[b-hebrew] Prophetic Perfect? Psalm 107

furuli at online.no furuli at online.no
Thu May 20 17:01:05 EDT 2004

Dear Vadim,

With all due respect for your scholarship, your argument reminds me 
of the case of H. Birkeland and F.R. Blake in the middle of the 20th 
century. Both were strong proponents for the view that WAYYIQTOL 
always signals past tense, but they both had the same problem. 
Looking at grammatical works discussing the topic, each of them found 
about 150 cases in these books (the same cases) which contradicted 
their view (today this number has grown to 1.000). But because both 
were absolutely certain that WAYYIQTOL *was* past tense, and nothing 
but past tense, they had to explain the contradictory cases. Both 
were able to show that the 150 cases did not contradict their view, 
but what is interesting, is to compare their reasoning. Birkeland 
argued that all the examples (except possibly three) were real 
Preterits, but Blake concluded that most of the examples were not 
preterits, but that they were wrongly pointed. their results were 
given before they started their consideration of the 150 examples.

To ignore the examples that contradict one's view with the argument 
that they are errors, does not recommend itself as a good scientific 
method. Errors will occur, but they must be shown to be errors on the 
basis of a scientific analysis. If you have studied the Philosophy of 
science, you should be familiar with the problem of induction; one 
million white swans do not prove that all swans are white, but two 
black swans, who are not dyed or have gone through a fire, will 
falsify the hypothesis. Thus, the 1.000 non-past WAYYIQTOLs are a 
stronger basis for saying that WAYYIQTOL is not semantically speaking 
past tense than the 12.000 WAYYIQTOLs occurring in past narratives. 
The verb form used in past narrative *must* per definition have past 
reference, and we cannot know whether this pas reference is pragmatic 
or semantic. How should we for instance view the infinitive absolutes 
that are used as the narrative verbs in Phoenician, e.g. in the 
Karatepe inscription. By traditional logic, these should also be 
preterits, but nobody would say so.

So I think it is better to ask yourself: Where have a learned that 
the Hebrew conjugations are tenses? Have I read it in textbooks that 
I trust? Or have I made a personal inductive study of a great part, 
or of all the Classical Hebrew corpus with this conclusion as a 
result? How can I be certain that my view is correct?

Prepositions are notoriously ambiguous in any language, and I not 
seen evidence for "loose usage" of Hebrew prepositions (if you by 
"loose usage" means a use that contradicts lexicon or syntax). Again 
I think it is your preconceived ideas about prepositions that are 
wrong and not their use in the corpus.

Best regards


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>Dear Ken,
>Tanakhic grammar is not always strict.
>There is a certain percentage of incorrect or loose usage of prepositions -
>and, certainly, of the verb tenses. I guess you would encounter about the
>same ratio of errors both in the simple tenses in in wa's and we's. These
>are the scribal errors, not refutation of the tenses. I don't think medieval
>English always uses tenses correctly, but you won't argue on existense of
>tenses there.
>Vadim Cherny

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