Questions for Rolf

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Sat Apr 28 11:47:51 EDT 2001

Dear Greg,

See my comments below.

>Rolf (comments below):
>> difficulties in the study of a dead language. In connection with models,
>> tendency is that one that has a great potential for explanation has a weak
>> potential for falsification, vice verse. I claim that the model I use in
>> connection with Hebrew verbs can explain the whole verbal system without
>> exceptions, and this would suggest that its falsification potential is
>Thanks for your answer, and I see your point about the problems with
>a stringent requirement of falsification. Let me try another tack. What
>major (or minor) systematic features of biblical Hebrew do you see
>as well-explained by your model, that are otherwise anomalous?
>Or to put it in different words, what major problems does it solve?
>(Apart from the problem of an absence of a comprehensive explanation
>after you debunk the others. I mean something more specific.)

The Hebrew verbal system seems to be more anomalous today than fifty years
ago. Therefore the tendency is to study it on the basis of bigger chuncks
of text, such as clauses and paragraphs, and to describe function rather
than the meaning of morphosyntactic forms. I see the following advantages
of my model:

1) It outlines a dipolar system of all the prefix-forms in one group and
all the suffix-forms in the other, and explain the function of each form
without exceptions.

2) It explains why YIQTOL, WAYYIQTOL, WEYIQTOL, QATAL and WEQATAL can have
past, present, and future reference and express both indictive and
subjunctive, and at the same time be memebers of an ordered and functional

3) It explains the role of the WAW, which is prefixed to many verbs, on the
basis of simple syntax without seeking recourse in speculative ideas

building on very little evidence.

4) It explains why the general narrative account often starts with a QATAL
and continues with WAYYIQTOLs, and why we in future contexts, but not so
often, find accounts starting with a YIQTOL and continuing with QATALs -
this is explained without equating QATAL and WAYYIQTOL and YIQTOL AND

5) It explains how it is possible that the most important form in narrative
is imperfective while in non-Semitic languages this is the function of
perfective forms.

In short, the Hebrew verbal system is explained as a harmonious and
well-ordered system.

>> This means that the predictions which can be falsified must be restricted
>> to situations where semantics can be distinguished from pragmatics, and
>> this leads to the following prediction:
>> (1) To express conative situations, resultative situations, and situations
>> where one clause interrupts another in the middle ("When Peter came,Roy
>> reading.") only YIQTOL/WAYYIQTOL/WEYIQTOL are used. The use of
>> QATAL/WEQATAL in such situations will falsify my definition of verbs.
>1QpHab 8.8-10.
>'Its interpretation concerns the Wicked Priest who was called (QATAL)
>by the name of truth at the beginning of his standing, but when he ruled (or
>was ruling) (QATAL) over Israel his heart was lifted up (QATAL) and
>he abandoned (WAYYIQTOL) God and he betrayed (WAYYIQTOL)
>the statutes ...'
>It seems to me that this could be transformed with no change of
>meaning to: 'when his heart was lifted up (and he abandoned, betrayed,
>etc.) he was ruling'.
>But 'was ruling', which is in process when he does all these other
>things, is QATAL. Which if I understand you right, isn't supposed
>to be happening by your prediction. Am I missing something?

Both yes and no! It is correct that my model does not predict that an
action expressed by a perfective verb is interrupted or intersected by
another verb. But there are two reasons why 1QpHab 8.8-10 is not a
counter-example. First,the verb M$L can both be stative and fientive, and
if it is stative in this text, the force can be ingressive (the entrance
into the state is stressed). This is the way Abbegg et al. takes it when
they translate "but when he *became* ruler
over Israel´". Second, My prediction refers to fientive verbs because they
are dynamic. If M$L in the verse means "he exercised kingly power", thus
being fientive, the example would falsify my prediction, but because the
stative interpretation is possible, even more likely, the example is not

