Prophetic Perfects in the Psalms

rolf furuli rolf.furuli at
Thu Apr 19 04:27:46 EDT 2001

Charles David Isbell wrote,

>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, even though it was strictly
>still in his future?
>Charles David Isbell

>> 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

Dear Charles,

The English historical present is used for the sake of vividness or another
discourse effect. It is used in a context where we normally expect to find
simple past and therefore it has a particular name - it is a special case.
And this is my point: the term "prophetic perfect" signals that the use of
QATAL is a special case which needs a special explanation. The special
explanation is that the prophet used QATAL to describe something that he
believed was absolutely certain to happen. I do not doubt that the prophets
believed that what they prophesied was absolutely certain to happen, but
what is the evidence that this is connected with the form QATAL  when it is
used with future reference? Was not the prophet just as certain when he
used YIQTOL or WAYYIQTOL with future reference in prophetic messages?

In many of my 965 QATALs with future reference there is no prophetic
element visible, so to try to account for this, a new explanation is tried:
When something will happen in the near future,then QATAL can be used. So we
have two special uses of QATAL with future reference. But this will neither
solve the problem, because many of the 965 examples neither are prophetic
nor refer to the near future.

What I try to convey, is that these two special cases simply are fictions
because they are based on faulty premises, particularly on the view that
QATAL is not used with future reference except as a special case, and that
WEQATAL is semantically different  from QATAL. But to uphold this view one
has to account for the future reference of the whole group og 965 QATALs.

My challenge therefore is twofold:
(1) Give good linguistic reasons that "certainty that something will
happen" is either a semantic part or QATAL or that it pragmatically can be
applied to QATAL when it has future reference.
(1) Give good linguistic reasons why my view that the WAW of WEQATAL simply
is a conjunction which is required by the context (and no semantic
element), and that when QATAL occurs without WAW, the reason is that there
is some other element before it which fullfills the requirements of the
context, so WAW is not required.

I do not want to start a new discussion of Hebrew aspects, but I think it
is good that someone speaks up when grammatical terms seemingly without any
real foundation are being used.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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