[b-hebrew] VERBS. Was " masorete pointing v's LLX transliterations"

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Mon Jul 25 20:00:12 EDT 2005

On 25/07/2005 22:59, Peter Kirk wrote:

>On 25/07/2005 22:42, Rolf Furuli wrote:
>>Dear Peter,
>>I am sorry but I cannot comment on your arguments below.  Our views 
>>regarding linguistics and classical Hebrew are so different that I see 
>>no purpose in any discussion.
>Rolf, let me make this clear. I have stated that there is a fundamental 
>logical flaw in your argument, that it simply confirms your initial a 
>priori assumption (that there are two semantically distinct verb forms 
>rather than fouror five). This devastating critique basically implies 
>that your work is valueless. And you are not prepared to answer my 
>critique? That sounds rather like an admission that you don't have a leg 
>to stand on.
Maybe I was a little unfair to Rolf. After all, he has the right not to 
reply if he doesn't want to. However, my critique of his argument does 
not depend on our different theoretical standpoints. I would like to 
summarise here Rolf's arguments as I understand them, with some comments 
of mine in [...]

1) Many scholars have assumed that there are four different verb forms 
in Hebrew. From this assumption they have not surprisingly concluded 
that there is a fourfold semantic distinction. [This is fair comment.]

2) The evidence that there were originally four different verb forms is 
not entirely compelling, because some of the distinctions may be 
artefacts of the Masoretes. [I accept that the issue is not entirely 
provable either way.]

3) Although it is not entirely proved, an assumption will be made that 
there are only two different verb forms. [Is this true, Rolf, or are you 
actually claiming to have proved that there are only two different verb 
forms in advance of your analysis of all the verbs in the Hebrew Bible?]

4) On this assumption, all of the verb forms in the Hebrew Bible are 
analysed according to a complex and controversial linguistic model. The 
results of this analysis are that there are only two semantically 
distinct Hebrew verb forms, and that the distinction can be called one 
of "aspect" although it is different from the normal concept of "aspect" 
as defined by linguists. [The details of this analysis are in fact 
irrelevant to the argument here - although I dispute some of those details.]

5) The conclusions are reached that (a) there are only two semantically 
distinct verb forms in Hebrew, and (b) these have a certain "aspectual" 
significance. [But I note that (a) is simply a restatement of the 
initial assumption - at least, the number of semantically distinct verb 
forms cannot be greater than the total number of verb forms, although it 
just could be smaller.]

6) Traditional Hebrew grammar and most Bible translations are based on a 
model of four semantically distinct verb forms. Such a model is 
necessarily inconsistent with the "conclusion" (a) that there are only 
two semantically distinct verb forms. Therefore, "An acceptance of the 
conclusions would have a great impact on Bible translation, because 
thousands of verbs in modern Bible translations are in need of 
re-translation." [But I note that this final statement depends only on 
"conclusion" (a), for it applies irrespective of the precise semantic 
distinction which is conclusion (b). It also applies in the possible 
alternative situation that there are just two verb forms which are not 
semantically distinct.]

So, it seems that Rolf could have skipped his study of all of the verb 
forms in the Hebrew Bible, and saved himself several years. For his 
final result that "thousands of verbs in modern Bible translations are 
in need of re-translation" depends only on his initial assumption that 
there are only two verb forms in Hebrew, whether or not they are 
semantically distinct. Well, I suppose that exactly how they should be 
re-translated depends on the semantic distinction and conclusion (b).

Rolf, is this a fair summary of your arguments?

It seems to me, rather, that Rolf has proved that there are two 
alternative models for the Hebrew verb, one with four semantically 
distinct verb forms and one with two such verb forms. He claims that the 
latter, his own model, is internally consistent, just as the former is 
internally consistent. But his method can offer us no way of determining 
which of these two consistent models is in fact correct, because his 
initial assumption that the first model is incorrect implies that his 
method is incapable in principle of demonstrating this.

How can we resolve this issue? Well, looking at ancient translations 
e.g. LXX is likely to be very helpful, assuming that these translations 
are at least approximately correct. I have also attempted to argue that 
Rolf's model is not in fact internally consistent and so only the other 
model is possible. But that is not my main focus here.

If Rolf wants to overturn an understanding of Hebrew grammar which has 
become well entrenched for many centuries, he needs to do better than to 
come up with an alternative internally consistent model. He needs to 
prove somehow that the traditional model is wrong. And this is what he 
has entirely failed to do, because his method is in principle incapable 
of doing so.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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