Rolf discussion (verbs)

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Mon Apr 23 06:09:51 EDT 2001

Dear Greg,

I find your comments on the verbs to be balanced and correct. I have a few
comments though.

>Rolf, thank you very much for the explanation. (Is this published
>anywhere in fuller form?)

RF: A more popular version will be found in a chapter of a book that will
be published at the end of the year.I have been wondering whether I should
write an article for a scholarly journal, particularly because my model of
approach is novel, as are the conclusions drawn on the basis of it. I will
discuss the matter thoroughly in my forthcoming dissertation on Hebrew
verbs (it still is two years into the future because I work on it
part-time). At present I have made the first draft of the part of the
dissertation where these matters are discussed. If you would like to read
it and make critical comments, that would be welcome.

I studied it and most of it makes sense.
>I like your focus on clarity of definition, collection of data with
>counts, and the intuitive appeal that the 'waw' of wqtl and wyqtl
>forms should be simple conjunctions. Also, I am glad that there
>is no argument that Qumran Hebrew is different from biblical
>hebrew, because QH seems certainly to be a subset of the late
>end of biblical Hebrew, and not something different or
>'between' BH and MH. The closeup and distance view explanation
>of the aspects was very helpful. I'm a little curious on the explanation
>for why weqatal...weqatal customarily follow initial yqtl. Perhaps it is an
>historical accident that this was the convention, but I don't quite
>see how it necessarily fits into your explanation.
>In a critical edition of a Qumran text I had to address the issue of how
>I treated the verbs. I give my excerpt here (prior to reading your
>explanation of your system), and would appreciate your
>critique or criticism or wrong assumptions therein. This is
>about to go to press but I can change it if I have to right now.
>(Criticism esp. from Henry Churchyard or anyone else also

RF:Perhaps "tenses" should be put in quotation marks because the term is a
misnomer as regards Hebrew verbs. However, the lack of quotation marks can
be justified because it is a standard term.

>The nature of the Hebrew verbal system is the subject of
>voluminous studies which cannot be engaged here, but a brief
>comment can be offered concerning the understanding of verbal
>forms of this study. What is at issue may be framed as follows:
>as study after study of the Hebrew verbs has brought out, the
>differences between yqtl (imperfect), qtl (perfect), and the
>non-finite forms cannot easily be defended as a tense-based
>system. The classes of exceptions and counterexamples to any
>theory of tense being marked by form appears far too large.
>Yet in practice the Hebrew verbs read naturally in their various
>contexts in almost all cases as past, present, or future without
>difficulty. But explaining why this is so in any rule-based form
>which can be applied to all cases is extraordinarily difficult. The
>question therefore arises: if the imperfect verb--the most common
>verb in 4QpNah and the pesharim--is not strictly marking tense,
>how does one know a given yqtl (imperfect) form is expressing an
>action or state situated in the future and not past? ... When
>tense is not marked in the verb form itself the need is accomplished
>through helping words ...<examples>... Compare Brin 1981
>[ZAW 93: 183-96] on the ubiquitous use of  ymy-X  and  ywm-X
>expressions as basic temporal markers in biblical Hebrew in
>speaking both of past and future.

Very fine explanation of how to construe the temporal reference on the
basis of the context.
>In the same way, in 4QpNah the peshers either have adverbial or
>modifying 'later days' expressions (e.g.  b'xryt hymym, bywm-X,
>etc.) or presume such from immediate context. When these are
>found in sentences which depict a change of present state--such
>as the downfall of a wicked group--the ancient reader would
>understand the temporal meaning as future from the standpoint
>of the text. For example, a series of 'Kittim' passages at
>1QpHab 2.12 to 6.12 uses yqtl forms with reference to the
>reputation of the Kittim in other lands: the ways they overpower
>and treat conquered peoples, their invincibility. The reputation of
>the Kittim is a present phenomenon in the world of the text,
>arising out of a series of well-known past exploits. These
>imperfects therefore seem to be expressing past-iterative and
>progressive present.

I looked quickly at chapters 2 through 6 of 1QpHab. In my view an iterative
interpretation is not necessary in many cases. If imperfect makes visible a
small area of progressive action in fientive verbs this can also be used
for gnomic situations or for characteristics. So some/many of the
imperfects may simply make visible what is characteristic of the Kittim. I
would in any case change "iterative" to "habitual". Suggestion for the last
clause: "These imperfects therefore  either they refer to the past or to
the present, seem to be expressing what is characteristic of the 'Kittim',
what they habitually did,"

