[b-hebrew] Prophetic Perfect?

furuli at online.no furuli at online.no
Thu May 20 02:15:55 EDT 2004

Dear Harold,

I am not a native speaker of English, and I realize that you are in a 
much better position than I to judge stylistic matters in connection 
with the NIV and other English translations. My criticism does not 
relate to matters of style or smoothness but to matters of grammar 
and syntax. You are of course correct in your description of how past 
English verbs can be used for future events. My concern is the 
*basis* for the translators' use of past verbs to signal an event 
that is past in relation to another future event.

My impression is that modern Bible translators generally build on a 
faulty view of Hebrew grammar (e.g.  QATAL should not express simple 
future). In some cases the translators are simply forced to violate 
their own grammatical rules (e.g. some QATALs are rendered by simple 
future in Jer 51, 52 by NIV), but in most cases they follow their 
erroneous rules. This  sometimes leads to confusion on the part of 
the readers.

Anyone who wants to test my claim can simply do an extensive reading 
of the prophets, and see how many accounts that has a clear time 
reference. For example, the locust plague and the other plagues of 
Joel 1, the judgements of Zecheariah 9 and Nahum 1 and 2, do 
translations show they are past or future? I accept that translators 
can  render passages which are ambiguous in an ambiguous way, but it 
is bad if this is done on the basis of a wrong understanding of 
Hebrew grammar.

I am in no way certain that the NIV translators translated the QATALs 
of Jeremiah 50, 51 differently as to time reference because they did 
not want to loose "the variation that the Hebrew itself has". I 
rather think it is based on their grammatical views. In Psalm 
107:3-41 the NIV renders most of the 25 WAYYIQTOLS, 12 QATALs, 22 
YIQTOLs, 5 WEYIQTOLs with past reference. In these verses it is 
difficult to view the different verb forms as having different time 
references, so all are given the same tense. Where is the Hebrew 

Best regards


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>Dear Rolf,
>>You are right regarding the NIV (and several othermodern 
>>translations as well) that QATAL is occasionally translated with 
>>simple future (but often rather reluctantly), something which shows 
>>that the translators felt they had no other choice. But why not 
>>take a look at the QATALs that the NIV translates by perfect and 
>>past tense and ask in each case: Is the event time of this QATAL 
>>before, contemporaneous with, or after the deictic center? Are not 
>>this QATAL also a prophecy about what would happen with Bebel? And 
>>in that case, why use past tense or present perfect? I had these 
>>chapters in mind (among others) when I spoke of "back-and-fort" and 
>>"hither-and-thither"- renderings of Hebrew verbs. And NIV is not 
>>the worst example, so please look at other translations as well.
>HH: Perhaps you are not a native English speaker, but what NIV has 
>done reads very smoothly and needs no amendment from my perspective. 
>English uses past and perfect verbs to express relative time. In 
>relation to an event in the future but past in relation to some 
>other future event, one can use a past verb in English. Furthermore, 
>some of the verbs can refer to events that can at least start at the 
>time Jeremiah writes (Jer 50:6). In 50:22 there is a verbless 
>clause, and one could supply a future verb, but a descriptive 
>present is also good, which means that the verbs in 50:23 should be 
>taken as perfects. This is very attractive stylistically. To flatten 
>out all verbs into futures is somewhat dull and loses the variation 
>that the Hebrew itself has.
>				Yours,
>				Harold Holmyard
>b-hebrew mailing list
>b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org

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