Thursday, February 23, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- verb categorization

The real end of Genesis 1:1.
 
א בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ:
 
Translation:     At the beginning Gd created the heaven and the earth
 
AT LAST I’m going to talk about the verb in this verse. First, here’s its classification.
 
Verb root class: lamed alef. So what are the root letters? Bet, resh, alef. This is important to know for using a dictionary. To avoid all the changes made in conjugation, dictionaries list verbs by the qal perfect aspect masculine 3rd person singular which has the spelling closest to the verb root. It’s not sexist, it’s simplicity.
 
Binyan: qal.
 
Verb type: this verb is transitive. A lot of verbs either don’t have a qal, or use it intransitively.
 
Aspect: perfect. More on that in a moment.
 
This is a 3rd person masculine singular verb. When you have elohim in the Hebrew Bible, it almost always has 3rd person masculine singular verbs or adjectives with it. The exceptions are when it refers to mortals, and then it has to be translated “lords, masters, nobles,” or when it is rejecting polytheism. The Hebrew Bible not only always has a monotheistic viewpoint, it cannot conceive of Gd as a multiple being or of the possibility of multiple gods within Jewish culture.
 
If you don’t remember what the other aspects are in Biblical Hebrew, go back and review all the lessons up to this point.
 
How is perfect aspect used in Biblical Hebrew?
 
Many ways, depending on the context. The context always extends over more than one verse. That’s what makes it hard to understand Biblical Hebrew. If you try to point at one verse and say “that’s the meaning,” you will almost always find out another verse that shows you were wrong. Just like with elohim.  I said what I said about that word because of the entire context of the Jewish Bible, not because of this one verse.
 
If it scares you to think that you will have to know the whole thing before you know any of it – well, that’s true of all great literature and not only that, but you have to take the culture of the period into consideration. One of the reasons we have so much trouble understanding Shakespeare, even if we have spoken English all our lives, is that he used contemporary slang which we don’t understand any more, and he spoke of contemporary concerns, which we don’t have any more. If you have never read Brave New World, do it, and pay attention to Lenina Crowne’s confusion about the central problem of Romeo and Juliet. That’s what I’m talking about.
 
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- SWLT 3 and meaning

I’m going to stick with the third rule for a couple more posts because I know you’re saying I broke this rule.
I said that tahor should not be translated as “clean” because the modern concept of cleanliness doesn’t apply, being out of historical context.
You object that this breaks my rule that a translation is not a meaning.
It doesn’t. My claim was about a translation, not the meaning of the word tahor.
I provided context showing that tahor shows up in situations where it’s irrelevant whether something is dirt-free, let alone germ-free.
A translation does not qualify as a definition of a word.
The definition of a word is what it means in the context of usage within its own culture, that is, the culture where people grow up speaking that language, or where people’s livelihoods depend on that language, at the time when the material came together as an expression (back to Rule 1).
The definition of a word is different from a translation of it, because different individual (remember what the OED says about individual usage) translators may choose different words as equivalent, but the definition has to remain stable or communications break down.  The definition is internal to the culture using a language “on the street”; a translation is external to that culture. 
The definition of a word also differs from an interpretation of it, because the interpretation necessarily dates later than the time the words came together as an expression, and may be shaped by the conditions of that later time.
This is why it’s wrong to think of melakhah as “work.” “Work” is a translation. What’s more, it’s an inaccurate translation. It fails to capture the relationship between Shabbat and the things that fall into the 40 less one or 39 categories of melakhah. Translations and commentaries that restrict themselves to analyzing melakhah as “work” are not accurate. Any conclusions based on them also are inaccurate, and so on and so forth.
A translation cannot determine the meaning of a particular text. A translation is only a way of explaining the text to somebody who doesn’t know the language of the primary document, and it can be a bloody bad way, too, if the explainer only knows words and doesn’t know culture, or worse yet has a vested interest in representing the primary document as meaning a specific thing.
There’s a word for that and it’s a fallacy so I’ll get to it when I’m done with the theoretical information.
Make sure you have a good grasp of the difference between the definition of a word, and the translation of a word, and the interpretation of a word, so that when you try to claim Talmud refers to Jesus, you don’t get trapped in the third law of SWLT.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- something about dagesh

The end of Genesis 1:1.
 
א בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ:
 
Transliteration: B’reshit bara elohim et ha-shamayim v’et ha-arets.
Translation:     At the beginning Gd created the heaven and the earth
 
In this lesson I want you to concentrate on a number of things and I will take them in order by where the word is in the sentence.
 
First, we have an adverb. Biblical Hebrew has a flexible word order that depends on what it is trying to say, but you will find many cases in Torah where a verse starts with an adverb. When a clause starts with an adverb, the action verb almost always comes next, although I have found an exception in Exodus. If the subject is stated, that will come after the verb. You will see many more examples of VS (verb-subject) order in Torah.
 
What do I mean “if the subject is stated”? The verb conjugation in Biblical Hebrew packs into one word not just the verb root class and binyan and aspect, but also the person and number, and sometimes the gender, of the subject.
 
