[b-hebrew] question

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Wed Oct 21 20:46:34 EDT 2009

(This continues a discussion of the claim that those who know modern Hebrew
will have a harder time internalizing Biblical Hebrew correctly. This
discussion was started off list, but I thought it may be a catalyst to
further discussion for the whole group, hence I brought it on list.)

To those of you who are just joining this discussion, what do you think of
Randall’s sentence below? Does it sound unnatural as it does to me? Why or
why not?

On Tue, Oct 20, 2009 at 3:55 PM, Randall Buth <randallbuth at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Tue, Oct 20, 2009 at 5:07 PM, K Randolph <kwrandolph at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Randall:
>  On Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 8:57 AM, Randall Buth <randallbuth at gmail.com>wrote:
>>> On Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 5:30 PM, K Randolph <kwrandolph at gmail.com>
>>> wrote:
>>> > Randall:
>>> >
>>> > On Sat, Oct 17, 2009 at 1:41 PM, Randall Buth <randallbuth at gmail.com>
>>> wrote:
>>> >>
>>> >> אם חפצתי לכתב את הספר הזה בשפת כנען עלי לכתב ככה ויכלנו הסיף עוד לשלח
>>> >> ספרים.
>>> >> יוחנן
>>> >>
>>> > I don’t know what sort of Hebrew that is, but Biblical Hebrew it ain’t.
> That is a rather decisive statement for someone who gets the details
> wrong below.
> We’ll see.

>> > It
>>> > feels stilted and unnatural, and I’m not sure what exactly you tried to
>>> > communicate. It reminds me of the Jehoash stone forgery.
>>> > אם אכתב יהודית, לא כתבתי כדבריך, כי אם כדברים הנמצאים בתורה
>>> מה לא נמצא בתורה, ומה לא הבינת
>>> יוחנן
>>> אם חפצתי לכתב while this is technically correct, from an informal survey
>> 90–95% of the verbs that follow אם are Yiktol, hence a Qatal sounds
>> unnatural.
> Well, real languages are not used according to statistics but according to
> context.
> Exactly, that’s why I did not say it is wrong.

> 1. You need to ask when אם is used with qatal. It is very natural biblical
> Hebrew.
> ‎2Kings 7:4
> ‏ אִם־אָמַרְנוּ נָב֨וֹא הָעִ֜יר וְהָרָעָ֤ב בָּעִיר֙
> וָמַ֣תְנוּ שָׁ֔ם
> וְאִם־יָשַׁ֥בְנוּ פֹ֖ה
> וָמָ֑תְנוּ
> וְעַתָּ֗ה לְכוּ
> וְנִפְּלָה֙ אֶל־מַחֲנֵ֣ה אֲרָם
> אִם־יְחַיֻּ֣נוּ נִֽחְיֶ֔ה
> וְאִם־יְמִיתֻ֖נוּ וָמָֽתְנוּ
> This brings up a question. This is a different use of “if” than in your
sentence above. Does one use of “if” take the Yiqtol, while another “if” a
Qatal? Makes sense if Qatal and Yiqtol refer to mode, rather than aspect or

> 2. You must also deal with the special semantics of Hafets. It is normally
> used
> in qatal/qatel in First Temple Hebrew.
>> All the sentences where חפץ as a verb is followed by a verb are Yiktol.
> Not true.
> I don't mind being corrected, but being corrected wrongly is silly.
> So what do you call Deut 25:8
> ‏ וְאָמַ֔ר לֹ֥א חָפַ֖צְתִּי לְקַחְתָּֽהּ
> I was looking at it in the context of your sentence above, where the
sentence opened with an “If” אם . I assumed I did not need to repeat that it
is in the context of אם that my claim is true. Your misunderstanding is what
I deservedly get for assuming too much.

