[b-hebrew] Backwards Gapping and Proverbs 13:1

Peter Bekins pbekins at fuse.net
Mon Aug 27 22:08:13 EDT 2007


Here is my long awaited magnum opus on backwards gapping and our  
discussion of Proverbs 13:1. Please excuse the length, I got a little  
carried away. You can skip down to the heading BACKWARDS VERB GAPPING  
if you would like to cut to the chase. Also, I would like to begin by  
setting up some of my assumptions about Hebrew Poetry. In no way do I  
mean to imply that these ideas are novel, but they may be helpful to  
others trying to follow my flow of thought.

Also, I never meant to argue that BN cannot be a verb, only that  
given the various options, my first intuition was that the verb  
should be $M( or LQX or QBL or something similar, which is to be  
supplied based on the second colon. I still feel that this is the  
better solution, though I will admit that I am surprised from my  
further research to see how few examples of such "backwards gapping"  
exist.  I am content to remain in disagreement, but I hope you have  
benefited from the discussion as I have.


Biblical Hebrew poetic structure is normally divided into lines which  
are further divided into cola. A line is generally comprised of two  
cola. A colon is subdivided into "elements" of meaning and the two  
cola of a line are normally structured so that each element of one  
has a complement in the other colon as described by the ubiquitous  
term "parallelism". A normal colon has 3 elements, but sometimes 2 or  
4. In the literature a line may be thus analyzed as 3+3, indicating  
that it has two cola of 3 elements each. The elements themselves are  
labeled alphabetically as a,b,c with the corresponding element across  
the seizura as a',b',c'.

In the classical period, poets evidently preferred a strict regular  
parallelism abc || a'b'c'. However, in earlier and later periods this  
varied. For instance, a fourth element could be introduced such as  
abc || a'b'd where d has no strict complement in the first colon, and  
as a result c has no strict complement in the second. This is  
sometimes labeled as incomplete parallelism or ellipsis and also  
includes unbalanced lines of 3+2 or 2+3 structure where no  
compensating element is introduced. Gapping is a type of incomplete  
parallelism where the poet relies on the reader to supply a missing  
element from the other colon. It is most often the second colon that  
has the missing element. Backwards/leftward gapping is indeed an  
issue of some debate, though I also found little written on it  
specifically (perhaps I can build this into a conference paper).

Freedman's short article from Bible Review (thank you David Kummerow)  
gives a good example of gapping from Is 1:3:

ידע שׁור קנהו
וחמור אבוס בעליו

"The ox knows his owner
and the ass the crib of his master"


a:knows          b:the ox               c:his owner
b':the ass        d: the crib of       c':his master

This is the most common use of verbal gapping - forward/rightward  
gapping. The synonymous parallelism between elements b:b' and c:c'  
allow the reader to supply the verb (a-element) in the second colon.  
Freedman argues that this is also a case of backwards gapping, where  
the d-element "crib" should also be supplied to the first colon.

"The ox knows his owner's crib, the ass knows the crib of his master."

It is the case in gapping that the new d-element can also be gapped  
backwards, but I am not sure about this example. It is more likely a  
ballast element to maintain the 3+3 structure. A better example is  
probably Lam 5:6:

מצרים נתנו יד
אשור לשׂבע לחם

"To Egypt we put out a hand
to Assyria to be satisfied with food"

The verb is gapped forward, and the thought of the first colon is  
grammatical but incomplete, in my opinion, without reference to the  
infinitival phrase in the second. If we follow Geller's suggestion of  
transforming the poetic couplet into a prose sentence, the full idea  
would be "We put out a hand to Egypt and Assyria in order to be  
satisfied with food."


The most common examples of "backward verb gapping" are like Song 4:8  
and Ps 94:3 which I gave earlier and to which I will add Prov 31:4a-b:

אל למלכים ׀ למואל
אל למלכים שׁתו־יין

"It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
It is not for kings to drink wine."

