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

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Wed Aug 29 13:29:10 EDT 2007

Dear Peter:

Thank you for your effort. It is enlightening, but I have a few questions:

On 8/27/07, Peter Bekins <pbekins at fuse.net> wrote:
> Karl,
> Here is my long awaited magnum opus on backwards gapping and our discussion of Proverbs 13:1.
> 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"
> or
> 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.

The d-element may also have been added to give some variety to the
words, so while the same message is given, it doesn't sound like mere

> ... 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"
Isn't this verse mistranslated? "To" is not found in the Hebrew. "To
give a hand", does it not refer to reach out for the purpose of
grabbing a hold of? Going from memory, can "Egypt" also refer to
Egyptians, hence can take a plural verb?

I see a gapping forward of a verbal phrase, NTN YD meaning to grab,
take, where Egypt and Assure are despoiling Israel, instead of the
other way around where Judea is reaching out to them for help. That
also fits the context of chapter five better as well.

> ...
> 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.
Yes, and the weakness that you spotted is valid. This is the same
weakness as in Psalm 94:3.
> One possible example that is cited is Job 4:10, which is read as a tri-colon:
> 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"
This comes up to the same questions that can be raised about Proverbs
13:1, Songs 4:8, is the first word a noun or a verb? If it is a verb,
then do we not have an example of forward gapping rather than
backwards? Taking the first word as a verb then results in a
syntactically correct poetic structure with forward gapping for the
verse. Otherwise, strictly speaking, there is no verb in the verse.

> 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",
I read GBR as a verb meaning overcoming, overpowering, and M)MC as a
participle used adjectively.

> 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(.
This can also be read as a abc construct, with the c made up of an
object phrase, instead of the more normal single word. Here the object
phrase is drawn out for poetic balance, with the contrast contained
within the phrase.

Asking Proverbs 13:1 to prove 18:2 is circular logic, as the reason
for citing 18:2 is to demonstrate the possibility of 13:1 being an
example of negative gapping.

> 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
Your tired fingers have earned their upkeep.

I say you have also done well to question your sources. Sometimes,
well, no,... a lot of times I think that grammarians like to make
mountains out of molehills, in fact, lots of them. This is especially
problematical in cases such as these, where we are not even sure of
the questions, let alone the answers.

The only clear examples of a backwards gapping is in vocative phrases
where it can be questioned if it is true backwards gapping or poetic

So far I have been presented not a single clear example of negative gapping.

In these cases, I think it is incumbent on those who claim that
negative and backwards (outside of vocative phrases) gappings exist
need to demonstrate unambiguous examples of such, proving a negative
is impossible.

I thank you again for your efforts, and they have been enlightening.
But they have fallen short of what I consider convincing.

With gratitude, Karl W. Randolph.

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