>But at 1QpHab 9.4-7 there is a shift to speaking directly of what
>the Kittim are expected _to do in Judea_, and the statement there,
>which also uses an imperfect, is marked explicitly with  l'xryt hymym,
>setting it in the days to come (the Kittim have not _yet_ come upon
>Judea, in the world of 1QpHab). Although there has been much
>discussion concerning (l/b)'xryt hymym  in biblical Hebrew/Qumran
>Hebrew, this expression appears to function as a marker indicating
>future from the perspective of the utterer of the phrase or the present
>implied within the phrase. It is doubtful that there is any example in
>biblical Hebrew or a Qumran text in which this expression has a
>_past_ tense meaning from the point of view of a writer or speaker
>using this expression.
>The reason for making this point is because the major study in
>the Qumran field on this term, that of Steudel 1993 [RQ 16: 225-45],
>argued for the opposite conclusion: that  b'xryt hymym  is sometimes
>used by writers of Qumran texts to refer to the past. But Steudel's
>study and argument is flawed by reliance upon unfounded
>assumptions. For example, 4QpPsA 1-10 ii 17-19 speaks of a
>failure of attempts of the wicked to harm the Teacher of Righteousness,
>using imperfect verbs. Steudel translates these as past tenses on the
>grounds that 'there can be no doubt that the events reported here have
>a real historical background ... the Teacher of Righteousness was
>already dead ...' (pp. 228-29). But the premise that the Teacher of
>Righteousness was dead at the time of writing of 4QpPsA is
>unsupported and questionable (fn: certainly nothing internal to the
>pesharim indicates this...). In any case a text translation must be done
>on grounds internal to the text itself, from the perspective of the implied
>author within the world of the text. Steudel also cited 4QpNah as an
>example of  'xryt hymym  used by an author with reference to the
>past, since 4QpNah was 'composed not before the year 63 BC' but
>refers with  'xryt hymym to circumstances pre-63 BCE. But the premise
>of a post-63 BCE date for either implied or actual author of 4QpNah
>is undemonstrated (fn....). In fact no example discussed by Steudel
>clearly demonstrates a use of  b'xryt hymym  by a speaker or writer
>to refer to the past relative to the speaker or writer. (fn [lengthy fn
>here arguing that Qimron at DJD X, 61, appears to understand a use
>of 'xryt hymym at 4Q252 1 iv 1-2 wrongly...])
>The range of temporal meanings possible with the verb forms of biblical
>Hebrew/Qumran Hebrew does not mean there is in principle greater
>temporal ambiguity in Hebrew _sentences_ than in English.

RF:It is true that there are different capabilities of expressing, and
hearers comprehending,information and sense in different languages. But I
there is much more temporal ambiguity in Hebrew sentences than in English
ones, particularly in poetry. English has a clearcut verbal system with
twelve groups, eleven of which is based on the interplay of tense and
aspect. When the perfective aspect is used, we know that the event was
terminated at reference time, and when the imperfective aspect is used, we
know that the event was in progression at reference time. The Hebrew
aspects are subjective, and we cannot draw similar conclusions from them on
the aspects alone. I think it is better to stress that the Hebrews of old
did not need a 'modern' verbal system with clear-cut tenses, and therefore
their system was concerned with other valuse (e.g. resultativity etc) than
the English system, than to discuss similarities in temporal reference.

> It is simply
>a matter of different (and historically accidental) means by which
>languages evolve capabilities of expressing, and hearers comprehending,
>information and sense. Although it is hardly a satisfying term to use,
>'natural reading' is in the end what makes temporal senses clear in
>biblical and Qumran Hebrew. This is understood from context established
>from explicit temporal markers such as  bywm-  or  bymy-  expressions
>along with supporting cues such as habitual use of imperfects or perfects
>in conjunction with states and punctual events.
>Finally, there is no basis to the notion sometimes expressed ([fn/refs
>Qumran luminaries]) that the pesharim shift their uses of verb forms and
>tenses arbitrarily and conform their tenses to those of the quotations. The
>verb forms in the pesharim are routine biblical Hebrew which convey
>sense in expected manner just as in any other biblical Hebrew. The pesharim
>do not, in any known case, conform their verb forms or tenses to that of
>the quotations in a manner than creates anomalies. Nor do the verb forms
>in quotations control the tenses of the peshers (fn) ...

RF: I think this is correct. However,last year E. Tov visited Oslo, and he
gave two talks and a seminar where we discussed Habbakuk and 1QpHab. There
are several "strange" WAYYIQTOLs in Habbakuk (from the traditional point of
view). I brought some of this to his attention, but neither he, nor the
Norwegian scholars could give any explanation. After I finish my study of
the temporal references and modality of of the DSS verbs I plan to study
how the writers used the quotes (e.g. the WAYYIQTOLs of Habbakuk) in order
to see if there are any clues indicating their view of verbs.
>Greg Doudna



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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