Zech 8:14-15 (was Judges 13:5 and 13:7)

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Fri Mar 8 07:51:14 EST 2002

Dear Dave,

I do not intend to continue this discussion, but I will only point 
out two areas wher eour understanding of linguistics is different.

>My reason for using both a past and a future for the interpretation was
>that the decision (ZMM) to act was past, but the act (Y+B) is future.  In
>both vv. 14 & 15 the act that results from God's decision is expressed as
>an infinitive.  The time-reference of the infinitive must be determined
>from context.  The time reference of R(( in v. 14 is soon after the
>"determination" in the past, and is thus also past -- "I determined, and I
>brought calamity."  The time reference of Y+B in v. 15 is soon after the
>"determination" in the immediate past, and is thus future -- "I just
>determined, and I will bring good."

In my view, the infinitive serving as a verbal complement is 
timeless. Together with the finite verb that govern it, it 
constitutes one unit. Thus it takes the temporal reference of the 
finite verb. You cannot split this unit (of finite verb and 
complement) either in verse 14 or 15 and say that the complement 
functions as a finite verb of its own in a new clause with a 
different time reference than the finite verb governing it. This 
means that the temporal refrence of ZMM and Y+B *must* be the same. 
And this is the way you translate below!

>One reason I chose a past tense translation of ZMM in v. 15 is the logic
>inherent in the semantics of ZMM -- how can you say that you are going to
>have something in mind tomorrow?  If you know you are going to have
>something in mind tomorrow, it's because you already have it in mind today.
>If you have it in mind today, it's because it came into your mind -- you
>made a decision -- in the past, albeit perhaps the very recent past.  Thus,
>paraphrased with time cues, in Zechariah God is saying, "Just as in the
>distant past, in the time of your forefathers, I had in mind to bring
>disaster upon you ... I have just recently, in these days, decided -- that
>is, I had in mind earlier today and still have in mind -- to do you good."

To appeal to lexical semantics to determine the time reference of a 
verb is tricky business indeed. This verb, and other verbs signalled 
a concept in the minds of the people having the same presupposition 
pool. Such a concept is rather broad with fuzzy edges, according to 
psycho-linguistic research, and the role of the context is to help 
the reader to see which part of the concept the author wants to make 
visible. The verb )MR may illustrate the point. The core of the 
concept it signals is the uttering of words, and on the basis of the 
context, we can see whether a command, a question or a prayer is 

The Semitic way of thinking is different from the English one. When 
you ask how someone "can have something in mind tomorrow" you use 
English logic and not Semitic logic. As to the concepts signalled by 
hebrew words such as verbs, we may speak of a "core-meaning", but the 
concept per se and its borders cannot be defined by those whose 
mother tongue is not Hebrew. Such concepts are *known* by native 
speakers, they cannot be defined. That is why it is so dangerous to 
use lexical semantics to fix the tense of a translation.

Let me illustrate. The core meaning of $LM is to be complete or 
whole. Connected with this, inside the concept are well-being and 
peace. But in some contexts the word is translated by "to pay". In 
Hebrew, as in other languages we find polysemy, but "to pay" does not 
signal a second concept; it is a part of the one concept that is made 
visible also when this translation is chosen. The thinking may be 
like this: If I sell something I am no longer whole or complete, but 
when a price is payed the wholeness is restored. Thus to pay is 
clearly a side of $LM. This Semitic thinking is foreign to English 

Another example. The root (ZB with the core meaning "to leave" is 
common Semitic. But how can it be translated by "to save, resuce" in 
Aramaic? The reason is simple. In Accadian this root is written as 
EZEBUM, and the causative mark in that language is the prefix $. If 
this prefix is added, the meaning will be "to let leave", and this 
again is taken in the meaning "to save, rescue". The verb is found in 
Daniel 3:17 in the form $YZB with the meaning "to save". Again, this 
thinking is foreign to the English mind.

I agree that if you say in English that you are going to have 
something in mind tomorrow it is already in your mind today. But this 
is English and not Semitic thinking in that you restrict the area of 
the concept signalled by ZMM. There is much more to the concept than 
"to plan, to decide, and to purpose". There is no problem of using 
ZMM in the senses "to look for opportunities to do", or "to carry out 
a purpose", both which may refer to tomorrow. Please consider the 
passage below where the QATAL of ZMM is used with future reference

Jer. 51:12  (NIV) Lift up a banner against the walls of Babylon! 
Reinforce the guard, station the watchmen, prepare an ambush! The 
LORD will carry out his purpose, his decree against the people of 

Therefore, the crucial point for the choice of English tense for the 
rendering of ZMM is not lexical semantics, but the contect,namely, 
what is the *time reference* of "those days".