>> >there are two conjugation systems, and *nothing* is being marked by form,
>> >i.e. its all pidgin with meaning understood from helping words (and some
>> >conventions or patterns have evolved).
>> This fourth alternative was also advocated by Sperber from the late 30s
>> and he was a dilligent student of the text, not only of other's gramatical
>> work. The possibility is there, and at least dialect differences in the
>> text has been proposed. However, much of this is speculative, such as
>> Dahood's work with Ugaritic and the Psalms. The arguments should be taken
>> seriously, but in my view the arguments are too weak for the following
>> reasons:
>> 1) The text of the Tanach has been remarkably stable during several
>> years (only minor developments in the youngest books) while colloquilal
>> language undoubtedly changed.
>(It was Sperber I was thinking of, not Speiser which I said by mistake.)
>By 'text of the Tanach remaining stable' I take it you mean there is little
>linguistic development from one book to the next? (If you mean, after the
>editions of the texts are published they remain the same for centuries
>that is hardly any point at all. Already at Qumran
>it is seen that texts are copied by scribes whose spelling is obviously
>non-standardized but who are definitely copying the texts they have
>without change, consciously, including grammatical forms and manners
>of expression that are not what they themselves would use.)
>But if by stability you mean 'early' and late' books are relatively little
>changed in basic grammer, could this in principle not also be explained
>in terms of compression of the total time frame in which the texts were
>composed? Since one of
>the texts, Daniel, is terminus a quo 164 BCE, and since nearly all of
>the texts are represented at Qumran giving a terminus ad quem of
>c. 2nd-1st BCE, the issue is when were the earliest editions (editions
>known to the Bible, Qumran, etc.) first published (as distinct from
>sources, etc.)? While the 'several hundred year' span is virtually taken
>for granted, how secure is it?
On a totally unrelated issue, I have
>a proposal in print that the actual span of Qumran text copies (that's
>copies, not dates of composition) is more like one century total, rather
>than the conventional notion of c. three centuries total. (Thats in
>Flint and VanderKam DSS after 50 Yrs, Vol, I, 1998.) If the
>biblical books were demonstrably through hard evidence composed
>over the long span of many centuries everywhere assumed, that would
>be one thing. But it seems to me to be a scholarly construct which is
>not demonstrated. (Note that the issue here is the dating of first final
>editions in a form that are 'frozen' like Isaiah or the texts of the XII at
>Qumran [which after that point get only copied, not further rewritten].
>This says nothing about prior source editions and so this has nothing
>to do with the issue of Hellenistic versus Solomonic kingdom
>composition of the material itself.)

I am aware of the fact that there are different text types at Qumran (many
evidently imported to Qumran), and that there are more types than Cross'
three families. You are perfectly right when you suggest that when I take
for granted a 'several hundred year' span when the text was stable (I think
of basic grammar) this is traditional thinking, because we have next to
nothing before Qumran, as far as textual avidence is concerened.

This realization, however, includes the thinking of those who opt for a
very young text as well. Honestly speaking, I find the existence of JPED
and the Deuteronomical historical theory as very speculative and equally
unfounded. So it seems to me that almost everything we say about textual
matters before Qumranic times is based on conjecture. To bring the question
to a head: I am not aware af any data which definitely show that there was
not a person with the name Moshe who wrote the Pentateuch in the 15th
century B.C.E. and that "the son of David who ruled over Israel in
Jerusalem" (Solomon) wrote the book of Qohelet. Regarding Qumran we have
empirical data, and because I am no expert in the dating of manuscripts, I
will read your article about manuscript dates with interest.

>> 2) The problem of seeing a clear pattern in the verbal system (the
>> of exceptions) is not the fault of the text, but rather the fault of
>> traditional grammar which never has been tested against the whole text. I
>> claim that an alternative grammatical explanation can account for the
>> system. So there is no longer any need to explain the language as
>> anamalgamation (an influence of other languages, particularly Aramaic, is
>> however seen).
>OK, you're saying the main reason for invoking a Sperber-like
>explanation is to explain anomalies which are illusory, but which
>need not be upon better analysis. Fair enough, if it stands the
>test of being a better, cleaner, more elegant, more heuristically
>useful, better explanatory analysis.

Agree, so we have to see what my model turns out to be.

>> 3) The overall system of Hebrew verbs is very similar to the cognate
>> languages. The Aramaic of Daniel, for instance, has many YIQTOLs with past
>> meaning, and YIQTOL  and QATAL can be used for past,present, and future.
>> The "preterite" of Accadian can have present and future reference, and the
>> "present" can have past reference.
>Do you see your analysis of Hebrew as shedding significant light on
>the cognate languages, or do you regard them as fairly well-described,
>now? (Or is this not your question and issue at this point?)

The verbal systems of such languages as Accadian, Ge'ez, Aramaic, Ugaritic,
and Phonician are only superficially described. For instance, I am not
aware of a single study which systematically has differentiated between
past reference and past tense! I am not very impressed by historical
comparative studies like those of Bauer, G.R.Driver and others with their
diachronic explanations of the evolution of different forms (but the
studies do show the great learning and ingeniousness of the authors). Each
language must be studied in its own right as far as the verbal system is
concerned. However, if we compare the verbal systems of the Semitic
languages as we know them from actual texts and documents, I think I see
the same pattern in the other Semitic languages as I see in Hebrew, and an
"anomalous" use of verb forms (against Buccelatti I think that the Accadian
verbal system resembles the West-Semitic ones as well). This means that
tense is absent in all these languages, that the principal factor signaled
by the conjugations is aspect (defined along the lines of Hebrew aspect),
and that modality plays an important role as well. So it would be important
to apply my model to the cognate languages as well.



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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