[b-hebrew] Isaiah 53

Harold R. Holmyard III hholmyard at ont.com
Sat May 15 11:51:37 EDT 2004

Dear Rolf,

Perhaps you should give us a passage whose translation you don't 
like, and we can look at it. Many English translations render 
prophetic perfect verbs with English futures, so I am not sure what 
you are criticizing.

				Harold Holmyard

>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 translators?
>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 

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