[b-hebrew] Michel on the Verb in the Psalms

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Thu Oct 1 08:00:13 EDT 2009

Michel on the Verb in the Psalms

vayyish`al Yosef
> Has anyone read Diethelm Michel's work on tense and syntax in the Psalms?
>If so, what are your assessments of his conclusions about the function of the
> verb forms.

I suspect that several on this list have read Michal 1960, but it may
have been a
while. I read it almost thirty years ago and had a chance meeting with
Michal in
1983 when we discussed it. At the IOSOT meeting in Salamanca 1983.
I gave a paper on poetic tense shifting in the psalms.
It argued that Hebrew allowed and appreciated a deliberate
play on verbal structure in Hebrew poetry, like switching between qatal-yiqtol-
yiqtol-qatal for poetry effect, not to mention many other tropes. Professor
Michal didn't like the paper, correctly perceiving that accepting such a poetic
phenomenon would undermine some of his dissertation/work. We had an
interesting talk. He wanted to speak German, was war mir schwer weil war ich
noch nie im Deutschland gewesen, claiming that German was more appropriate
for the discussion (because why? testing my German? It's a 'Semitic'
So I switched to Hebrew which was surely more appropriate for discussing
Hebrew. He immediately claimed that he could not follow and that
English was an appropriate compromise (my paper had been in English).
Anyway, he was not convinced, though it troubled him that several in the
audience were favorably inclined to the paper, one even praising it who was
noted for critical remarks. This paper was partially incorporated in
an article for
JSNT 21 (1984) "Hebrew Poetic Tenses and the Magnificat", 67-83. (Aside:
this article does have an unfortunate footnote that has led some to
my claim: "poetic variation...can determine the tense choice in Hebrew poetry
without requiring a different semantic reference in either aspect or
time", p 68.
That is overly dense and collapses what I actually thought, but it is tempered
with p 80, "Hebrew poetry sometimes uses a grammatical temporal collision
as an esthetic device. The clash of tense-aspects is real in Hebrew, but
acceptable as a mark of poetry." That is, the world/situation  itself may not
change [the so-called 'semantic reference' in the footnote], but the
of that world changes, and the change/clash of presentation is a real change
of mode of reference, the clash is perceived by the audience,
and is a poetic device in Hebrew.)

So, my take of Michal? He tried to come up with a syntax of 'poetic verbs'
that does not work on the whole language and therefore was a misguided
methodology. His lack of recognition of YIQTOL-QATAL poetic device meant
that he tried to finesse something that didn't need finessing.
He definitions also became overly psychological/philosophical, so that it
was not a system likely to have been used in real communication. I would
call it a no-tense, no-aspect theory. Perhaps faster would be reading a
summary in Waltke OConnor 470-475 (something not available in 1980),
with the caveat that I don't subscribe to Waltke-O Connor's general views
on the verb.

Randall Buth

Randall Buth, PhD
randallbuth at gmail.com
Biblical Language Center
Learn Easily - Progress Further - Remember for Life

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