[b-hebrew] Genesis 1:2 - And the earth was without form, and void

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Thu Apr 13 16:25:46 EDT 2006

On Thursday 13 April 2006 13:02, Herman Meester wrote:
> 2006/4/13, Harold R. Holmyard III <hholmyard at ont.com>:
> > HH: Schmuel doesn't know Hebrew well, so I will interject that it
> > seems misleading to say, as you seem to say, that a perfect cannot be
> > the first predicate of the Tora. There's no requirement that the
> > first predicate be in the imperfect consecutive. Actually, that seems
> > less likely to me. Am I missing part of your argument? If you claim
> > that many narrative books begin with an imperfect consecutive,
> > therefore Genesis must, that's inadequate reasoning. There can be a
> > first book of first events, so that an imperfect consecutive (which
> > marks continuation) could be inappropriate. While the objection to
> > the traditional view is that b-reshit cannot stand by itself as "in
> > the beginning," the objection to the newer view you present is that
> > bara would normally be expected to be an infinitive in the idea you
> > present. Also, the whole construction seems very complicated and
> > drawn out in Hebrew.
> The view may be called "newer", but still Rashi and Ibn Ezra gave
> their syntactic views hundreds of years ago. The fact "that the whole
> construction seems very complicated and drawn out in Hebrew" as you
> claim it, is unconvincing. Hebrew is capable of the same complexities
> as any other language; it is simply our lack of knowledge of Biblical
> Hebrew syntax. After all, the academic study of Biblical Hebrew
> started relatively recently.
> The idea that bara would be expected to be an infinitive is indeed an
> objection, but it is not necessary. A verbal clause as the second part
> of a construct is possible in Hebrew.
> About the perfect tense: syntactic study has shown that the perfect
> tense is quite often used in subordinate clauses in similar situations
> as here in Gen 1,1-3. It is not misleading to say that we would here
> expect an imperfect consecutive to be the first predicate.

Not really, because we have the prepositional phrase "in the beginning" before 
it serving as a temporal marker. This usage following a temporal 
indicator/phrase is even more common than its usage in subordinate clauses.

> The imperfect consecutive does not necessarily mark continuation,
> because the "and" part here is not a temporal marker, it only plays a
> syntactic role.
> As I said, this discussion will not come to an end, but I do not think
> I mislead Schmuel, in the same way that Rashi and Ibn Ezra don't
> mislead Schmuel.

Your statement that a perfect *couldn't* be the first clause in the book was 
in fact misleading, because it is not accurate.  If it's a "perfect" (qatal) 
it's a common use thereof, following an initial temporal clause/phrase.

Dave Washburn
Fame is fleeing, as good old Whatsisname used to say.

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