Some Fun with Biblical Hebrew for Real Communication

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Re: Some Fun with Biblical Hebrew for Real Communication

Postby kwrandolph » Mon Dec 30, 2013 2:47 am

Ben Putnam wrote:
Karl Randolph wrote:That is a pattern that is not Biblical, but it is modern. I’m quite honest with the group that I don’t know modern Hebrew, other than that it’s a tense based language — the participle is used for the present tense, the Qatal for the past tense, and the Yiqtol for the future tense. So when I see a whole slew of sentences with all having participles for verbs, my first thought is “Modern Hebrew!”

No need to cry, "Modern Hebrew!" if biblical Hebrew uses participles for immediate, present, concurrent situations as well, which it does.

But less often than Qatals for the same use (as far as translation is concerned).

Ben Putnam wrote:A note on frequency versus usage. You have mentioned frequency of participles a few times as if that simply by itself were a determining factor of what is and is not biblical Hebrew.

The question is the frequency of participles in indicative, present tense conversations quoted in the text.

Ben Putnam wrote: Have you ever considered that perhaps the reason you don't see "a whole slew of sentences" in the tana"x with participles for present tense is that there are not too many sections of the text where "a whole slew" of true present tense verbs would be needed? In other words, usage is what is important here, not frequency. In much of the text there are past time narratives ("He went here, and did this, and said this," etc.) and future situations ("I will do this") being discussed. We should not expect to see as many strings of true presents ("She is [currently] saying this, and doing this, and going there") in literary works such as these. But that is something we should naturally expect in everyday interactions.

There are more than I expected, as I read the text specifically looking for conversations in the text.

Ben Putnam wrote: Examples (in English) follow.


English is a different language, where the present practice is more and more in favor of using participles for present tense, indicative sentences. Many times is makes for a smoother flow of the language.

Ben Putnam wrote:
Karl Randolph wrote:Biblical Hebrew, on the other hand, doesn’t conjugate for time; neither tense nor aspect. Qatal is used for future and present as well as past, participles are used for past and future as well as present events, and Yiqtols are used for past and present as well as future.

This confuses the data. Also, the question is not "What all can a participle do?" or "What is every possible function that a qatal can have, or a yiqtol?" but "What is used to mark an immediate, present, concurrent situation?" The answer to this question is "a participle."

In order for it to indicate the present tense as in modern Hebrew, it needs to 1) exclusively be used in present tense situations, and 2) be the majority, if not only, form used in present tense, indicative conversations. Neither case is true, as can be shown by a survey of such sentences actually recorded in Tanakh.

Ben Putnam wrote:The examples you have given do not get at this question, as I will demonstrate below.

Karl Randolph wrote:
Ben Putnam wrote:It is interesting to note here that your suggestion, יש כלב ומרכבה, and the implication for my text, יש פרה ובית,

Actually you wrote יש פרה ויש בית and my suggestion here was for a smoother reading.

This is a misunderstanding. I said, "the implication for my text," not "my text" itself. In other words, if I applied your suggestion to my text it would have been written יש פרה ובית. It is a smoother reading, yes, though the original was not wrong. And my point was that your suggestion is also good modern Hebrew. Sometimes good biblical Hebrew also happens to be good modern Hebrew. And this similarity does not make the biblical Hebrew utterance "modern." In other words, no one is saying the dialects are identical, but one can notice a similarity without crying "Modern Hebrew!"

This is a misunderstanding. In answering a posting while quoting the previous message point by point, in this case an unrelated case was mentioned. I should have answered this case out of sequence to make it clear that this was not related to the other sentences upon which I was commenting.

Ben Putnam wrote:
Karl Randolph wrote:I should know. It’s taken me decades to get to where I’m at in Biblical Hebrew.

Let the reader recognize that these kinds of personal comments are merely anecdotal and cannot serve as real evidence.

It wasn’t intended to be evidence, rather encouragement to study more, that learning continues long after formal classes.

Ben Putnam wrote: It is possible for a person to cement wrong conceptions of a language into their mind through repeated misuse over the course of twenty or forty years. And it is always helpful to take one's theories out for a test drive with the data.

And what do you think I’m doing on this list? If not presenting what I think and inviting my thoughts to be shot down?

Ben Putnam wrote:
Karl Randolph wrote:Just dealing with present event sentences, we can see the use of the Qatal for present actions:

We will see. I'm going to number these for clarity. In biblical Hebrew, the participle is used for immediate, present, concurrent situations. It will become apparent that the examples you listed do not demonstrate that qatal is used for these types of situations.

