[b-hebrew] verb forms - Isaiah 56:6-7 was dying you shall die

Harold Holmyard hholmyard3 at earthlink.net
Thu Apr 12 10:46:37 EDT 2007

Dear Liz,
>>> Oh, I don't insist on anything but that verbs in Yiqtal be translated bytheEnglish future (and verbs in Qatal by English past tense), that's all I
>>> insist on. ...
>> Yes, but my main point is that this is not necessarily appropriate.
>> Rather often in biblical Hebrew YIQTOL does not have a future meaning,
>> but a past or present continuous one. Or at least that is my
>> understanding of the Hebrew verb system, although of course it is
>> controversial. The problem comes when YIQTOL in biblical Hebrew is read
>> as if it were the future tense in modern Hebrew.

Peter is absolutely right, except that the assertion is not even a 
matter of controversy. YIQTOL does signify the future in biblical 
Hebrew, but that is not all it does. It is the imperfective, and the 
imperfective might be considered appropriate for the future, since 
future actions are usually not yet complete. But the imperfective is 
also used for actions that are in progress or for actions that are 
iterative, intermittent, prolonged, or stative.  These can be in the 
present or past:

Judg 7:5: whoever laps with his tongue

Ex 23:8 a bribe blind officials

Gen 2:6 streams would come up from the ground

1 Sam 1:7 and so he used to do annually

1 Kgs 8:6 a stairway led up to the middle level

Since the YIQTOL may be a blending of two earlier verb forms in West 
Semitic, its older forms may even indicate a simple past:

Ex 15:1: then Moses sang

1 Kings 3:16: then two prostitutes came to the king

The YIQTOL has all sorts of modal uses as well, which call for helping 
verbs in English like "can, would, could, may, should, must, want, will.

The YIQTOL can also function as an imperative:

Ps 51:9: cleanse me with hyssop

Gen 1:9: let dry land appear

Harold Holmyard

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