[b-hebrew] Waw Consecutive in Narrative Hebrew Narrative

Trevor Peterson 06peterson at cua.edu
Sun Oct 12 15:55:03 EDT 2003

Paul wrote:

> It is notable that, in the vast majority (may I say, all the 
> unambiguous) narrative passages, the initial verb form is 
> something other than a waw-consecutive, a form that either 
> sets the time or marks a break in the narrative stream, and 
> then the sequence of events is carried forward using this 
> form.  So your first instructor is noting that finding a 
> waw-consecutive here is unusual.

I would agree. I'm not sure that your profs' arguments are quite this
sophisticated. (I'm not trying to question their competence--I don't
know anything about them except what's been reported here. My point is
that a lot of theology, Bible, and Hebrew profs have yet to do much with
discourse analysis.) It seems to me that the first was taking a somewhat
simplistic view of the vayyiqtol form. It actually borders on the old
vav-conversive idea, that you basically start with a perfect and then
follow it with converted imperfects to show sequence in narrative.
Calling it the default form, on the other hand, acknowledges a valid
point--in a narrative context, this basically is the default form. But
on the macrosyntactic level, a vayyiqtol form, by virtue of its being
the default, cannot signal the start of a narrative block. Consider the
following example in English:

1. So I was walking down the street, and I saw the weirdest thing. . . .

This might be a natural way to start a story, but it is not the only
way. We might choose to start the same story this way:

2. I walked to the store this afternoon. And I saw the weirdest thing. .
. . 

In the first case, a past participle is used, along with the conjunction
"so," to set the stage for a narrative. In the second case, the
narrative opens with a flat statement of fact, using simple past tense.
In this case, I would expect it to build anticipation. The unassuming
language at the beginning of an utterance raises questions in the
listener's mind as to the purpose of the observation. Similarly, a
vayyiqtol at the beginning of a narrative seems somehow out of place--an
abrupt start, perhaps. Exactly why the author put it there can vary, and
we need to look at other contextual factors in searching for an answer.
But I don't think we can easily assume that it means the narrative
really continues from the preceding book. For starters, I think we need
to ask whether we would expect such a seamless connection even if there
were no book boundary involved.

Trevor Peterson

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