[b-hebrew] Prophetic Perfect? Psalm 107

furuli at online.no furuli at online.no
Sun May 23 13:51:46 EDT 2004

Dear Liz,

When you ask me, I would guess the bird was a swan, because that 
would be more likely statistically speaking. But as a scientist I 
would not venture a guess. Because I am aware of the existence of 
white crows, according to your words, the birds could have been a 
crows as well.

Please note that my illustration was related to the all-proposition 
"all swans are white," and the falsification principle works in cases 
that are similar to all-propositions. To parts of the Hebrew verbal 
system the falsification principle can be applied. Please consider 
the following:

On p. 95 in the work "The Evolution of Grammar, Tense, Aspect, and 
Modality in the Languages of the World (1994), J. Bybee, R. Perkins, 
and W. Pagliuca states that simple past cannot express future events. 
This is almost a truism, and few, if any would disagree with that. On 
the basis of this we can make the following all-proposition: A Hebrew 
conjugation with the semantic meaning "past tense" will not have 
verbs with future reference. This means that if a reasonable number 
of verbs from this conjugation have future reference, the claim of 
the conjugation being past tense is falsified.

Waltke/O'Connor (1990:460) applies this principle to the Hebrew 
conjugations: "How can forms each of which "represent" all three 
English major tenses have a primary temporal value?"

And even more interesting, W. L. Moran did this to the Canaanite 
verbal system as witnessed by the Amarna letters in 1950 (Moran, W. 
L., "A Syntactical Study of the Dialect of Byblos as Reflected in the 
Amarna Tablets" (Ph. D. diss., The Johns Hopkins University, 1950) = 
Amarna Studies: Collected Writings (ed. J. Huehnergard and S. 
Izre'el; HSS 54; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003) 1-130.

Note how A. Rainey  (1996 II:6) in his four volume work on Northwest 
Semitic (Amarna) grammar endorses Moran's view (Rainey, A. F. (1996). 
Canaanite in the Amarna tablets : a linguistic analysis of the mixed 
dialect used by the scribes from Canaan, 4 vols. Handbuch der 
Orientalistik. 1. Abteilung, Der Nahe und Mittlere Osten, ed. B. 

  "Both transitive and stative forms could serve to express past, 
present or future meaning. The suffix conjugation did not, therefore, 
express completed action or state as taught by S. R. Driver 
(1892:13-26; Moran 1950a:34)."

We should note that Moran's QATALs, on which he drew his conclusions, 
were few:  122 with present reference, 33 with future reference and 
100 with past reference. On this basis he viewed Driver's claim as 

In many cases the distinction between semantic meaning and 
conversational  pragmatic implicature is difficult to establish. But 
Peter draws this too far, because there are many areas of language 
where the difference is clear-cut, as in connection with verbs. Of 
course, falsifying examples must have a secure foundation (textually, 
contextually etc), and even exceptions can be allowed if they can be 
linguistically explained. But the main proposition stands: A verb 
conjugation which semantically represents past tense cannot have 
future reference.

The fact that the infinitive absolute is used for narrative accounts 
in Phoenician, and to some degree in the Amarna letters, has no 
direct bearing on the falsification principle. But this fact 
illuminates the case with the WAYYIQTOLs from another angle.  If 
infinitive absolutes, which nobody would say semantically represent 
past tense, are used as the narrative verb form, then the WAYYIQTOLs 
neither need to represent semantically past tense, just because they 
in great numbers are used in narrative accounts. Why some say they 
cannot understand this simple fact is difficult for me to understand.

Best regards


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>The reference to white swans and induction is extremely interesting.
>Let us say that you saw 1000 white swans and 2 black ones.
>Further let's say that you saw 1000 black crows and (for argument's sake)
>two white ones.
>Now suppose I told you that there is a white bird out there.
>Would you assume it to be a swan or a crow?
>>  -----Original Message-----
>>  From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
>>  [mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Peter Kirk
>>  Sent: Saturday, May 22, 2004 2:23 PM
>>  To: furuli at online.no
>>  Cc: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
>>  Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Prophetic Perfect? Psalm 107
>>  On 20/05/2004 14:01, furuli at online.no wrote:
>>  >
>>  > ...
>>  >
>>  > 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. ...
>  >

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