[b-hebrew] Ecclesiastes 3:11

Martin Shields enkidu at bigpond.net.au
Sun Nov 18 07:39:26 EST 2007

Hi Yitzhak,

> But ?$r doesn't work in Biblical syntax in this way.  ?$r generally  
> stands between the subordinate clause and the main sentence, as a  
> connection between the two.  If the subordinate clause needs to  
> refer to the antecedent it uses the 3s pronoun. HALOT provides (in  
> the entry on ?$r) Is 5:28 and Ps 95:5 as examples of this.

This is often true, but is it always true? HALOT goes on to list  
examples of clauses with an antecedent referent but without any  
resumptive pronoun (e.g. Gen 2:8; Deut 1:39; Jud 21:5). It says, "so  
any word relating to a preceding noun may be omitted and the sense of  
the omitted element is inferred from the the context." Waltke and  
O'Connor list dependent relative clauses without resumption as the  
first use of אשר (i.e. clauses lacking a pronoun which specifies the  
role of the relative pronoun in the subordinate clause). They cite Gen  
3:3; 15:7; Deut 13:7 as examples. ISTM that there are other examples  
of a referential use of אשר without any pronominal element such as  
Isa 31:6; 47:12; Job 12:6.

> As far as "without", the general word is bl(dy, possibly prefixed  
> with m-.  A nice similar example is Gen 41:44.  Thus, to say  
> "without which" in normative Biblical Hebrew, one should write "?$r  
> bl(dyw" instead.  Indeed, if one replaces "mbly ?$r" with these  
> words, the sentence sounds a lot more "normal."

Except that אשר בלעדי never occurs in BH (nor does בלעדי  
אשר), so declaring it more normal sounding seems a little subjective  
to me. בלעדי itself occurs only 17 times that I could find,  
whereas מבלי occurs some 25 times with בלי alone occuring an  
additional 34 times (although not always with the sense "without"), so  
I'm not clear as to why you consider בלעדי to be more "normative"  
than בלי.

Furthermore, I made a very crude check on this to find that the NASB  
only renders בלעדי by "without" four times, compared to בלי  
which it so renders about 24 times. As I say, this is pretty crude,  
but it does make me question whether בלעדי can really lay claim to  
being the "general word" for 'without'.

> The use of "mbly ?$r" therefore rings of the sound of some foreign  
> influence, as if a speaker of a foreign language, very possibly some  
> IE language, tried to say "without which" but did not use the  
> appropriate Hebrew syntax, and used instead his own native language  
> syntax.

Where I differ here is that I think that בבלי functions as a  
preposition, and prepositions frequently appear before אשר in a  
clause. I'm also under the impression that Ugaritic does not always  
require a resumptive pronoun in the relative clause, and that's  
certainly less foreign than Greek. Nonetheless, Qohelet's Hebrew is  
widely recognised as somewhat distinct from standard BH, although why  
it differs is open to some debate.

All this is not to say that there are not some distinctive features to  
be seen in Qoh 3:11. ISTM that אשר is frequently found immediately  
after its referent, whereas if עלם is the referent here then it is  
separated from it. OTOH, את העלם has been placed in an unusual  
position at the front of the clause which suggests that the word order  
serves a specific purpose which probably explains the apparent  


Martin Shields,
Sydney, Australia.

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