(To Niccacci) about your review of G. Hatav's book

Alviero Niccacci alviero.niccacci at studiumbiblicum.org
Fri Apr 5 03:10:08 EST 2002

>Dear Prof. Niccacci,
>I read your review on G.Hatav, The Semantics of Aspect and Modality in
>_Liber Annuus_49 (1999) 525-546 in pdf format at the following address:
>This review was very helpful to me. Let me ask some questions,
>Q1: p. 543, you said:
>  1) In historical narrative, in reference to the past: x-qatal
>   (or other non-wayyqtol forms = setting, or antecedent information)
>   -> wayyiqtol ( main line or foreground) -> x-qatal (or other non-
>   wayyqtol forms = off line, or background).
>The traditional reading of Gen 1.1-3, which you do not seem to support,
>seems to match the pattern above. Here Gen 1.1 provides the setting,
>and 1.2 provides off-line explanation for the setting. Gen 1.3 starts
>the main line narrative. If the "setting" refers only to the
>antecedent information that can be retrieved or inferred from the text,
>then Gen 1.1 is not qualified. But should the setting be always 
>inferrable from the text? It is so typically. But under special
>situation, wouldn't the reader simply accept the setting provided
>in the situation where the reader would not expect to infer it, e.g.
>in the beginning of a story?

I am not sure what you mean by *traditional reading of Gen 1.1.-3* 
and I do not intend to get involved in the *BR)$YT, the continuing 
saga*. If I remember correctly, a long discussion on this text took 
place in 1999 & 2000 in this forum. Please see my analysis of Gen 
1:1-3 in _Syntax of the Verb_ #18.
I do not know when antecedent information or setting is expected or 
not. I only try to understand the way the ancient writers composed 
their narratives.

>Q2: p. 533, you said:
>Contrary to common opinion, WAYHI and WHAYA are not particles but full
>verbs, whose subject is the two following sentences taken together
>as a noun equivalent: "It happened THE FACT THAT while-they-were-burying-
>a-man, they-saw-the-band"...... The function of these WAYHI and WHAYA is
>to place the two-sentence complex on the main line of communication.....
>Without WAYHI and WHAYA, the double sentence would be placed on the off
>line of communication.
>It is the case with the pattern of Temporal Expression + W+X+QATAL
>(e.g. 2 Kgs 13:21, which you quote in p. 533). But is it also true
>of the pattern Temporal Expression + WAYYQTOL. e.g. Gen 22:4? It seems
>that Gen 22:4 is a main line statement.

For the analysis of Gen 22:4 you can see my _Syntax of the Verb_ 
#103: *bayyôm ha$$elî$î* is a circumtance with function of protasis + 
the main sentence with function of apodosis. Together they constitute 
a double sentence. Wayehî could head the whole construction as, e.g., 
in Gen 34:25. The difference is discontinuity (Gen 22:4) vs. 
continuity (Gen 34:25) in the main-line of communication.

>Q3: pp. 543-4, you said:
>Let me try to understand your point, Prof. Niccacci.
>If weqatal and yiqtol can describe future single situations and past
>repeated and habitual situations, we cannot say that
>weqatal and yiqtol forms are the future tense. These forms are not
>committed with respect to tense.

Weqatal and indicative x-yiqtol are TENSES in DIRECT SPEECH and 
indicate simple future. Because of the poverty of verb forms and 
construction in Biblical Hebrew, both weqatal and x-yiqtol are also 
used in HISTORICAL NARRATIVE and then they indicate not a location in 
the time axis, i.e. they are NOT TENSES, but rather ASPECT, i.e. 
repetition, custom, description. This principle also applies to other 
verb forms--to wayyiqtol itself and to the non-verbal sentence (see 

>Non-verbal sentences  with or without
>participles can describe both present and past situations. So, we cannot
>say that they are the  present tense as you do.