In these cases the "backward gapping" of the verb is anticipated by  
the use of the vocative followed by repetitive parallelism of the a  
and b elements. Cynthia Miller read a paper at SBL last year in which  
she concluded a vocative is often used to "hold the spot" of the  
gapped element. Thus in a backwards gap the vocative prepares the  
reader/listener to wait for the verb.

Of course, this is not the case in our example which reads much more  
like a standard 3+2 "forward gapped" line, just flipped backwards as  
a 2+3. In theory, it seems to me that this is not too great of a  
stretch of the principle of gapping, which is why I first considered  
it, but you are correct to ask whether this ever happens anywhere  
else. Therefore, I searched for an example where the first colon is  
verbless, but not a simple predicate where HYH is obviously the  
missing verb, so that the semantic content of the verb must be  
supplied by the reader from the second colon.

One possible example that is cited is Job 4:10, which is read as a  

שׁאגת אריה
וקול שחל
ושׁני כפירים נתעו

"The roar of the Lion,
The voice of the fierce lion,
and the teeth of the young lions are broken."

However, this reads more like a compound verb-final sentence. There  
is no c-element in the first two cola holding the place for the  
gapped verb. But, it does remind us that verb final sentences are  
possible so it is not a huge stretch to expect the reader/listener to  
sort out all the nominal clauses and modifiers before getting to the  
verb (unless the listener is Mark Twain).

Proverbs 14:26 is interesting because the verb is formally gapped,  
but it is a form of HYH so technically the first colon can be  
understood as as a simple nominal predicate. Still, I like the play  
on words between YHWH and YHYH:

ביראת יהוה מבטח־עז
ולבניו יהיה מחסה

"In the fear of the Lord [there is] strong confidence,
and his children have refuge."

That leaves MY BEST EXAMPLE of "backwards verb gapping", da, da,  
da... Prov 24:5

גבר־חכם בעוז
ואישׁ־דעת מאמץ־כח

"A wise man - in might
and a man of knowledge increases strength"

Most versions translate the first colon as "a wise man is strong",  
but the preposition B- makes B(Z adverbial not adjectival which I  
think precludes it from being a simple predicate (I am willing to  
hear counter arguments on this one). If the preposition was left off  
of (Z, then it would be a predicate read as "a wise man is strong",  
but as it is he has to be doing something "mightily". Unfortunately,  
the B- also complicates my argument since M)MC seems to be a piel  
taking a direct object in the second clause (since )MC is an  
intransitive verb), in which case it is not governed by B-. So M)MC  
cannot be supplied directly to the first colon exactly as it occurs  
in the second, perhaps just )MC (as a qal stative) like "The wise man  
is strong in might, and a man of knowledge increases strength",


Frankly, I didn't think I would ever find an example for this, but I  
just kept reading and lo and behold I found Prov 18:2:

לא־יחפץ כסיל בתבונה
כי אם־בהתגלות לבו

"A fool does not delight in understanding
but in revealing his heart"

Now, I suppose you could question this one because it does not  
demonstrate much parallelism. It is sort of abc:c' with "revealing  
his heart" the sort-of-parallel to "understanding" but no parallel  
for "fool". This is more of a sentence  with a compound object, still  
it is poetry and the second clause is not the object of the negative  
L)-YXPC but must be the object of an implied positive YKPC. The  
problem is that the KY-)M takes up the syllables needed for the  
second parallel element.  Also, I realize that KY-)M is a strong  
contrastive conjunction while our verse has the broader conjunction  
W-. However, the context of Prov 13:1 shows obvious contrast so I  
don't think it is too much to ask the reader to supply the positive  
verb for the negated L)-$M(.

Anyway, that is all I have so far, and I have to get back to actual  
school work so I probably can't pursue this any farther. If anyone  
has read all the way to the bottom then I assume you are interested  
in this issue. I would greatly appreciate any suggestions for other  
examples of backwards gapping, including from other ANE poetry, or  
bibliography on the issue.

With tired fingers,
Peter Bekins

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