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

Shoshanna Walker rosewalk at concentric.net
Mon Jul 25 20:13:31 EDT 2005

What's a "verb FORM"?

Are you talking about "tenses"?


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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