Prophetic Perfects in the Psalms

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Fri Apr 20 07:48:06 EDT 2001

Lee R. Martin wrote:

>Dear Rolf,
>How are you able to determine which of these are "future perfects"?  Why
>can't all of them be future perfects?
>Lee R. Martin

>> 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

Dear Lee,

If we should pose our question without any pre-suppositions we should ask:
Why can't all QATALs and WEQATALs be future perfects? Our first reaction
would be: "Yes, why can't they? It is often quite difficult in linguistics
to demonstrate  what something *is not*. So we should rather concentrate on
the positive side of the matter.

When we use the term "future perfect", we use the English verbal system as
a point of reference, and that is fine. The default for English verbs with
future reference is simple future; future perfect is viewed as a relative
tense. If a person is learning English and she is asked to do some
excercises and fill in the verb "come" in the clause: "Tomorrow he
....COME.", the expected answer would be "Tomorrow he will come." and not
"Tomorrow he will have come." The relative tense "future perfect" in
English is a combination of future tense and the perfective aspect. When
such a relative tense is used, we expect that it is implied by the
context.For instance, in connection with the clause above we expect
something like: "When I arrive tomorrow, he will already have come."

In Hebrew we do not have forms coding for future tense and the perfective
aspect, which can be combined to create future perfect. We just have a
prefixconjugation with and without WAW, and a suffixconjugation with and
without  WAW. Therefore, to find which forms with future reference are
simple future and which are future perfect we must rely on the context (
combined with the lexical meaning of the verb, particles, and the procedual
traits of the verb phrase (achievment, accomplishment etc.)

This means that I follow the procedure to interpret all verbs with future
reference (YIQTOL,WEYIQTOL, WAYYIQTOL, QATAL, and WEQATAL) as simple future
if the mentioned criteria do not show that a particular form is future
perfect (modality will of course be considered as well). I would like to
add that it is not allways easy to detect the verbs which are future perfect

To illustrate the situation I will take four clauses from Genesis.
The QATALs of (1) and (2) are future perfect while the QATAL of (3) is
simple future. It is sentence initial because it is direct speech. The
QATAL  of (4) is  simple future as well. Interestingly, the parallel
promises are expressed by three WEQATALs, one QATAL, and one YIQTOL. All
have the same future reference (but NIV's rendition of the second WEQATAL
as modal is possible.) There is a syntactic reason why the QATAL rather
than a WEQATAL is used in this verse, namely, the conjunction GAM.If this
was dropped, the QATAL would become a WEQATAL. The syntactic environment
where WEQATALs are used (they are connected to the preceding with the
conjunction WAW), restricts their use as future perfect. Example (5) of a
WEQATAL as future perfect is taken from Isaiah.

(1) Gen. 24:19 NIV After she had given him a drink, she said,  "I'll draw
(YIQTOL) water for your camels too, until they have finished (QATAL+
infinitive) drinking."

(2) Gen. 28:15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I
will bring you back to this land. I will not leave (YIQTOL) you until I
have done (QATAL) what I have promised (QATAL) you."

(3) Gen. 17:20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard (QATAL) you: I will surely
bless him (QATAL); I will make him fruitful (WEQATAL) and will greatly
increase (WEQATAL) his numbers. He will be the father (YIQTOL) of twelve
rulers, and I will make him (WEQATAL) into a great nation.

(4) Gen. 17:16 I will bless (WEQATAL) her and will surely give you (QATAL)
a son by her. I will bless (WEQATAL) her so that she will be (WEQATAL) the
mother of nations; kings of peoples will come (YIQTOL) from her."

(5) Isaiah 6:12 NIV "until the LORD has sent (WEQATAL) everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken."

I hope this has answered your question.



Rolf Furuli

University of Oslo

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