[b-hebrew] b-hebrew Digest, Vol 70, Issue 22

Bill Rea bill.rea at canterbury.ac.nz
Mon Oct 20 16:39:18 EDT 2008

Jim wrote:-

> Hebrew tense must be inferred from
> the context.  Here, the context is clear that a lot of things had happened,
> and 
> a fair amount of time had passed, before Lot made it to Zoar.  So the
> standard translations ?had risen? or ?was risen? seem fully justified.

There are far better grammarians on this list than I but let me just say
what you are doing is not inferring the Hebrew tense but inferring what
English tense to use in your translation. The majority, but not universal,
opinion is that Hebrew does not have tenses. That is not to say that it
doesn't encode time, it just doesn't use tenses to do it.

A more general comment -- you are asking the text to make some very fine
distinctions in time which was not the concern of the author. I expect
neither the writers or the translators considered the possibility that their
words would be used to try to decide between a 6am and a 9am destruction. A
translation has to make a lot of compromises. I have on occasion been asked
to translate something, found the person was hanging enormous theological
implications off what I'd said, so I changed my translation to avoid the
specific English words they wanted to have. I translated this passage some
years ago and this is what I wrote then:

23The sun rose upon the earth when Lot arrived at Zoar.

I think the underlying Hebrew supports this translation as well as the those
translations which use an English past tense.

Bill Rea Ph.D., ICT Services, University of Canterbury \_
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