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

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Sat Jul 30 04:30:51 EDT 2005

Dear Brian,

I know you have a great knowledge of classical Hebrew and that you have 
worked diligently with the grammar for many years. Therefore, your 
suggestions deserve to be carefully considered. I see that your system is 
consistent, and several of your points ara attractive. I can not exclude 
your "libretto"-view. But it of course  very difficult to find clear 
evidence for it. My concerns, however, relates to the application of this 
view to Bible translation.

The German Hebraist Walter Gross once used the phrase: "Die Flucht ins 
Präsens" ("the flight to present"). This means, that when Bible translators 
have problems with the translation of verbs (e.g. different conjugations 
seem to have the same reference), they often end up with using present. 
Because present in English and other languages can refer to the past and 
future, the reader must find the temporal reference. My view of Bible 
translation is that the translators should refrain from exegesis as much as 
possible and instead whenever possible make a text that gives the reader the 
opportunity to do the interpretation. There may be situations where the 
temporal reference is ambiguous in the original text and where the 
translators will preserve this ambigousness. But in most instances it is the 
duty of the translator to make decisions regarding the temporal reference of 
the verbs and convey these to the readers. In other words, the reader should 
be able to in an easy way to find the temporal reference of a passage in an 
English Bible translation.

You choose present to a great extent, not because any "flight," but because 
you want to convey your views of the nature of poetic texts in Hebrew. 
Nonetheless, the use of present in your translation probably will have the 
same effect on the readers as Die Flucht ins Präsens, they simply do not 
understand the temporal reference.  You agree that the setting of Isaiah 
52:13-53:12 is future, and in my view, verbs in such a setting should be 
rendered by English future, so the readers immediately see the temporal 
reference. To use present to such a great degree as you do is not as 
confusing for the reader as the the zig-zag renderings of modern 
translations with past, perfect, present, and future renderings. But still 
the text is much easier to understand for the reader when simple future is 

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "B. M. Rocine" <brocine at twcny.rr.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Friday, July 29, 2005 6:49 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Verbs, text-segmenting and clause-types

Rolf Furuli wrote:

> I have acouple of questions:

I thought it was the job of everyone on the list to ask *you* questions!

> 1. Do you view the whole text as referring to the future, i.e. do you see
> each action as an action where reference time comes after the deictic
> center?

Interpretively, of course.  That is, it is prophetic.  But
linguistically, no.  The vision is "right there," "right in front of
them," so to speak.

I think, in both the translation and interpretation of Hebrew poetry,
not enough value is given to the text as a libretto.  I use the term
libretto loosely.  What I mean is that the style of a lot of Hebrew
poetry reflects an oral or performance tradition, perhaps as the
writers' unconscious preservation of a text's oral origin or as a
conscious attempt to honor the oral tradition.

I suspect many of these texts, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, were first performed
and later written.  It is often challenging to understand libretti in a
written-only medium.  They are stripped of tone of voice, facial
expression, gesture, musical or dramatic accompaniment, and all the
context that the performance arena can bring to a performance.  The
Slavic _guslar_ (bard) Halil Bajoric said of his story, "It has to be
said like that."  What he means is that the delivery of the song is
inseperable from its message. The _guslar's_ story is never only the
words; it is also the performance.

When it comes to Hebrew poetry, I think we need to explore the idea of
re-constructing the performance.  I think a text like the one we are
examining in Isaiah is begging us to reconstruct the performance by its
use of verb forms that are stringed together in a somewhat unusual way.

A skillful Hebrew _guslar_, as I believe the prophets and poets of the
Hebrews were, could deliver sections of our passage from Isaiah that use
a preponderance noun sentences and X-qatal clauses, such that he
describes a vision that is before him and his audience at the moment he
speaks but tells of things to come.  "hinneh!" he says to his audience.
  Do they see what he sees?  He will help them.

> 2. You imply that sentence initial YIQTOLs do not always express the
> sentiments of the speaker. If my understanding is correct, is there a way
> to
> know when it does and when it does not?

Actually, I would say that sentence-initial yiqtols rather reliably
express sentiments of the speaker.  It is the X-yiqtols that are
ambiguous.  If you would like to hear some ways to eliminate the
ambiguity with X-yiqtols, I will do it in another post.

Sometimes in Hebrew poetry, an element in a sentence has elided.  (The
elided element may be found in the parallel clause.)  As a result, a
yiqtol form may surface as the first word in its clause when notionally
it is actually preceded by an (elided) element.  In other words, even
though such a yiqtol appears to be first in its clause, it is not.

Bryan Rocine

> Best regards
> Rolf Furuli
> University of Oslo

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