[b-hebrew] Tenses - Deut 6:4

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Mon Feb 26 19:28:31 EST 2007

On 2/25/07, Bob MacDonald wrote:
> OK - ignore part of this question - it really was too obvious and I have
> been under the weather and slightly blinded with cold
> The ta suffix is exactly what I should have seen as expected
> But the perfect translated into English future which might be misread as
> commandment - this is a theological translation - right?

The future is due to the waw consecutive.  In other words, because of the
construction with a waw the "tense" becomes future even though as a
word alone it is past.

What about the imperative?  Is it a command to love God?  Can someone
order anyone to love anyone else?  This is philosophy and language has
little to say about theology and philosophy.  We can try to analyze what
the verse says, but I don't believe there is any "theology of tense".  Tense
is a grammatical device, and language is not theological.  Hebrew, even
though it is the language of the Bible, was the everyday language of
Judaeans and survived as an everyday language until as late as the 2nd
century CE and perhaps later.  Therefore, the theological statements of
the Bible have to be seen as theological statements being stated using
an everyday language using everyday non-theological constructions.

In this case, context can be very useful.  The verse prior is commonly
translated as "Hear, O Israel - Hashem is Our God, Hashem is One."
However, it can also mean "Obey, O Israel, Hashem, Our God".  The
word "and" then forms a relationship between the previous verse of
commandment to obey and the imperfect use of the verb "to love".
Thus, linguistically it means, "Obey Hashem and you will love God."
This lends itself much more easily to a theological statement -- by
obeying Hashem, you love God.  In verse 3, the word "you shall
hear" is paralleled to "and you shall observe to do it."  The meaning
"and you shall obey" for verse 3 is much more fitting the parallelism.
Similarly, in verses 1-2, the context is the commandments that are to
be observed and kept.  This lends further credibility to the interpretation
of the word "obey" in verse 4 as well.  Similarly, verses 1-2 and verse 3
both show a phrase construction whereby the command begins the
section and the reasoning ("to fear god and have long life" in verse 2,
and "to do well and increase mightily" in verse 3) follows immediately.
The above reading has verses 4-5 follow this same construction, again
lending credibility to this interpretation.

Furthermore, keep in mind that the Massoretic pointing is not
"demonstrably wrong often enough" although some list members
may like to think so.  It is only by studying them carefully that you
can gain further insight when an unexpected form occurs.  Also,
Mr. Fried's theories are controversial, unsubstantiated, and
unscientific, and are generally based on Modern Hebrew, not
Biblical Hebrew, even when he refers to Biblical verses.

Yitzhak Sapir

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