Karl Randolph wrote:Genesis 4:6 למה חרה לך ולמה נפלו פניך Why is there anger to you and why is your face fallen?

I see this as present perfect. "Why have you become angry, and why has your face fallen?"

By your admission still present tense, as Biblical Hebrew didn’t have a present perfect as does English. Present perfect is still present, as it deals with something that may have started in the past but continues in the present.

Ben Putnam wrote:Unambiguous examples are what are needed for you to demonstrate your theory that qatal marks immediate, present, concurrent situations. This first example is not unambiguous, so it doesn't work as evidence.

Another reason it doesn't work for evidence is it's a question. According to Buth (see reference below), questions can be a special register and are often seen with yiqtol in present situations. For example:

Genesis 37:15
What are you looking for?
(What would you be looking for?)

You will need to find some examples that are unambiguous. In order to be unambiguous, they need to meet the following criteria (criteria borrowed from Buth, the linguist, at ... 38853.html).

a. No questions
b. No poetry
c. No habitual/omnitemporal/timeless (including negations)

See the link above for the reasons these restrictions are necessary.

Of the three rules, exceptions, you have here, these are to make sure that one deals with conversations only. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t present tense, indicative sentences in questions, poetry or habitual, onmitemporal or timeless statements. An example is Proverbs 31:10–31 which is poetry and habitual/omnitemporal/timeless, which is, except for its first verse, Qal, indicative, present tense throughout, but not referenced in this thread as it isn’t a conversation.

Also look at “c. No habitual/omnitemporal/timeless (including negations)”, “(including negations)” is part of “No habitual/omnitemporal/timeless”, not a stand-alone argument.

As far as questions, they can refer to present tense, indicative sentences as well as statements are such, but many are not therefore will often use Yiqtols to indicate other moods.

Ben Putnam wrote:2.
Karl Randolph wrote:Genesis 4:9 לא ידעתי I do not know

In my understanding, the definite tense-aspect ידעתי here indicates decisiveness and functions as a 'perfect', while masking/suppressing its capability for carrying a past time feature. In other words, Cain's main point is not that his lack of knowledge occurs in the present time; rather his main point is the lack of knowledge itself. Thus, qatal fits nicely here.

See Buth's "A Short Syntax of the Hebrew Verb" in Living Biblical Hebrew: Selected Readings with 500 Friends (2008), where he gives more information on qatal as present perfect. He explains, "It is common to use the past tense, i.e., the definite tense-aspect, for states that are already completed. This usage is especially common with mental states, such as remembering and knowing." See as examples Numbers 11:5 זָכַ֙רְנוּ֙ אֶת־הַדָּגָ֔ה "we remember the fish" ("we have remembered the fish"), Genesis 12:11 יָדַ֔עְתִּי כִּ֛י אִשָּׁ֥ה יְפַת־מַרְאֶ֖ה אָֽתְּ "I know you are a woman beatiful to behold" ("I have known . . .").

Buth is wrong here. He starts with the presupposition that Qatal must refer to past tense in the same manner as modern Hebrew, therefore these examples must be some twisted form of past tense. What many of these refer to is knowing, remembering that is occurring at the time the statement is made, hence present tense. (Off the top of my head I remember no exceptions that such uses are examples are present tense, but to be careful I say “many”.)

I noticed that knowing is the most common unambiguous Qatal use in the present tense, but there are other verbs as well. The emphasis here is unambiguous, as many conversations use forms that could be pointed as either Qatal or participle.

I was taught in class that Qatal refers to past tense. But when I read Tanakh through many times I found so many exceptions that it was obvious that what I was taught in class could not be accurate. Rolf Furuli in his dissertation adds a disciplined study with statistics that shows the same thing. Therefore what Randall Buth said cannot be accurate. Reading Tanakh forced me to think outside the box of what I was taught.

Ben Putnam wrote:This is also a negation, so it doesn't work for evidence.

A negation can be just as much a present tense, indicative sentence as a positive, so the negation in and of itself doesn’t invalidate this example.

The rules you gave above have negation as part of “c. No habitual/omnitemporal/timeless (including negations)”. This example is not “habitual/omnitemporal/timeless”, rather just a simple, indicative statement (though a lie). The negative is not separate from “habitual/omnitemporal/timeless” in the rule above.

Ben Putnam wrote:
Karl Randolph wrote:Genesis 26:27 ואתם שנאתם אתי and you hate me

This is not a present situation but a past one. The gloss should read, "and you hated me." This is evident from the story. Isaac had previously been sent away from Abimelech (see verse 16), and now Isaac is recalling this incident from the past: "you hated me," (past tense).

