[b-hebrew] Isaiah 53

furuli at online.no furuli at online.no
Sun May 16 09:33:37 EDT 2004

Dear Vadim,

I know that my suggestion is very unusual, in fact, it rejects a view 
that all scholars have accepted from the Karaite Ibn Nuh in the 11th 
century CE and up to the present, except less than twenty scholars, 
namely, that the WAYYIQTOL is different from YIQTOL. And further, if 
my conclusions are accepted, a few thousand verbs in modern Bible 
translations are in need of a re-translation. I do not think that I 
am more clever than others, but I have two advantages, 1) I have 
analyzed the whole corpus of classical Hebrew, and 2) I have based my 
study on the assumption that Hebrew has at least two conjugations, 
possibly four.

One's assumption is extremely important. If you start with the 
assumption that there *are* four conjugations, most likely you end 
with four conjugations as well - this is a fine example of 
circularity. In my view, so many fine scholars have been led astray 
because they have started with the assumption of four conjugations 
and because no systematic attempt has been made to distinguish 
between pragmatic and semantic factors.

An illuminating example of the last problem is that narrative 
contexts are used to find whether WAYYIQTOL represent past tense or 
the perfective aspect. But the worst place to look for this meaning 
(from the perspective of semantics versus pragmatics) is in narrative 
contexts. This is so, because any verb that is used to narrate 
consecutive, past events must per definition have past reference, and 
the events must be completed at speech time. Therefore, from a 
semantic point of view, we learn very little, if anything at all 
regarding the nature of WAYYIQTOLs in narrative contexts.

The first thing to do before an analysis of verbs starts, is to 
differentiate between diachronic and synchronic matters. I have used 
much time to study the diachronic evolution of Classical Hebrew. And 
interestingly, while we can detect Early Biblical Hebrew, Standard 
Biblical Hebrew, Late Biblical Hebrew, and Qumranic Hebrew with many 
differences in vocabulary and grammar, I have found no evidence that 
the semantic meaning of the Hebrew conjugations have changed from the 
first part of the Tanakh to the last part was written. To the 
contrary, there is much evidence that the meaning did not change.

  I have further studied the Amarna letters, Ugaritic, Canaanite, and 
Akkadian grammar in order to see if there is evidence for a preterit 
antecedent to WAYYIQTOL in these languages. The answer is negative; 
the greatest weakness of the claims for the existence of such an 
antecedent, is the complete lack of distinction between past tense 
and past reference, i.e. between semantic and pragmatic factors. When 
we in the Mesha inscription find about thirty YIQTOLs with prefixed 
WAW with past reference (and one YIQTOL with past reference without 
prefixed WAW), this is taken as proof that WAYYIQTOL existed outside 
Israel. But as Muraoka once wisely wrote, how can we know that prefix 
forms with a prefixed WAW are what Hebrew grammars technically call 
*consecutive imperfect*? How can we know that the WAWs are not simple 
conjunctions? The conclusion that the Mesha inscription and in other 
documents are evidence for WAYYIQTOL is a glaring example of this 
lack of differentiation between semantics and pragmatics.

On the basis of a thorough study of the classical Hebrew corpus with 
the conclusion that the semantic meaning of verbs has not evolved 
inside the corpus, ( and contrary to the strange meaning of some that 
verbs have different semantic meaning in poetry and prose), all the 
verbs can be treated on an equal footing. The whole study will later 
be published, but allow me a few excerpts from my data base:  998 
WAYYIQTOLs with non-past reference;  965 QATALs with future 
reference, 53 WEYIQTOLs with past reference, 2.505 QATALs and 1.804 
YIQTOLs with present reference. 1.022 YIQTOLs with past reference. 
Most revealing is a comparison of the environments of the YIQTOLs 
and WAYYIQTOLs with past reference. It can be demonstrated that the 
reason why scores upon scores of the YIQTOLs with past reference lack 
a prefixed WAW, is that another word precedes the YIQTOL, thus 
preventing such a prefix. But often a WAW is prefixed to the 
preceding word (be it a negation, adverb or substantive), so if the 
word order was changed, the YIQTOL would naturally become a WAYYIQTOL.

Best regards


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>Dear Rolf,
>You surely know that your suggestion is more than a bit unusual. Could you
>support your argument statistically? It basically contradicts my
>experience, and although I'm always prepared to change my views when facts
>change, there has to be a good evidence.
>>Over a period of ten years I have analyzed all the more than 70.000
>verbs of the Tanakh, the DSS and the inscriptions as to temporal
>reference, modality and different discourse functions. My conclusion,
>for which I present more than one thousand examples in my thesis, is
>that Classical Hebrew has no tenses but two aspects (with very
>different characteristics compared with their English counterparts).
>The forms YIQTOL, WAYYIQTOL, and WEYIQTOL all represent the
>imperfective aspect and QATAL  and WEQATAL represent the perfective
>aspect.  The view of the "reversal of tense" by WE- WAY(Y)  collides
>head on with the data material.<
>Best regards,

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