[b-hebrew] "Verbs and War Scroll"

Søren Holst sh at teol.ku.dk
Wed Mar 30 05:34:24 EST 2005

Sorry for the shameless self-exposure: I was asked on the G-Megillot list to say a few words about my dissertation "Verbs and War Scroll.  Studies in the Hebrew Verbal System and the Qumran War Scroll", which has been sort of semi-"published" in xeroxed format by the University of Copenhagen. As the subject matter is rather more linguistics than qumranology, I thought I'd send a copy of my answer to this list.

kol tuv


Thanks for your interest.

Whether it is, in the full sense of the word, a "book", may be a matter of definition: It's my dissertation in the exact form in which I defended it last summer (the opponents were Mats Eskhult, Uppsala, Bodil Ejrnæs, Copenhagen, and Emanuel Tov, Jerusalem). The university makes the theses publicly available in xeroxed form, quite nicely bound in a paperback cover. But I'm still looking into the possibility of perhaps publishing it in revised form in a more formal context.

To put it briefly (sorry about that, but I'm swamped with work right now, and quite willing to go into detail later), the thesis combines two interests: The perennial problem of the Hebrew verbal system (tense, aspect. modality, text linguistic aspects), and the relation of Qumran Hebrew to Biblical ditto.

Most work on the verbal system has been done on narrative, so I decided to work on a mainly discursive (instructional) text like 1QM, and by way of Biblical parallel, on the instructional material in Ex 25-30.

After a review of the history of research in the two areas mentioned, I analyse the War Scroll with regard to the function of different verb forms (yiqtol, weqatal etc.) in different clause types and different dicursive contexts (primarily: The military instructions as opposed to the prayers). 

I am attracted to the text linguistic school of thought associated with J. Longacre, A. Niccacci a.o., which sees the meaning of individual conjugational forms as not inherent in these forms themselves, but rather in their function in the wider discursive context, which cannot be determined on the basis of an analysis confined to individual sentences. According to this approach, the "mainline" of a text is marked by the "consecutive" forms (wayyiqtol in narrative, in a discursive text like 1QM, weqatal), whereas clauses with non-"consecutive" forms provide "off-line" material. The main-line may, I guess, be defined as that which carries the course of the text onwards - and the off-line as that which consists in background description, digressions and other comments etc.
In 1QM, however, we encounter long stretches of material with not a single consecutive form at all. But the idea of a text with no main-line does not seem to make sense, and more specifically, the passages in question give progressive instruction for the conduct of the sons of light, and so indeed do carry the main course of the text forward, or I'm much mistaken about either the theory or the sense of the text or both.
I do not think that by pointing this out I have proven the text linguistic approach "wrong", but at least for my purpose of analyzing 1QM, I find it productive to nuance the description of the working of the verbal "tenses" by focusing on word order (I pick up on work by R. Buth, B.L. Bandstra, J. Joosten and a few others here): The yiqtol and weqatal "in themselves" convey abolutely identical information, but the consecutive form is always clause-initial, the non-consecutive one never (hence the term "x-qatal" or "x-yiqtol" clause, where "x" indicates the clause element preceding the verb). As unmarked word order in Hebrew is V-S, a sentence which continues the present flow of discourse, and thus introduces no change of subject, will therefore begin with its verb, which by virtue of the clause initial position will be a consecutive form. This, however, is the typical state of affairs, not the necessity suggested in the text linguistic school. Whenever the author needs to (re)introduce material which is not presently at the centre of attention, the new material takes first position, and the verb, because of  moving to clause internal position, takes the non-consecutive form.
The preceding paragraph is basically my general conclusion on the working of the Hebrew verbal system. I arrived at it by looking for a reasonable explanation to the long passages with no consecutive forms in 1QM, and so my more specific conclusion as regards that problem is, that there are cases when the subject matter itself necessitates the repeated introduction of new non-verbal information in sentence upon sentence with no break in the main line as a consequence. - Thus, if we maintain than an x-yiqtol sentence of necessity involves a change in focus, a prolonged chain of x-yiqtol sentences as the ones found in the War Scroll must be regarded as a sort of "dotted" main-line, the "dots" consisting of short pieces of off-line discourse. It may be less cumbersome, though, to simply suggest that the existence of this phenomenon calls for a slight emendation of the text linguistic approach in this regard.
I'm pretty sure of the above explanation for the complete absence of consecutive forms in e.g. 1QM 1,16-2,14. More tentative is my suggestion for another possible explanation for a few such passages: Randall Buth has suggested that a succession of x-qatal clauses in narrative can have the function of marking "dramatic pause" (an example is Esther 3:15). The same might go for 1QM 1,8-15, where not a single weqatal form is used in the description of the defeat of the sons of darkness in the seventh round of battle after six inconclusive engagements (cf. also 1QM 16, 7-9).

To put the results into perspective, I round off the dissertation with a much more superficial analysis of Ex 25-30. This is not so much an independent investigation of that text, but more of a check to see whether what I found in Qumran Hebrew is flatly contradicted by Biblical Hebrew, and at least in that modestly-sized sample, it is not. I make no attempt at drawing historical conclusions from this.

The printed edition that the Orion Centre kindly registered in their bibliography, can be bought at something like $20 from the University of Copenhagen, but as they're not making a profit on it, I assume they can have no objections to me sending a Word of PDF-file to anyone interested.

Yours cordially

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