Look at the context. Abimelech and his men came to Isaac and he asks them why they are coming to him when they hate him, as shown by their sending him away.

Ben Putnam wrote:4.
Karl Randolph wrote:Genesis 26:28 ראו ראינו כי היה יהוה עמך we surely see that YHWH is with you

This example occurs within the same narrative as number 3. It is also past (they came to Isaac because they "saw"), or it may be a present perfect ("we have seen"). But read the context; this is not a present.

As above, present perfect is still present. The reason they want to make a treaty with Isaac is because God is still with him, not something in the past only, but continuing into the present and future. The past is gone and over, present to future is something to be dealt with.

Ben Putnam wrote:5.
Karl Randolph wrote:Genesis 27:2 לא ידעתי יום מותי I don’t know the day of my death

Here again we see qatal being used for mental states like knowing and remembering. This definite tense-aspect here is suppressing its past time feature while marking for aspect, a 'perfect'. See note above on number 2. It is also a negation.

See above why this objection is invalid.

Ben Putnam wrote:6.
Karl Randolph wrote:Genesis 27:46 קצתי בחיי (there’s no exact translation of this into English)

"Exact translations" aren't necessary. Glosses are fine. But how about "I have had enough of my life"?

Sorry, wrong verb, it comes from קוץ meaning “to be aroused in the sense of disliking, wanting to avoid, caused by fear, pain or loathing”. See Lisowski, Konkordanz zum Hebräischen Alten Testament page 1254.

Ben Putnam wrote:7.
Karl Randolph wrote:Genesis 29:5 ידענו we know

Again we see qatal for the mental state of knowing. This is looking like a pattern...

See above.

Ben Putnam wrote:8.
Karl Randolph wrote:Genesis 29:6 והנה רחל בתו באה עם הצאן and behold his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep.

This is a participle, not qatal. Though you may feel free to read it differently, I am not sure that it would be correct.

Feminine Qal singular participle ends with a Tau, not a Heh. This is Qatal. An example of feminine singular participle used as a future in a statement is Isaiah 7:14 last two clauses. There it follows the pattern of ending with a Tau.

Oh yes, the Isaiah passage is an example of part of a conversation in Biblical Hebrew.

Ben Putnam wrote:9.
Karl Randolph wrote:Genesis 41:38 (one with a question) הנמצא Is there found …? showing the interrogative prefix on a Niphal Qatal verb. But don’t be too strong with this example, because it can also be read, “Can we find …?” as a first person plural Yiqtol verb. Either way it’s present action.

This is a question and thus cannot function as evidence. You also do not even see it as unambiguous, so I am at a loss for why you would even point to it as evidence for your theory. I should not have to say that ambiguous examples prove nothing. On top of that, it is not a present. A present would be something like "Are we finding?" which is not what is being asked here.

The statement here is either “Is there found…” which is a Niphal Qatal, or “Can we find…” a Qal Yiqtol. Both refer to an event in progress at the time the statement is made, hence present tense.

What you can’t dispute is that though it is ambiguous as to whether or not it is Qatal or Yiqtol, this verb refers to a present tense. And it is not a participle.

Ben Putnam wrote:So, zero out of the nine examples you gave work to demonstrate your theory for qatal or yiqtol as the default for present tense situations.

Well, let’s see—you had the wrong verb in one objection, incorrect form in another, accepted an invalid argument from Dr. Buth, took an argument out of its context (no negative) and misused it, though if you want to take out the questions I won’t argue.

Ben Putnam wrote: Again, the reader is referred to the examples in my previous post above for the participle filling the role of the present tense in biblical Hebrew. Again, just because the participle is used as a present tense does not mean that it cannot be or is not used in any other way. When one is communicating in biblical Hebrew and wants to describe what a woman is doing as she is walking across the room, one would correctly say, hi holexet היא הולכת without regard to all other possible contexts in which holexet might have been used.

The argument is not can the participle be used, but 1) is it the sign of the present? Its use for future and past invalidates that claim, and 2) is it the default pattern? The answer to that is “No”.

Ben Putnam wrote:
Karl Randolph wrote:And there are more examples in Genesis. Shall we go on to Exodus and other books, or is this enough?
I also have many more examples using participles, but they are far fewer than with Qatals.

Well, if you can find some examples that meet the criteria for an immediate, concurrent, present situation, then maybe you could cite those. Otherwise, please let's not waste time and space in this thread.

What is found in Tanakh is that possibly a majority of verbs used in conversations are ambiguous—they could be pointed as either Qatal or participle. For example, the phrase כה אמר “Thus says” (present tense) which is used over 400 times, can be pointed as either Qatal or a participle, therefore can’t be used as evidence for this question. Another difficulty is that many, many of the participles are used as nouns, and even where a participle can be translated as a verb, was it really a verb in Hebrew?

