Prophetic Perfects in the Psalms

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Mon Apr 23 13:25:47 EDT 2001

 Lee R. Martin wrote,

>>RF: This means that I follow the procedure to interpret all verbs with future
>> reference (YIQTOL,WEYIQTOL, WAYYIQTOL, QATAL, and WEQATAL) as simple
>> if the mentioned criteria do not show that a particular form is future
>> perfect (modality will of course be considered as well).
>LM: Rolf, I believe that you are beginning here with the wrong assumption.  It
>seems more logical to me that we begin with the assumption that all QATALS
>with future reference be future perfects unless there are sound reasons for
>deciding against it.

Dear Lee,

I wonder if we understand the concept "future perfect" in the same way. As
for me, I refer to the English relative tense (see at the end)  where the
deictic point is found somwhere in the future (relative to speech time) and
the verb in question is perfect in relation to that deictic point. While
the translation of the forms is not what counts, to translate a verse can
give us valuable clues. We should be able to translate a future perfect of
NFTAN as "he will have given", and do you really mean that this is the
sense of the QATALs with future reference?

I have never heard of any approach in linguistics when one presumes that
particular verbs are future perfect (a relative tense) if there are no
evidence for it both in the form itself and in the context. With such
tenses there must be somthing in the context which marks a particular
deictic point in the future.
My question therefore is: Which characteristic of the form QATAL justify
that its default in future contexts is future perfect and not simple
future? This question is pertinent because 18 % of the QATALs (2.505) have
present reference, and would not your supposed characteristic make these
forms present perefect?
Let us look at the passages below.

>> (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.
>Unlike you, I understand this as either performative or future perfect.
>This sentence is fundamentally different in structure from the two previous.
>The qatal in the previous verses were in subordinate clauses, preceded by an
>adverb, but in this case the qatal is in an independent clause. If this is
>not future perfect, then how would you construct a future perfect
>independent clause in BH?

To construe a future perfect I would require that the clause before or
after, or some other syntactic marker fixed a deictic point in the future
in relation to which the verb in questian had a perfect force. This was the
case in the other examples as you yourself admit. So I would require
something like "When I come tomorrow, Lee will already have come." I am not
aware of any language where an future perfect is used in an independent
clause (if you by this term think of a simple main clause which stands
alone). We do not without a context say "I will have come."

In Gen 17:20 I see absolutely no evidence for a deictic point different
from speech time in this verse. To the contrary. In the part of the verse
referring to the future, the object for the QATAL and the three WEQATALs is
"him", and all the four verbs tell what will happen to "him". There is
nothing arguing against the  conclusion that these four clauses are
parallel and have the same deictic point, namely, speech time. The
syntactic reason for the QATAL is of course that it is preceded by HINNE,
which for the most part refer to the future. The WAWs prefixed to the
QATALs are simple conjunctions; God says that he will do this, and this,
and this, and this. Can you point to a single thing which suggests that the
QATAL has another force than the three WWQATALs? If the QATAL is a future
perfect, you have to translate somewhat like the suggestion below. But this
makes little sense.

"Look I will have blessed him and I will make him fruitful and will greatly
increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will
make him into a great nation."

>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."
>Same as above. Either performative or future perfect.

My arguments regarding 17:20 also applies to 17:16. The unnatural
translation of this verse, if the QATAL was a future perfect, would be:

"I will bless her and I will have given you a son by her.And I will bless
her, and she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from

Why not make a test with your students: Write down these verses, but
instead of writing down the verb forms, just write down the roots, and ask
them to translate. I am sure that both common sense and linguistic
knowledge would lead the students to view the clauses of both verses as
parallel clauses with the same deictic point. The verses are very simple,
four QATALs in both verses, six of these are preceded by the conjunction
WAW,  and two are preceded by elements which are equivalent to WAW (HINNE
and WEGAM). There is a beautiful symmetry, and the only problem is an
unfounded grammatical theory.

BTW. I agree with Broman Olsen against Reichenbach and Comrie that English
does not have "relative tenses". The syntactic constructions which are
defined as such, with a deictic point different from speech time, are
there. But they are not different "tenses" but rather a combination of a
tense and the perfective aspect. For instance,  pluperfect does not have
another tense than simple past, but its pre-past nature is a combination of
simple past and the perfective aspect. But we cannot transfer that to
Hebrew, because the Hebrew QATAL does not necessary signal a terminated
event as in English. While I do not believe in relative tenses I have used
the term because it is the most common  and is easier to deal with.



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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