[b-hebrew] A Jewish perspective on reading biblical hebrew

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Thu Nov 25 18:11:50 EST 2004

I must agree with both Noam and Chris' friend, but only to a degree. Modern
Hebrew speakers begin reading Tanakh at an early age, before they really can
have a grasp of grammar - modern or biblical. Think of an English-speaking
six year old reading the KJV. How aware is he of the specific differences
between the English he speaks and the English that the KLV uses? Sure, there
are some difficult words and expressions, but that's true of anything that
the six year old reads.
Most Israelis and Jews who learn Hebrew as a language of prayer and study
from an early age do not get far beyond this stage. Of course, their
vocabulary expands and so does their ability to understand the text, but how
many native speakers actually dissect every verb? You "know" what the text
means by its context and by being taught. Only those few who happen to study
biblical grammar at a university level are even aware of the issues, and
even then they seem more like nit-picking than really important for
understanding the text.
Specifically, the WAYYIQTOL form is called "Vav Hahippukh", "the inverting
Vav", which turns a future-tense verb into past tense. Now I know that this
is a very simplistic way of looking at it, but that's what we were taught in
fifth grade (or whenever). "Perfect", "imperfect" and so on are term that we
first learn when we learn English!
And as far as "And to Hannah he will give...", many Israelis tend to use
present tense when speaking of the past ("he tells me...") anyway.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Peter Kirk" <peterkirk at qaya.org>
To: "Noam Eitan" <neitian at nyc.rr.com>
Cc: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Thursday, November 25, 2004 11:32 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] A Jewish perspective on reading biblical hebrew

> On 25/11/2004 20:21, Noam Eitan wrote:
> > ...
> >
> >I'm curious what are the feelings of Modern Hebrew speakers on this board
> >about this issue. I have a vague impression that they have been
> >quiet on this thorny grammatical problem on this board, maybe because
> >Hebrew speakers don't experience any tension or cognitive dissonance when
> >following the tenses (if that's what it is) in the text.
> >
> >
> >
> But surely there are places where the Hebrew Bible simply doesn't make
> sense if all verb forms are read as if they were modern Hebrew tenses?
> Aren't there? Can anyone suggest any examples? Perhaps 1 Samuel 1:5: is
> this understood as "And to Hannah he will give..."?
> And what do modern Hebrew speakers make of WAYYIQTOL and WEQATAL forms?
> I assume they cannot understand these simply as future and past
> respectively, plus the conjunctions. That approach would certainly lead
> to cognitive dissonance, not least in putting most of the historical
> events of the Bible into the future!
> --
> Peter Kirk
> peter at qaya.org (personal)
> peterkirk at qaya.org (work)
> http://www.qaya.org/
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> b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
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