[b-hebrew] Alleged "prophetic tense"

Rolf rolf.furuli at sf-nett.no
Wed Dec 5 15:47:52 EST 2012

Dear Jerry,

What is "a complete whole," and how, or in what sense, is it different from an "incomplete whole"? 

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
Onsdag 5. Desember 2012 19:15 CET skrev Jerry Shepherd <jshepherd53 at gmail.com>: 
> Hi Barry,
> My apologies about not replying to this query earlier -- lots of papers and
> exams to mark, amid other responsibilities.  But, in any case, here goes.
> (1) I am in basic agreement with you, and it seems most of the other
> respondents, that there is no prophetic past tense, per se, in Hebrew.
> (2) The idea of the prophetic past tense probably arises from the desire to
> make passages like Isaiah 53 pertain only to a future figure, rather than
> being about a more immediate personage in the author's own time and context.
> (3) Having said that, I am, however, not convinced that the Hebrew verbal
> system is tenseless.  To be sure, context is the real determining factor,
> but it seems to me that it can be appropriately stated that there is at
> least a general tendency to use particular verb forms to describe past
> situations, others to describe present situations, and others to describe
> future situations.  Wayyiqtol is overwhelmingly past tense.  Qatal is
> primarily past and present.  Yiqtol is primarily present and future.
> Qotel, when used as the main verb, is primarily present and future.  For
> these last two, I'd be hard pressed to say whether present or future is
> more predominant.  No one ever sits down and designs a spoken language, and
> I am not arguing that these verb forms were actually marked for tense.
> However, usage over time tends to fall into patterns, and I would argue
> these patterns of usage developed over time.
> (4) If, as seems reasonable, the Hebrew verbal system is best understood as
> being aspectual, we can still see how certain aspects would lend themselves
> to certain tenses.  So the perfect, understood as "action seen as a
> complete whole," lends itself to describing past actions.  So, perhaps it
> is possible for a prophet, when describing a future situation, to use a
> perfect form of the verb, and the use of that form would have been a bit
> jarring to the hearers or readers.  I wouldn't refer to this a prophetic
> past tense; but the use of the perfect could have a "certainty" or
> "wholeness" quality to it that would not be so easily conveyed by imperfect
> or participle.   Others may tell you I'm out to lunch on this one; and that
> may be the case.
> I, too, would be interested in seeing Rolf's comments.
> Blessings,
> Jerry
> Jerry Shepherd
> Taylor Seminary
> Edmonton, Alberta
> jshepherd53 at gmail.com

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