[b-hebrew] Verbs

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Thu Jul 28 14:30:20 EDT 2005

Dear Steve and James,

I have already given an example of how the conclusions of my work can
influence  Bible translation, namely Jeremiah 50 and 51.  But since you ask
I will give a few more examples from Isaiah.

When I ask my students to translate some Hebrew sentences, they do what I
call "academic translation". As a contrast, when someone translates the
Bible, a draft is made, this draft is worked over several times, it is
discussed with others, field tests are made, and then the final translation
appears after much labor.

My examples below represent "academic translation," and is no final product.
They were made while I wrote this post, and the purpose was to give a broad
illustration of one side of Bible translation that would be influenced by my
namely the choice of English tenses.

Some time ago I was asked to give a lecture for a group of Bible translators
on the text of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, and this translation is an example of how
my grammatical conclusions lead me to choose English tenses (here
particularly future) different from most Bible translations.

Before this text is translated, the translator has to make a general decison
regarding the servant of YHWH, and here we see a clash between Jewish and
Christian interpretation. The minimum decision a translator must make is the
temporal reference of the text, and without deciding who is the servant, the
assumption behind my translation is that the text is a prophecy regarding a
future servant.  I indicate the Hebrew conjugations  in parentheses.

52:13 Look! My servant will act with insight (YIQTOL). He will certainly be
(YIQTOL) and elevated (WEQATAL) and exalted (WEQATAL) very much.

52:14 Just as many will be appalled (QATAL) at him - so disfigured is his
appearance more than that of any other man, and his form more than that of
mankind -

52:15 likewise he will startle (YIQTOL) many nations. Because of him kings
will shut (YIQTOL) their mouth.  For what had not been recounted (QATAL) to
them, they will actually see (QATAL), and to what they had not heard (QATAL)
they must turn their attention (QATAL).

53:1 Who will believe (QATAL) our message?  And to whom will the arm of JHWH
be revealed (QATAL)?

53:2 He will come up (WAYYIQTOL) before him like a tender shoot, like a root
out of dry ground. He will not have a stately form nor any splendor (nominal
cl.). We will see him (WEYIQTOL), but he will not have an appearance that we
should desire him (WEQATAL).

53:3  He will be despised (participle) and avoided by men, a man of pain,
who is familiar (passive participle) with sickness. He will be like one from
whom men hide their faces, a despised one, who we will not esteem (QATAL).

53:4 Surely, our sicknesses are what he will carry(QATAL) , and our pains
are what
he will bear (QATAL).  But as for ourselves, we will consider (QATAL) him as
plaqued, stricken by God and afflicted.

53:5 Yes, he will be pierced (participle) for our transgressions and crushed
(participle) for our sins. The punishment meanT for our peace will be on him
(nominal cl.). And because of his wounds we will be healed (QATAL).

53:6 Like sheep we all wander about (QATAL), each of us turns (QATAL) to his
own way. But YHWH himself will let our sin strike him (QATAL).

53:7 He shall be oppressed (QATAL) and afflicted (participle), but he will
not open (YIQTOL) his mouth. like a sheep to the slaughtering he will be led
(YIQTOL), and like an ewe before her sheares has become mute (QATAL), he
not open (YIQTOL) his mouth.

53:8 By oppression and judgment he will be taken away (QATAL). But who will
consider (YIQTOL) his decendants when he is cut off (QATAL) from the land of
the living?  It is because of the transgression of my people that he will
get the stroke (nominal cl.).

53:9 He will assign (WAYYIQTOL) his grave with the wicked ones, and with the
rich in his death, though he had done (QATAL) no violence, and there was no
deception in
his mouth (nominal cl.).

53:10 But YHWH himself will take delight (QATAL) in crushing him, and he
will cause him to suffer (QATAL). When he gives (YIQTOL) his soul as a guilt
offering, he will see (YIQTOL) his offspring and prolong (YIQTOL) his days,
and the delight of YHWH will prosper (YIQTOL) in his hand.

53:11 After the suffering of his soul he will look (YIQTOL) and be satisfied
(YIQTOL). By his knowledge, the righteous one, my servant, wil justify
(YIQTOL) many people, and their sins he himself will bear (YIQTOL).

53:12 For that reason I will give him a portion (YIQTOL) among the many, and
with the mighty ones he will divide (YIQTOL)  the spoil.  Because he will
let his soul be poured out (QATAL)  to death, and will let himself be
counted (QATAL) among transgressors.  He himself will carry (QATAL) the sins
of many people, and he will make intercession (YIQTOL) for the

Because I chose a future setting, most of the verbs have been translated by
future. If the setting is viewed as past, the same verbs would have been
translated by past, or sometimes by perefect.  This means that according to
my system, the conjugations have very little to tell us about the temporal
references of the verbs.  The temporal references must be construed on the
basis of the context.  The traditional way of translation leads the reader
through a confusing zig-zag journey, QATALs and WAYYIQTOLs are translated by
past or perfect and YIQTOLs and WEQATALs by future. For example, look at the
two last clauses of 53:12, where we find one QATAL and one YIQTOL. Many
modern translations give these two verbs the same temporal reference
(perhaps in most cases past reference).  But if a QATAL and a YIQTOL can
have past reference in these two clauses, why cannot the same be true
throughout the whole text?

More important than the conjugations are the lexical meaning/Aktionsart of
the verbs, the verb stems and the word order. for example, in 53:12 I
translate a Hiphil QATAL by "he let his soul be poured out"  and a Niphal
QATAL in a reflexive way (the old meaning of Niphal) by "will let himself be
counted". In 53:6 waw+YHWH occur before the verb, and I take this as
emphasizing the subject. Therefore I translate "YHWH himself".

The examples above relates particularly to the choice of tenses in the 
target language, but there are several other choices that can be influenced 
by my conclusions.

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

52:13 "certainly" - sentence initial YIQTOL,
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Steve Miller" <smille10 at sbcglobal.net>
To: "B-Hebrew" <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Thursday, July 28, 2005 2:06 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Verbs

> Rolf,
> Along with James Reed, I also would very much like to hear the answer to
> Hayyim's question. Could you give us 5 example verses? This would be much
> more meaningful to me than the current discussion. Thank you.
> -Steve Miller
> Detroit
> Very interesting indeed.  Can you give us an example of a verse which
> would
> be translated differently and thereby change our understanding of what it
> intends to tell us?
> Hayyim
> In a message dated 7/25/2005 4:37:07 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
> furuli at online.no writes:
> My  conclusions are radical indeed, because they in a way turn  of Hebrew
> verb grammar upside down. 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.  This relates  particularly to the temporal
> references
> of verbs.
> _______________________________________________

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