>>  בשפת כנען The places I found where the languages are named, they are
>> used as in my example, found also in Isaiah 36. Where other languages are
>> mentioned as other languages of places, the word לשון is used, as in
>> Nehemiah. I don’t remember any places where שפה is used with a language of a
>> place other than in Genesis at the Tower of Babel, and then that everyone
>> spoke the same language, that there were no other languages.
> Well, if I had mixed synonyms, like safa for lashon, and produced something
> that was within normal usage but not actually attested, that would be fine.
> But in this case it turns out that your correction is wrong again, which
> makes 3 out of 3. batting 1.000.
> Is 19:18
> שפת כנען
> Personally, I assume that they used עברית back in the days before the
> kingdom split. It would not have worked to call the language of Barak and
> Yael "yehudit". `Ivrit is what the language users decided to call the
> language when not referring to the kingdom of Yhuda. And what would one call
> the language of Hoshea` (a northern prophet), israelit ? `ivrit is first
> attested in Hebrew in mishnaic Hebrew, but in Greek it is attested earlier.
> So not wanting to use the limited yehudit and not wanting to use the
> unattested but probably good `ivrit, I chose the attested sfat kena`an.
> “I don’t recall” means something could have leaked out of my memory banks.

This is a rather strange one. This is used only once. What did Isaiah mean
by that? You assume that Isaiah meant Hebrew, but did he? Or was it Aramaic?
Or yet another language? When taken in the context of Isaiah 36, where Judea
consisted of only a subset of the land of Canaan, the implication is that it
could very well refer to a different language. In fact, that’s how I take

As for the name of Hebrew until after Solomon, it could very well have been
עברית the same as what the people called themselves (cf Exodus 1). We lack

>>  עלי לכתב I would not know this phrase at all were it not for your
>> introduction to your teaching methods earlier on this list. I can find its
>> kind nowhere in Tanakh.
> You were already corrected on the list by someone else many a month ago,
> but see below.
> Finally, the structure עלי לכתב is biblical Hebrew and especially useful
> for speaking with people that may want to see heavy modal marking.
> `al על can be used for obligation in the Bible, but it is rare:
> 2Sam 18:11 ‏וְעָלַ֗י לָ֤תֶת לְךָ֙ עֲשָׂ֣רָה כֶ֔סֶף

This is the only example that is even close to your sentence, and then only
in form. Joab was under no obligation. But seeing as there was already bad
blood between Joab and Absalom, he would have been glad to give an
unobligated reward. Look at the total context, including the history of
relations between Absalom and Joab.

> ‏Ezr 10:12 כֵּ֛ן כִּדְבָרֶיך עָלֵ֖ינו לַעֲשֽׂוֹת׃
> 1 Ki 4.7  ‏חֹ֧דֶשׁ בַּשָּׁנָ֛ה יִהְיֶ֥ה עַל־אֶחָד לְכַלְכֵּֽל
> Gen 33.13 ‏וְהַצֹּ֥אן וְהַבָּקָ֖ר עָל֣וֹת עָלָ֑י
> (obligation of caring for [explicit nouns])

In these three examples, as well as other occurrences in Tanakh, there is a
verb, noun or phrase that indicates an obligation, followed by the על
indicating upon (merely as a pointer to) whom falls the obligation that was
already spelled out. You need to show the contexts. Your sentence does not
have that.

> Ju 19.20 ‏רַ֥ק כָּל־מַחְסוֹרְךָ֖ עָלָ֑י (similar, but in a volitional
> context)

As in the case of Joab, no obligation. Nor is it used in the same way
(followed by an infinitive verb) as your sentence.

> Ezra 10.4 ‏כִּֽי־עָלֶ֥יךָ הַדָּבָ֖ר (ha-davar `alexa)

Again different sentence structure.

>  Ps 56.13  ‏עָלַ֣י אֱלֹהִ֣ים נְדָרֶ֑יךָ

This is poetic, and I read it as a verb.

