[b-hebrew] Verbs, text-segmenting and clause-types

Harold R. Holmyard III hholmyard at ont.com
Fri Jul 29 09:49:39 EDT 2005

Dear Bryan,

Thanks for your efforts. I enjoyed reading the translation and 
considering the thought processes. Certainly you restored some of the 
variety in the verbs that we see in the original text. Putting things 
in the present tense was different for me and attractive in some 
ways. John Oswalt's NICOT commentary on Isaiah 40-66 stays in the 
past tense a lot of the time, which is traditional. Prophetic 
visions, of course, present the most unique structure for translation 
in that something may be described as past even though it has not yet 
happened, for it can be past in the vision. There may be more than 
one acceptable way to handle the verbs. There are so many things that 
could be discussed once you get into the details. I had some trouble 
with this line:

>Yet it is our sickness he is bearing

Here the verb is X-Qatal, but my training would not lead me to use a 
present progressive in translation.

One of the problems of using the present is that the person dies. So 
it is attractive to view the scene in the past, even though it is a 
prophecy. It is hard for him to grow, be despised, be punished, die, 
and perhaps rise again all in the present. Perhaps it is possible as 
a sort of prophetic historical present.

Isaiah 53:1 can easily be perfects or past tenses. Both the Vulgate 
and Septuagint handled the verbs this way, and both these texts show, 
to some degree, how ancients looked at the verbs. Admittedly they had 
imperfect insight. If the report of 53:1 is the report of the life of 
the man, much of a chapter 53 can be a review of that report as 
something disbelieved by many. This happened, then this, and then 

Actually the LXX and Vg use a variety of tenses, and they do not 
always agree with one another. At 53:4 the LXX used the historical 
present for the first two verbs ("bears," "suffers pain") and then 
shifted to the past for "we reckoned." Both the LXX and Vg both have 
a substantial dose of past-oriented verbs.

I will put a few comments in the body of your text, having only kept 
parts of it.

>First text segmenting:
>52:13-15 are the words of YHWH that are +projection, expressing YHWH's
>desire and predictions concerning His servant.  Accordingly, the yiqtol
>verb form in both the clause-intial and clause-medial positions plays
>heavily, particularly in main clauses.

HH: Agreed

>53:1-6 Here Isaiah is addressing his audience intimately and 1st plural
>forms run throughout.  The section is to answer the questions that it
>starts with.  It is neither telling a story nor making a prediction.  It
>is establishing the identity of the special man.

HH: I believe it is showing how and why the story was not believed, 
or why it might not be.

>You will notice my designations of the verb forms are somewhat different
>than Rolf's.  While he counts qatals and yiqtols, I count sub-categories
>of qatal and yiqtol according to their positions in their clauses.  For
>instance, I will usually consider yiqtols which come first in their
>clause to be expressing the speaker's desire, whereas yiqtol's that come
>   elsewhere than first are ambiguous.  X-yiqtols *may* express the
>speaker's desire.  However, unlike the clause initial yiqtol, they may
>express a one-off event in the past.  X-yiqtols usually express a
>prediction, a habit, or gnomic truth.

HH: I see words that precede the verb as giving those words special 
emphasis but not necessarily changing the force of the verb. There 
may be more than one way that such orderings of elements can 
function, however.

>52:13  Behold!

HH: I find this separated "Behold" unnatural, and it seems better to 
regard verse 13 as divine intent than wish. This is what will happen. 
He will prosper. He will be exalted. "Behold" often introduces such 
statements of fact. It can throw attention on the prophecy or 
announcement: 3:1; 7:14; 8:7; 13:9, 17; 17:1; 19:1; 22:17; 24:1; 
26:1; 28:2; 29:14; 30:27; 37:7; 40:10; 49:12, 22. And "behold" does 
seem to go well with a wish, since it ordinarily focuses the eye on 
some scene.

