrew" <b-hebrew at>
> Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2001 5:55 PM
> Subject: Re: Prophetic Perfects in the Psalms
> > Dear Ken,
> >
> > In my list of 965 perfects (QATAL and not WEQATAL) in the whole Tanach,
> > where reference time comes after the deictic point (future reference), 91
> > are from the Psalms. Three or four of these are "future perfect" and the
> > rest are simple future. This indicates that there are about as many QATALs
> > with future reference in the Psalms as elsewhere.
> >
> > I will use the opportunity to ask the list for a definition of "prophetic
> > perfect" which is not a tautology. In my view the term is meaningless, and
> > it was coined in the first place to try to explain away the simple fact
> > that QATAL (without WAW) often has future reference.
> >
> >
> > Regards
> >
> > Rolf
> >
> >
> > Rolf Furuli
> > University of Oslo

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