>The other reason I chose a past tense translation of ZMM is that there are
>many cases -- I would argue it is the norm -- in BH where a future action
>based on current events is expressed with X-YIQTOL or WEQATAL.  See 2 Sam
>12:7-12.  In 7b-9 Nathan relays God's message explaining all that God did
>for David in the past, and what David did in the past -- with X-QATAL's and
>WAYYIQTOL's.  Then in vv. 10-12 God predicts what will happen to David in
>the future because of David's past actions -- with X-YIQTOL's and

Your words in this paragraph illustrates my basic criticism against 
modern Hebrew scholarship: grammatical theory (that I believe is 
faulty) has the upper hand both in textual criticism and in 

When the German Scholar Alexander Sperber emmigrated to the US before 
World war II he could read the original text ofOld Hebrew Bibles, he 
was shocked to discover that Kittel and his co-workers to some extent 
had emended the text of the Biblia Hebraica to conform with 
grammatical theory.

Sperber (A Historical Grammar of biblical Hebrew, 1966, pp 52.53) 
first quotes Kittel's words that his intention when making the 
mastertext (BH) was "to purge the text of 'obvious mistakes and 
errors of any kind'." Then he makes the following comment:

"In the light of Kittel's remarks ..there can be no doubt at all as 
to the meaning of the implied words "obvious mistakes and errors". 
They refer to any diviation from the rules and laws of Hebrew 
grammar. and it is just this attitude towards the Hebrew Bible, to 
give the right priority to The Grammar and to make the Scriptures 
conform to it, which I refuted by saying: "Whether he admits it or 
not, the exegete assumes that the laws of the Hebrew language, as 
laid down in the Hebrew grammar, are binding for the Bible. Whenever 
a discrepancy is discovered between the Bible and these "established" 
grammatical laws, the Bible is the loser: the text is "emended" so as 
to conform with the grammar... It is high time that bible scholars... 
approach the Bible not as schoolmasters teaching the prophets how 
Hebrew sentences should be formed and Hebrew words spelled, but as 
humble students of thses masters of Hebrew."

Exactly the same editorial attitude is seen in the BHS, particularly 
in the notes at the bottom of the pages where emendations often are 
suggested on the basis of grammatical theory rather than textual 
evidence. And not only that, but modern translators have exactly the 
same attitude: grammatical theory is given priority over the context.

It is true that YIQTOL and WEQATAL often have future reference. 
However, the same is true with HINNE, and 3.p.s of HAYA allways have 
future reference, except in a few cases. But none of these cases can 
be used to make grammatical rules! But this is what has been done 
regarding the finite verbs, and these rules have priority, although 
nobody has previously bothered to analyse *all* the verbs to see the 
real pattern of them.

In my analysis of all the verbs of the MT I have a list with 1.022 
YIQTOLs (7,5 %) with past reference, 357 (5,9 %) WEQATALs with past 
reference and 965 (6,9 %) QATALs with future reference. But the real 
number should probably be doubled in each case. When grammatical 
theory is given priority, this has a cumulative effect. When it is 
believed that QATALs should not have future reference, less QATALs 
are translated by future tense, and it appears that the grammatical 
theory is vindicated. But the situation is in reality circular, 
translation is based on the theory, and the theory is justified by 
the translation.

>If in Zech 8:15 God wanted to express a future decision, He probably would
>have used X-YIQTOL.
>The interpretation of $WB as "again," which I accept, only reinforces my
>interpretation of ZMM as past.  God says, "I aquired a mind-set, in the
>days of your fathers, and did them harm ... I have again aquired a
>mind-set, at the current time, and will do you good."
>With all this in mind, I might translate as follows: This is what the Lord
>of Hosts says: "Just as I resolved to do you harm when your fathers
>provoked Me to anger," says the Lord of Hosts, "and I did not relent, in
>the same way in these days I have again resolved to treat Jerusalem and the
>house of Judah well.  Do not fear."
>If I were to translate it more freely, I would make a better parallel:
>"Just as I came to a resolution when your fathers provoked Me to anger, and
>I did not waver -- in that case it was a resolution to do them harm -- in
>the same way, once again in these days, I have come to an unwavering
>resolution, and you should be encouraged because this time it is a
>resolution to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah."
>The implication is if God did not relent in His resolution to do harm, He
>will not relent in His resolution to do good.  This is reassuring.
>Dave Stabnow



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo
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