Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at
Wed Mar 13 20:04:25 EST 2002

Ian, you cannot be serious! The formal distinction between nouns and
verbs may be a "modern" one (though not very modern) but linguists
recognise this as one of the few fundamental universals of all human
languages. There clearly is such a distinction in Hebrew, as can be
demonstrated even from unpointed texts, and from the uniformity of the
separate noun and verb morphologies of the various Semitic languages
which diverged long before the biblical period. Of course there are
individual cases in (especially unpointed) Hebrew texts, as in English
and most languages, where a word out of context could be either a noun
or a verb; and I would accept that sometimes nouns have been wrongly
pointed as verbs or vice versa. But it is impossible to deny that there
was a real distinction between nouns and verbs in BH.

Also, I quite deliberately wrote "seems" in "Gen 1:1 seems to be a
unique construction with no exact parallels", though "as far as I know"
would have been more precise. No one in this debate or previous ones has
quoted any exact parallels, and indeed if we require parallels with
bereshit as the first word there are certainly none. You have found some
examples which are quite closely parallel but not exactly so, and I have
discussed them. I invite you and others on the list to submit other
close parallels, especially of the form B-noun verb subject object
W-subject verb... (noun is temporal, no article, absolute or construct).

Peter Kirk

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Ian Hutchesson [mailto:mc2499 at]
> Sent: 13 March 2002 15:50
> To: Biblical Hebrew
> Subject: Re: bereshit
> Peter
> >Time only for a quick response here:
> >
> >Gen 1:1 seems to be a unique construction with no exact parallels.
> This needs to be established, not assumed, although
> you have attempted to show your assumed uniqueness.
> >So we must allow something unusual to be happening. We can't be sure
> >of the construction, I realise. But here are some more points which
> to
> >lean towards bereshit as an absolute followed by a main clause:
> >
> >1) BERESHIT as an absolute is syntactically quite normal, indeed very
> >common.
> This is ideally the case based on your assumptions about
> the language. In fact as we both point out there is no
> direct evidence to support the assumption, which
> suggests that br'$yt can act as you want it to in Gen 1.
> >It happens not to be attested elsewhere for this rare noun in a
> >limited corpus. But there is no syntactic abnormality.
> There is no syntactic abnormality with bywm either,
> though it seems that the only time it apparently
> stands by itself is because it is an anaphorical
> reference. But again you will say that we have a
> limited corpus, and argue theoretically, without
> any evidence.
> >The possible
> >semantic abnormality is resolved if we realise that here, but nowhere
> >else, the meaning is the beginning in an absolue sense, the beginning
> >all things, rather than the beginning of a sepcified period. Though I
> >realise that one could object to that resolution as based
> >anachronistically on later philosophy - which begs lots of questions
> >about dating and about how little we know about ancient Hebrew
> >philosophy.
> This is as you realise a loaded interpretation and
> in no way reflects the text we have. All cases of
> br'$yt we have require qualification, but here you
> are arguing against the evidence on what is
> apparently an assumption without basis. When one
> starts a discourse one usually qualifies their
> initial considerations, which would seem from what
> we know of the usage of br'$yt the writer does in
> Gen 1:1. On the contrary, you are arguing that
> there is no need to qualify br'$yt, even though it
> is used at the very beginning of the text, assuming
> that the reader knows what the beginning refers to.
> You are not arguing based on the linguistic
> evidence, what there is is all contrary to your
> opinion, nor on any literary criterion.
> >2) KIY is a subordinating conjunction which normally governs one
> >and can (as you point out) govern a set of coordinated clauses. But
> >is syntactically quite different from B- plus a noun in the construct
> >state, which normally governs a noun phrase i.e. an absolute noun or
> >extended construct chain. I accept that there are a few apparent
> >of B- plus construct governing a single finite clause, and Numbers
> >and 1 Kings 2:42 may be cases of it governing a series of coordinated
> >clauses (with an infinitive in the first clause). But the evidence
> >KIY is irrelevant.
> I think you are dismission ky without reason, making
> a modern separation based on Latin Grammar between
> nouns and verbs, a distinction which was not so clear
> in ancient Hebrew as indicated by the originally
> unpointed text. I would gather that when the Lord
> first spoke to Hosea, it is not the verb dbr
> underlying "spoke" but the noun in construct with
> txlh. But you acknowledge that there are a few (I
> supplied more than a few) apparent cases of b- plus
> construct governing single finite clauses. My
> original post gave 4 examples, but there are many
> more. Just do a search for bywm. You'll find for
> example, ones that I haven't mentioned before:
> Gen 5:2, Gen 21:8, Ex 6:28, Ex 32:34, Num 3:13, etc.
> Then again I could add l`t with more than a few
> examples, Gen 31:10, Deut 32:35, Josh 10:27,
> 1 Sam 18:19, etc. There is no "few" about these
> "apparent" cases.
> If bywm can so regularly govern subordinate clauses,
> then it is analogous to ky when it does so. I think
> my examples show that it can, so, ky is relevant as
> it shows that such structures can govern more than
> one clause in a way which is the same as that found
> in Gen 1:1-2. While 1 Kgs 2:42 shows the possibility
> of governing more than one clause it is not as close
> to what is happening in Gen 1 as ky in Gen 6:1. This
> verse shows a complex governed clause and complex
> governed verbs are what we are interested in judging
> here.
> Ian

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