>> ויכלנו הסיף עוד לשלח ספרים This one has several things that are unnatural.
>> Part of it is that you are trying to express an idea that is nowhere found
>> in Tanakh, namely the exchange of letters as an exchange. ונוכל עוד להתשלח
>> אגרות is more along the line as I read the text.
> What is expressed in my note is the continued sending of letters with the
> recipients left implicit. You correctly read that it would be to each
> other.  איש את רעהו
> On your suggestion:
> you prefer a more volitionally marked ונוכל and want to leave off a final
> volitional ה? As you wish.
> But ויכלנו was already good biblical Hebrew as it stood. I don't think your
> track record above qualifies you to pass judgement on whether it is natural
> or unnatural.

In this context, I find myself naturally (subconsciously) looking for a
Yiqtol verb. As Rolf Furuli showed in his study, WayYiqtols are found in
present and future referent contexts, and this is the type of context that
calls for such. To find a WeQatal instead is rather jarring.

BTW, neither ויכלנו nor ונוכל are found in Tanakh (at least from a quick
electronic search), but נוכל is found without the preceding waw.

> Your own statement has chosen a Second Temple word for 'letter' iggeret.
> Fine by me. I didn't know how restrictive you were being with the word
> "Tora". You have shown a quickness to call 'foul' on things that are
> actually sound, so I used the preferred First Temple term ספרים.

You are right, I was using “'Torah” in its widest sense.

ספר “document” is used far more often in Second Temple Biblical writings
than אגרת indicating that it had a different meaning. In my
understanding, אגרת referred to a document with a specified recipient,
whereas ספר tended to be more formal and more of a general document.
However, there seems to be a large area where either term could be used.

אגרת is used to refer to letters written during late first temple era. Was
that the word used in the source documents from which 2 Chronicles was
extracted, or was it translated from a first temple to a second temple term?
We don’t know.

> As to your term  להשתלח, you wouldn't have known this,

Yes I should have, even though the hitpael infinitive of a verb starting
with a sibilant is used only 20 times in Tanakh. However, not once with שלח
in Tanakh.

> but the language itself chose

The language itself chose … nothing. People chose to use it in that way. And
this was recorded after Biblical times.

>  to use להשתלח in a more passive sense, something 'being sent away,
> rejected, sent off', and much later in an active sense 'to angrily criticise
> ב- against' in a modern idiom. For your intentions, the language itself
> chose to develop להתכתב for approximately 'to correspond, exchange letters'.

Again a concept that is not found in Tanakh. However, without your sentence
before my eyes, before I read your final paragraph above, I found myself
concluding that להתכתב is a more likely way an ancient would have rendered
the idea. This shows how I was influenced by your sentence seen only
once—how much more would I have been influenced had I learned and spoken
modern Hebrew fluently?

> And as a hitpa`el formation, the transitivity of השתלח, if the word had
> been developed in the direction you intended, would probably be lessened so
> that one would prefer to use ב-  'be-' to mark the means or less-transitive
> object, just like they did with the verb for 'to use' להשתמש בדבר 'to use
> something, lit: to use with something'.
> But this letter has gotten long and is in english. Kind of defeats the
> purpose of writing in Hebrew if one needs to explain choices and phrases in
> English.  I hadn't expected such a problem with someone who is more fluent
> in biblical Hebrew than in a mother-tongue ("as I am more fluent in it than
> in any translation").

People tend to think about certain subjects in the language in which they
learned them. Because most of my Biblical knowledge is in the languages in
which I read the Bible, I am more fluent in those thoughts in those
languages than in English or another translation. But the grammatical terms
I have learned only in English. Similar to how many students who come to the
U.S. to study do counting and basic arithmetic in their native tongues, but
calculus and advanced math in English.

> blessings
> Randall
> --
> Randall Buth, PhD
> www.biblicalulpan.org
> randallbuth at gmail.com
> Biblical Language Center
> Learn Easily - Progress Further - Remember for Life
>  Karl W. Randolph.

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