Translation is a messy business, where often one uses a paraphrase in the target language where an exact translation leads to an awkward and even somewhat unintelligible turn of words. Therefore a paraphrase, which can use completely different words than an exact translation, can give a more intelligible rendering of the meaning than trying to make a literal translation. One of the results, as concerns Biblical Hebrew, is that participles that are often used as nouns, are translated as verbs in the paraphrasing. (Yes, I have worked as a translator, so I know whereof I write.)

Ben Putnam wrote: As I stated previously, I wanted this thread to be devoted primarily to using the language, not critiquing others' biblical Hebrew or arguing for certain theories. We have all those other threads for those things.

Then if someone is in error, uses incorrect Hebrew, do you want him just to wallow in his error?

If you think this is the wrong thread for this discussion, why don’t you start a new thread instead of continuing in this thread? Personally, I think it fits as giving advice on how to use Biblical Hebrew in conversations.

Ben Putnam wrote:braxot

OK, how would you say, “I wanted her to marry him, but she didn’t want to.” This was an actual conversational question that came up.

Karl W. Randolph.

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Re: Some Fun with Biblical Hebrew for Real Communication

Postby talmid56 » Mon Dec 30, 2013 6:26 pm

I agree that this thread should be mainly for Hebrew practice. Short comments of say, 1-2 paragraphs to offer corrections are fine. I also would suggest that longer exchanges be in a different thread, entitled, perhaps, "Grammar Questions for Communication in Biblical Hebrew".

Dewayne Dulaney
Dewayne Dulaney
דואיין דוליני

כִּ֤י שֶׁ֨מֶשׁ׀ וּמָגֵן֮ יְהוָ֪ה אֱלֹ֫הִ֥ים חֵ֣ן וְ֭כָבוֹד יִתֵּ֣ן יְהוָ֑ה לֹ֥א יִמְנַע־ט֝֗וֹב לַֽהֹלְכִ֥ים בְּתָמִֽים׃
--(E 84:11) 84:12 תהלים

Isaac Fried
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Re: Some Fun with Biblical Hebrew for Real Communication

Postby Isaac Fried » Fri Jan 03, 2014 12:44 pm

יָדַעְתִּי = ידע-אתי YADA-ATIY, 'know I', where ATIY is an obsolete variant of אני ANIY, 'I'.
יָדַעְתָּ = ידע-אתה YADA-ATAH, 'know you (s., m.).
יָדַעַתְּ = ידע-את YADA-AT, 'know you (f.).

יָדַעְנוּ = ידע-אנו YADA-ANU, 'know we'.
יְדַעְתֶּם = ידע-אתם YDA-ATEM, 'know you (p., m.).
יְדַעְתֶּן = ידע-אתן YDA-ATEN, 'know you (p., f.).

Isaac Fried, Boston University

Isaac Fried
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Re: Some Fun with Biblical Hebrew for Real Communication

Postby Isaac Fried » Wed Mar 12, 2014 12:14 pm

It is also worth noticing that in an ending with two adhered personal pronouns, one for the performer and the other for the beneficiary, of the act,
such as ידעתני = ידע + אתה + אני YDATANIY = YADA + ATAH + ANIY, of Isaiah 45:4, the common אני ANIY, 'I', is used to avoid the hypothetical cumbersome ידעתתי *YDATATIY.

We also notice that in ידעתיך = ידע + אתי + אכה YDATITKA = YDA + ATIY + AKAH, of Ex. 33:12, the obsolete personal pronoun אכה AKAH is used instead of the common, stand-alone אתה ATAH.

In ידעתיו = ידע + אתי + הוא YDATAIYW = YADA + ATIY + HU, of Gen. 18:19, the PP הוא HU, or merely U, is read as the consonant W.

In Isaiah 48:7 it is ידעתין = ידע + אתי +הן YDATIYN = YDA +ATIY + HEN, with HEN used for הם HEM.

Isaac Fried, Boston University

Isaac Fried
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Re: Some Fun with Biblical Hebrew for Real Communication

Postby Isaac Fried » Thu Mar 13, 2014 9:47 am

The personal pronouns for the actor and for the beneficiary of the act are also found adhered in a split, fore-to-aft, arrangement. For instance אדעך = אני + דע + אכה EDAAKA = ANIY + DA + AKAH, 'I know you', of Ex. 33:17, where אכה AKAH is, again, an obsolete form of אתה ATAH, 'you', preserved only in compounds.

Isaac Fried, Boston University

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