>May My servant prosper (Y), be exalted (Y), and raised (WQ), and highly
>exalted (WQ)!  14 Just as many are appalled at him (DCQ)--so marred is
>his appearance, unlike that of a man, his form, beyond human
>semblance--15  Just so shall he startle (XY) many nations.  Kings shall
>be silenced (XY) because of him, for they see (XQ) what has not been
>told them (DCQ); behold (XQ) what they have never heard (DCQ).
>53:1  Who can believe (Q?) what we have heard?  Upon whom has the arm of
>the Lord been revealed (Q?)?  2  So he grows (W), by his favor, like a
>tree crown, like a tree trunk out of arid ground.

HH: The "so" seems awkward here. It does not introduce the shift well 
but seems continuative. Maybe taking the waw as "for" would be 
better. It is an interesting question just how the waw is 
functioning, but it may just be opening a narrative section.

>   He has no form or
>beauty (NS), that we might look at him (Y); no charm that we might find
>him well-pleasing (Y).  3 He is despised (Q), shunned by men, a man of
>suffering, familiar with disease.  Like one whose face is hid from us
>(NS).  He is despised (Q).  We hold him of no account (IrQ).  4  Yet it
>is our sickness he is bearing (XQ), our suffering that he endures (XQ).

HH: This is another place where the past seems attractive. The 
narrator would not have understood at the time that the person was 
bearing his sickness, since otherwise he would not have held him of 
no account. By identifying with the people, the narrator more or less 
accepts that their valuation of him seemed right. But then to have 
the narrator not agree with "we" by his insight somewhat spoils the 
picture. It can be logical for the narrator to have such insight if 
he iooks back on a past scene, recording the general impression at 
the time.

>   We account (XQ) him plagued, smitten and afflicted by God.  5  He is
>wounded (NS) because of our sins, crushed because of our iniquities.  He
>bears (NS) the chastisement that makes us whole, and by his bruises we
>are healed (XQ).  6  We all have gone astray (XQ) like sheep, each one
>going (XQ) to his own way.  And YHWH visits (XQ) upon him the guilt of
>all of us.
>   53:7  He has been maltreated (Q), yet he is submissive (XQ).  He does
>not open his mouth (IrY).  Like sheep that might be led (XY) to the
>slaughter, like a ewe, dumb before those who have sheared her (XQ), he
>does not open his mouth (IrY).  8  By oppressive judgment he is taken
>away (XQ).  Who could describe his abode (XY?)?  For he is cut off (XQ)
>from the land of the living through the sin of my people who deserve the
>punishment (NS).  9  So his grave is then made (W) among the wicked, and
>with the rich in his death though he has done (IrXQ) no injustice and no
>falshood is in his mouth(NS).

HH: All these present tenses strike one as staccato (abrupt, 
disconnected) when there is so much shift in historical development

>   10  But the Lord chooses (XQ) to crush
>him by disease that, if he might make himself an offering (DCY) for
>guilt, he might see (Y) offspring and prolong (Y) life, and that through
>him the Lord's purpose might prosper (XY).  11  Out of anguish he will
>see it (XY).  May he enjoy it to the full (Y) through his devotion.
>May my righteous servant make many righteous (Y).

HH: Simple futures seem more forceful as divine declarations of what 
will be. I understand that you're trying to reintroduce variety.

>  It is their
>punishment that he will bear (XY).  Assuredly, I will give (XY) him the
>many as his portion.  He shall recieve (XY) the multitude as his spoil.

HH: XLQ ("divide, apportion") in 55 cases does not elsewhere take B 
with the object except perhaps at Job 39:17, where it might function 
differently: "He did not give a portion to her in wisdom." Also one 
expects $LL ("spoil") as the direct object. So the other 
interpretation looks more likely: "He will divide spoil among the 

>   For he has exposed himself to death (DCQ) and was numbered (DCQ) among
>the sinners.  Whereas he bore the guilt of many (DCQ), he will make
>intercesiion (XY) for sinners.

HH: That's an interesting attempt to deal with the verbal shift at 
the end of verse 12.

HH: You did us a service by putting our attention on a biblical 
passage with detail, and on a particularly moving and pregnant one. 
It was interesting to see the JPS if that's what it was, since you 
made many changes.

					Harold Holmyard

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