[b-hebrew] Prophetic Perfect? Jer. 50.

Bill Rea bsr15 at cantsl.canterbury.ac.nz
Sun May 23 22:24:32 EDT 2004

Liz wrote:-

>I hope that words don't flip-flop for you depending
>on the source.
>This reminds me of when my daughter was 2. She could read
>with great ease the children's book _Put Me in the Zoo._
>It was only when I saw that she could read those same words
>in the newspaper and in my journal articles that I knew that she
>was really really reading.

Nice insult, do you mind if I use it in one of my stories?

However, the problem we face is that it seems to me there is no solid
understanding of how the Hebrew verb system works. What Rolf is saying (I
think) is that the tense of Hebrew verbs is not fixed like a English
tense. In fact, I think the claim is that the Hebrew verb system doesn't
have a tense system akin to English (what Rolf calls ``grammaticalized
location in time''), but that the time reference in encoded in a different
manner. This is a far cry from words ``flip-flop''-ing their meaning. On
that score, yes, it is an indisputable fact that words change their
meaning depending on their context. Here's an example:-

A computer nerd said, ``... this allows you to surface data into your

>From the engine room of a WWII submarine, ``Captain, we need to surface
to recharge the batteries.''

The verb ``to surface'' doesn't mean the same thing in both sentences.
When I heard the first one the meaning was so different to past usage
it took me a while to figure out what surfacing data into an application
was all about.

But I digress.

I hope Rolf publishes a book length mongraph on his work so we can get a
really good look at it. It seems to me that translators have been aware
that the time reference of the Hebrew system cannot be consistently
translated into equivalent English tenses. So baffled by what they see
some have translated identical verbs into different English tenses
depending on the context with varying degrees with fluidity. Though its
been a few years since I finished my translation of Jeremiah, I can recall
very often wondering whether to use a past, present or future English
tense. That quandry appears to be shared by professional translators with
a much deeper understanding of Hebrew than me.

So when I wrote:-

>> It's interesting that I used so much present tense. I
>> certainly didn't understand this as past. Perhaps it's just a muddle.

And Liz replied:-

>Bill, accept it. All of Jeremiah was not written by one person.
>Read the commentaries.

She competely missed the point. I was refering to my translation as a
muddle, not the underlying book of Jeremiah. As for commentaries, I
used a number while working on Jeremiah, but my primary one was the
two-volume set by Halliday. As an aside -- why is the default assumption
that people on this list are ignorant?

Liz also wrote:-

>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?

You can't assume it's either. This just is a basic statistical problem.
We can assign probabilities and confidence and all that stuff but without
going and having a look you can't be certain. Unfortunately statistics is
a very poorly understood science. As one person said, ``All statistical
models are false, but some are useful.''

Even if you do all the stats on QATALs and everything else -- which are
past reference, which are future -- you still have to go and have a look
to be sure. But, of course, if you decide before you look that certain
Hebrew verb forms cannot have future reference there's no point looking or
doing stats.

Bill Rea, Information Technology Dept., Canterbury  University  \_
E-Mail bill.rea at canterbury.ac.nz                                </   New
Phone   64-3-364-2331, Fax     64-3-364-2332                   /)  Zealand
Unix Systems Administrator                                    (/'

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