In 2014 I discovered a doctoral thesis (approved in 2002) online that explained several points of grammar in Biblical Hebrew, about one of which I had a hypothesis on the meaning. They show that Brenton is wrong in his claim about the resemblances between Torah, Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint, and so was Rev. Fitzgerald. There is no better demonstration of how crucial grammar is to a good translation. Be prepared to have your head turned around, unless you have been following my Biblical Hebrew lessons.
All languages have ways of reflecting the attitudes of the “speaker.” Some languages use auxiliary verbs to do this. Some use special verbs or descriptive words and phrases. Some use modifications to the morphology of nouns or verbs. Linguists call them modalities and divide them into three classes, oblique, deontic and epistemic.
Oblique modality covers subordinate clauses expressing condition, purpose, result, cause and effect. They ask you to accept as true a subordinate clause, based on the previously accepted truth of the statement in the main clause. This is like saying “It’s sunny today, so my clothes will dry quickly on the clothesline.”
Deontic modality is about how the world should be, in the “speaker’s” opinion. Imperatives fall into the class of deontic modality, because speakers issue commands to change things to the desired situation. Another form of deontic is called volitive, which reflects how the speaker wishes the world was when clearly it is not. An example of volitive is “I would like to buy that dress,” when you know you don’t have the money.
Epistemic modality is about the speaker’s investment in the truth of a statement. In English, we say things like “I think he went to Marrakesh.”
Biblical Hebrew uses morphology to reflect modality in some cases. It has not only the imperative of deontic modality, but also a volitive modal morphology.
It has an epistemic for absolute certainty, using current conditions as evidence of the factuality of a past action, or introducing the evidence for the truth of what is being said.
And it has an epistemic for a fact, the truth of which the speaker is not quite certain of, and which may let people off responsibility for what they do or omit to do. I will call this the nun-final form for a discussion which shows it has significant consequences throughout Jewish literature.
Besides the discussion on my Bit at a time Bible Hebrew page, I discuss examples of modality in depth in Narrating the Torah.
My interlinear comparison shows that Samaritan Hebrew has all the same forms. In fact, Samaritan Hebrew Pentateuch has them in 80% of the exact same places that Jewish Torah has them.
Septuagint never translates the nuances of modality. Not with morphology and not with auxiliary verbs.
And that’s why Rev. Fitzgerald was wrong, and why Brenton was not even wrong.
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