[b-hebrew] Isaiah 53

unikom at paco.net unikom at paco.net
Sat May 15 11:44:37 EDT 2004

Dear Rolf,

May I suggest to distinguish between translation and interpretation? The
translation should be grammatically correct: in case of the chapter 53,
translating Hebrew past tense as English PT, and where standard Hebrew
allows certain latitude, like betwee past and conjunctive, both should be
mentioned. How one makes sense of this - is quite another matter, but
biblical translation should be precise, unless one prefers to treat the
book as saga.

Best regards,

Vadim Cherny

Dear list-members,

I would like to return to my question about the link between future
reference and prophetic utterances. It seems to me that students of
Hebrew have been chewing cud for a hundred and fifty years without
asking whether this is good for their health, i.e. old views are
repeated over and over again without anybody asking for evidence.

Apart from messages of judgment referring to people living at the
time, the message of a prophet usually relates to the future (but it
can occasionally include past or present reference as well). In his
"A Grammar of the Hebrew Language" of 1841, p 356, Samuel Lee wrote:
"Another leading principle, by which the tenses are regulated, has
arisen out of the circumstance, that the Hebrews, in common with some
other nations of the East, often represent events, - of the future
occurrence of which they have no doubt, - as having already taken
place. " How did he know? Because the Persians did the same! (BTW:
Lee was a fine grammarian)

The notion of "prophetic perfect" has been repeated over and over
again, but I am not aware of a single piece of evidence for its
correctness that ever has been produced from one of the documents of
classical Hebrew. So I must ask again. If it looks like a duck, walks
like a duck, and sounds like a duck, should we not draw the
conclusion that is *is* a duck. And similarly, if a prophet refers to
the future, speaks about the future, and writes about the future,
should we not give the verbs future reference when they are
translated? Why in the world should we translate them by past or

In my translation of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 into Norwegian,  41 of the
finite verbs are translated with simple future, 7 with present, 1
with simple past, and 2 with pluperfect. I simply do not understand
the linguistic basis for the use past or perfect apart from the three
metioned examples. In my doctoral thesis I have translated Jeremiah
50 and 51into English, and this is a *prophecy* about Babel. In the
104 verses I have translated, the following verbs are translated with
simple future: 70 yiqtols, 2 weyiqtols, 7 wayyiqtols, 49 weqatals,
and 63 qatals. In addition 4 qatals are translated with future
perfect.  When I look at the renderings of modern Bible translations
of these two chapters, I wonder what kind of logic is behind the
back-and-forth, hither-and- tither use of English tenses. Can really
and old obsolete rule have such a profound effect on modern

Would anyone who defend the idea of verbs with future reference being
translated by past or perfect please step forward and give some
*linguistic* evidence for this (not just references to grammars).

Best regards


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo
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