[b-hebrew] Waw Consecutive in Narrative Hebrew Narrative

Ken Penner pennerkm at mcmaster.ca
Tue Oct 14 11:32:37 EDT 2003

Matthew Williams asked for thoughts on the "waw consecutives". 
I am writing my dissertation on Hebrew verb-form semantics.

To summarize the conflicting views Matthew described:

View 1: waw-consecutives are the means of continuing a narrative, therefore
Joshua continues the Torah, as a linear story.

View 2: waw-consecutives are a default verb form, therefore do not imply
continuation (i.e., what else would you expect the beginning of Joshua to

We all agree that the waw-prefix conjugation is the most common verb form in
classical biblical narratives. 
View 2 deduces that because the WPC is the most common verb form in
narrative, it is unmarked; rather it is the presence of other verb forms
(such as SC) that must be explained as having special significance.
View 1 thinks in the reverse direction: The WPC is used where we might
expect a suffix conjugation (as we see in later narratives such as Esther).
So, why would a WPC be used rather than a SC? View 1 deduces that because
WPCs are used almost exclusively in narratives, and the outstanding
difference between narrative and other discourse is sequentiality, the WPCs
were chosen for narratives because they convey sequentiality.

For a diachronic survey, see Mark Smith's _The Origins and Development of
the Waw-Consecutive_. Basically, wayyiqtol came from an old past-tense
yaqtul form, and therefore was the most appropriate form for narratives.

But helpful though the history of development may be, the author of the
beginning of Joshua probably did not consider the form's origins when
choosing a WPC. By that time, the form was probably conventionalized as the
standard narrative form. The question still remains, did that
conventionalized use indicate continuation or not? Did the author have much
choice in the verb form to use? Did he choose a verb form which indicated
anything about continuity?

Whereas the WPC is the most common verb form in narratives, I do not have
the impression that it is the most common verb form to BEGIN narratives. 
Try this, to get an impression for yourself:
In the book of Joshua, look for breaks in the narrative (e.g., by lists)
where narrative continuity should not be expected and look at the verb form
immediately following (5:13; 6:1; 7:1; 13:1; 10:15, 16; 13:1; 19:51; 20:1;
21:43; 23:1). Do you see a pattern? I don't see one strong enough to warrant
making statements of continuity _on the basis of the verb form alone_.
Particularly the WYHY seems to occur relatively frequently at the beginning
of narratives. I would be especially hesitant about assuming continuity when
a sentence beginning with WYHY includes a specific time reference.

So, how much continuity does the verb form itself imply? That's one part of
what I am trying to answer in my dissertation. So far in my research on the
Hebrew of Dead Sea Scrolls, the WPC is NOT the form used generally for past
time, or for perfective aspect, or for realis modality, or any particular
combination of time, aspect, and modality. It use is specifically
conditioned; and I am still trying to figure out what those conditions are.
Of course, my findings about Qumran Hebrew may or may not be applicable to
Classical Biblical Hebrew.

Hoping this helps,

Ken Penner, McMaster/DSS

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