In DIRECT SPEECH non-verbal sentences can convey main-line 
information. In this case, they are TENSES and express the present 
as, e.g., Gen 42:11 *Kullanû [casus pendens] -- benê 'î$ 'eXad 
[predicate] naXnû [subject]; kenîm [predicate] 'anaXnû [subject] "All 
of us--we are sons of one man, we are honest men". However the same 
non-verbal sentence can also convey off-line information, i.e. 
indicate a circumstance. In this case it indicates ASPECT, i.e. 
contemporaneity to the main verb, and also takes on the time value do 
the main verb;
e.g., PAST in 1 Sam 17:41 *wayyelek happeli$tî holek weqareb 
'el-dawid [main-line wayyiqtol] weha'î$ no&e' kelayw lepanayw 
[circumstantial non-verbal sentence]* "And the Philistine came on and 
drew near to David, WHILE his shield-bearer WAS in front of him";
or FUTURE in Exod 7:17 *hinneh 'anokî makkeh bamma++eh 'a$er-beyadî 
`al-hammayim 'a$er baye'or [non-verbal sentence] wenehepkû ledam 
[weqatal introducing the future axis as the main line of the text = 
prediction] "Behold, I am about to strike the water that is in the 
Nile with the rod that is in my hand, and it shall be turned to 
If one accepts the approach adopted here (from H. Weinrich)--with 
direct speech vs. historical narrative, each having a distinctive set 
of verb forms and other constructions, and with main line (for 
foreground information) vs. off line (for background 
information)--one sees the coherence of the B-H verb system.

>Hatav seems to think that only when verbs have particular means of
>specifying  the present, past, and future, the language has tense.
>I think that both you and she are right, because it is a matter of
>what "tense" means. Some language might have developed
>specific verb forms only for past single nonrepeated events, while the
>same forms are used to describe past and future situations, which have
>some common feature. That language is partially tensed.  If so, we can
>say that the language is tensed with some caveat, or that the
>language is not tensed with some caveat. I think Hatav's approach comes
>down to the latter position. Is there more to your criticism other than
>the different perception on what tensed language is?

Of course you are free to think that Hatav and I are both right or 
otherwise. In my book review of Hatav's book I tried to show that 
Biblical Hebrew is a language with both TENSES and ASPECT. In my 
view, a verb form or non-verbal construction is a TENSE when it 
indicates by itself a location in the time axes (past, present, 
future) and conveys main-line information. By ASPECT I understand 
repetition vs. punctuality, contemporaneity vs. anteriority vs. 
posteriority, and "emphasis" (i.e. when a non-verbal element becomes 
the syntactic predicate). Verb forms and constructions that do not 
indicate a location in time, i.e. are not TENSES, but indicate ASPECT 
are syntactically dependent of a main-line verb form or construction 
even when they are not grammatically dependent, i.e., when they are 
not governed by subordinating conjunction like *kî, lema`an, 'a$er* 
E.g., even if *bara'* is not in construct state after *bere'$ît* but 
*bere'$ît* is an adverb staying alone, still *bere'$ît bara' 'elohîm* 
is NOT a SYNTACTICALLY INDEPENDENT sentence but is dependent on the 
following main-line wayyiqtol in Gen 1:3.

>Q4: You talked about the "resumptive repetion" use of wayyqtol.
>     I found that such wayyqtol is translated as pluperfect in English.
>     E.g. Gen 2.19. I do not see the difference between this use of wayyqtol
>     and that of x-qatal, which is also often translated as pluperfect.
>     How would you compare them?

I do not see how one could translate *wayyiCer* in Gen 2:19 as 
pluperfect--unless one refers back to 1:21. However, it is not the 
interpreter who decides when a verb form should be translated as 
pluperfect or as simple past tense; it is the writer who indicates 
his perspective by using appropriate verb forms and non-verbal 
The problem is that most translators have no definite idea about the 
functions of the verb forms, never did a serious syntactic research; 
sometimes they think that the text is not in order, simply because 
they are unable to see its order, or poorly arranged and allow 
theemselves to rearrange the information according to their own taste 
instead of trying to understand the way the writer has arranged his 
Just to the opposite, we more and more realize how biblical texts are 
wonderfully formed and arranged. We only need to be approach them in 
a spirit of humility and openness. We are to adjust ourselves to 
them, not them to us.

Best wishes. Let us pray for peace in these terrible days.
Alviero Niccacci
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum
PO Box 19424, 91193 Jerusalem (Israel)
Tel. +972-2-6282936; 6264516/7 + extension 250; Fax +972-2-6264519
Home Page: http://www.custodia.org/sbf
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