[b-hebrew] Basic observations on WAYYIQTOL

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Thu Aug 18 20:08:45 EDT 2005

On 8/18/05, Peter Kirk wrote:
[quoting me on Genesis 18:7]
> >
> >And thank you for the correction, but is the form in 18:7 really QATAL and
> >not a participle?
> Could be either, I agree. But my instinct that it is QATAL is confirmed
> by BDB which lists this as the only example of "perfect" 3ms of this verb.
> If it was a participle, it would have to mean that Abraham was already
> running when he spoke to Sarah. Possible I suppose as we read in v.6
> that he hurried into the tent, although this really makes sense only if
> it was a rather large tent with two entrances, which seems improbable.

I think you are applying too much logic here.  If we read this as participle,
it would indeed imply that Abraham was already running.  However, if we
for a moment suppose a "comic strip scenario," we can imagine Abraham
being drawn outside the tent running, "air current lines" leading spirally into
the tent, and him calling out to Sarah, "Hurry!  Prepare the food."  We
wouldn't begin to analyze the comic strip scenario for logic regarding the
size of the tent.  And so I doubt we should do so here.  Indeed, if we use
just the semantics of the words and the context to determine the meaning,
we can never achieve the image of "the comic strip scenario."  And what 
does this scenario add?  Well, such a scenario continues the hurried 
motion in which Gen 18:6 starts.  We might otherwise think that Abraham
hurried inside, caught his breath, calmly told Sarah to hurry up, then
ran to the cattle.  It's not that we couldn't guess this beforehand but if we
had any doubts, the contrast between the verb forms in such a reading 
and the semantics of the words themselves emphasizes that Abraham had
no chance to "catch his breath."

One concordance of mine lists this along with 1 Sam 20:36 as instances of
QATAL RaC.  But both here and I think also in 1 Sam 20:36 a participle
meaning is acceptable.  This would leave no instances of QATAL RaC.
Perhaps there weren't any such instances in Biblical Hebrew usage.  I don't
think we have a large enough data set to tell.  But I think the presence of
7 participle RaC against 2 cases of "maybe participle maybe qatal" RaC
seem to suggest that the reading in those two cases is participle as well.

[now continuing from your earlier message]
> The interesting point, however, is that this QATAL is not apparently a past 
> perfect preceding the previous WAYYIQTOL, as presumably Abraham told 
> Sarah what to do before running off. 

Rubinstein wouldn't necessitate that QATAL is past perfect in such a case.
In some cases Rubinstein holds that QATAL is used simply for past since
WAYYIQTOL is prevented due to the Biblical author wanting to emphasize
something in the verse.  In this case it seems clear that the Biblical author
wanted to emphasize the cattle, as the cattle comes first and we would
normally expect either WaYYaRaC Abraham or W:Abraham RaC.
Rubinstein also accepts some cases as ambiguous in regards to whether
the Biblical author wanted to emphasize something or whether the
Biblical author wanted to indicate past perfect.  A case he brings is Gen 
1:1.  If read as past perfect, it would indicate that prior to
creation, the world
was chaotic, and the "creation" of Gen 1:1 is the placing of order among the
chaos.  If read as emphasis, it comes to emphasize the earth: "And as for
the earth, it was chaotic."  (And he doesn't say this, but I guess if it wanted 
to say simply "And the earth was chaotic" referring to the state that the earth 
was in as God created it, the verse would have dropped HYTH?)  In any case, 
Gen 18:7 would be a different case of ambiguity (if you accept the "comic strip 
scenario" I suggested above as acceptable semantics): if we know for certain
there is emphasis, we can't be sure if the QATAL comes to indicate past 
perfect or a simple past that follows in sequence to the previous verb.

Yitzhak Sapir

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