[b-hebrew] The translation of ehyeh

Harold R. Holmyard III hholmyard at ont.com
Thu Aug 4 15:42:57 EDT 2005

Dear Bryan,

>  > HH: To me this is odd translation, taking the same verb and giving it
>>  two different interpretations within three words.
>You are seeing the neatness of the Niccacci model.

HH: It's not so neat in what you showed me. I just gave evidence that 
the foundation for his argument does not hold up. The foundational 
information he gave was incorrect or misleading.

>  To him, the type of
>clause and the position within the clause are critical to understanding
>the meaning of a verb form.  It would be great, if you would want to
>learn more about Niccacci to read his "A Neglected Point of Hebrew
>Syntax: _yiqtol_ and position in the sentence." Liber Anus (1987)
>39:310-327.  It may be available on the net.

HH: Thanks, but I am more persuaded by another Hebrew usage that has 
a present or future in the verb after the relative. "Bake what you 
want to bake" (Ex. 16:23). This is the only example I can think of 
offhand, and not exactly the same in structure, but the idea is that 
the person does what he chooses. So "I am what I am" can imply the 
idea of God being whatever the He feels the situation calls for, an 
idea raised by Shoshanna and confirmed by you.

HH: Here is a good note from the NET Bible that does not touch on 
that idea but favors the present rather than the future for 'ehyeh 

The verb form used here is ('ehyeh), the Qal imperfect, first person 
common singular, of the verb "to be," hyh (haya). It forms an 
excellent paronomasia with the name. So when God used the verb to 
express his name, he used this form saying, "I AM." When his people 
refer to him as Yahweh, which is the third person masculine singular 
form of the same verb, they say "he is." Some commentators argue for 
a future tense translation, "I will be who I will be," because the 
verb has an active quality about it, and the Israelites lived in the 
light of the promises for the future. They argue that "I AM" would be 
of little help to the Israelites in bondage. But a translation of "I 
will be" does not effectively do much more except restrict it to the 
future. The idea of the verb would certainly indicate that God is not 
bound by time, and while he is present ("I AM") he will always be 
present, even in the future, and so "I AM" would embrace that as well 
(see also Ruth 2:13; Ps 50:21; Hos 1:9). The Greek translation used a 
participle to capture the idea; and several times in the Gospels 
Jesus used the powerful "I am" with this significance. The point is 
that Yahweh is sovereignly independent of all creation and that his 
presence guarantees the fulfillment of the covenant (cf. Isa 41:4; 
42:6, 8; 43:10-11; 44:6; 45:5-7). Others argue for a causative Hiphil 
translation of "I will cause to be," but nowhere in the Bible does 
this verb appear in Hiphil or Piel. A good summary of the views can 
be found in G. H. Park-Taylor, hwhy, Yahweh, the Divine Name in the 
Bible (Waterloo, Ontario, 1975). See among the many articles: B. 
Beitzel, "Exodus 3:14 and the Divine Name: A Case of Biblical 
Paronomasia," TJ 1 (1980): 5-20; C. D. Isbell, "The Divine Name ehyeh 
as a Symbol of Presence in Israelite Tradition," HAR 2 (1978): 
101-18; J. G. Janzen, "What's in a Name? Yahweh in Exodus 3 and the 
Wider Biblical Context," Int 33 (1979): 227-39; J. R. Lundbom, "God's 
Use of the Idem per Idem to Terminate Debate," HTR 71 (1978): 
193-201; A. R. Millard, "Yw and Yhw Names," VT 30 (1980): 208-12; and 
R. Youngblood, "A New Occurrence of the Divine Name 'I AM,'" JETS 15 
(1972): 144-52. 

>In summary, a yiqtol in first position (the first ehyeh) is volitional,
>but yiqtol in a dependent clause (the second ehyeh) expresses future or
>habitual past.

>I have studied all the weyiqtols in the Tanakh as a means of testing
>Niccacci's claims about clause-initial yiqtols and found them to be 98%
>volitional or ambiguous (IOW only 2% clear counter-examples).

HH: Oh, so you mean if the YIQTOL is the very first word in the 
clause, it will be volitional. I really do not know how important 
that idea is to this argument, even if it is right, since one might 
argue that there is a volitional element even if both 'ehyeh verbs 
are translated as present (or future). The particular usage I 
suggested indicates to me that a YIQTOL after a relative can have a 
volitional element (even though I can't find a good example right 

					Harold Holmyard

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