This verse has two copies of the direct object particle. I’m saying “direct object” as a functional way around the label “accusative”. Biblical Hebrew uses lots of transitive verbs (I’m avoiding an antiquated confusing label “factitive”) and often states the object of the transitive verb, but it only uses et in specific cases. There are two ways of spelling et distinguished by the vowel (and something I’m not going to talk about yet because you have enough to learn), and as far as I can tell, they play different roles. When a clear example of the difference comes up will be the appropriate point to discuss it.
 
Finally, notice that “the” heavens has a short vowel followed by dagesh in the shin. Most people will tell you that the dagesh represents something called “gemination” but that’s not always true. I am going to reserve the term “gemination” strictly for piel verbs. What happens here is a spelling rule demonstrated by the long vowel under “the” earth.
 
Dagesh rule: you will never see dagesh in a guttural letter like alef, heh, chet, or ayin, or in resh except for 15 examples in the entire Hebrew Bible. I don’t have an explanation for those 15 exceptions to resh but statistically, you should know that out of almost 22,300 verses in the entire Hebrew Bible, there are only these 15 exceptions.
Dagesh rule: you will never see dagesh after a long vowel in BH as far as I know.
 
Now, why didn’t I tell you how many WORDS there are in the Hebrew Bible? The answer is that, except for Torah, we’re not sure how many words there are. It simply wasn’t important enough to calculate. The reason it was important for Torah, is that Torah is the basis for all of Jewish law and culture. As a legal basis, everything in it is crucial, right down to the least little mark used, for example, in spelling. The canonical number of words in the Torah (Pentateuch) is 79,976.

And now something about verbs.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- SWLT 3

My third rule of SWLT is this: context is king. You’ll understand this better if I give you a practical example.
Dictionaries.
Entries and sub-entries in dictionaries require multiple examples of use in multiple media by multiple people such that what the words MEAN becomes clear from what people say or write and that they use the words in a given sense because they are used to it, the way Maimonides was used to using nun-final verbs in legal material, but only when he wasn’t reporting on an actual case.
The Oxford English Dictionary FAQ says that they don’t add an entry until there are 10 years of accumulated evidence as to the MEANING, based on the contexts in which the word is used.
They reject words used randomly as evidence of a new meaning.
They reject a single individual’s attempt to give new meaning to a word. (This is actually a fallacy which will come up before I finish this section.)
They record a new sub-entry when it becomes clear that a word is used differently in different arenas such as in court or in scientific publications or in logic.
And they record sub-entries when it becomes obvious that the meaning of a word has changed over time, the context differing in the time-separated subcultures.
But there is another dimension to context as defining meaning.
It includes the setting which produced or used the text.
For example, there's the issue  of “intent” in its legal meaning. When you hear a shooting case reported on radio or TV, you will frequently hear that the accused did not “intend” for the victim to get hurt. In US law that argument will never work. The definition of “intent” in US law is that a responsible adult foresees the results of actions and only takes those actions the results of which are intended. Anybody who behaves differently doesn’t belong out in public; nobody has a right to put the public at risk of the results of whims.
The setting also depends on the culture. Jewish law has a different definition of intent from American law.
And since cultures change over time, the setting that produces or uses text and the meaning in that setting depends on what year we are talking about, as well as what country we are in or what part of that country. That’s what I said when I discussed the meaning of “buxom” some time back.
So when the 19th century Brenton tried to translate a work from the 200s BCE that was supposed to translate material fixed in format by 400 BCE from a different culture that spoke a different language, it was a lost cause from the start because the Septuagint translators didn’t know what they were doing – and neither did Brenton as a translator.
Which leads into next week’s post.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- vowels

The end of Genesis 1:1.
 
א בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ:
 
Transliteration: B’reshit bara elohim et ha-shamayim v’et ha-arets.
Translation:     At the beginning Gd created the heaven and the earth
 
Vocabulary in this lesson:
בְּ
on, in, at (place or time), by (swear by), with (by means of), against
בְּרֵאשִׁית
at the beginning              
בָּרָא
created
אֱלֹהִים
Gd
אֵת
direct object particle
הַ, הָ
the
שָּׁמַיִם
heaven
וְ
and, or, continuation particle
אָרֶץ
earth, land, world

Vowels:
Notice shva under the bet of “in” and “at the beginning.”
Under the resh of “at the beginning” is a pair of horizontal dots called tseire with the sound of short “e”.
Under the shin is a single dot called hiriq pronounced “ee”.  I transliterate it as “i”.
Under the first two consonants of “created” is a qamats which has the sound of “a” as in “father.”
Under the alef of “Gd” is a chataf segol which has the sound of short “e”.
At the top of the lamed in “Gd” is a single dot called cholam chaser which has the sound of long “o.”
The vowel under the first example of “the” is called patach.
The vowel under the resh of “earth” is called segol and is a short “e”.

People will tell you that’s not exactly how the vowels sound and with some of them, that’s true. I’m trying to teach you what vowels you are looking at when you see the words with the vowels.  You are going to be reading, not speaking, but if you want to learn to read out loud, you can imitate the man reading Torah in the mp3s I pointed you to.

Onward

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Friday, February 3, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- SWLT 2

The second rule of SWLT is that grammar encodes cultural nuances not expressed in the base words, be they Hebrew three-letter roots or nominative pronouns.
Everybody who has studied languages like French and Spanish knows that the pronoun you use when talking to somebody depends on your relative cultural positions.  You use a formal pronoun if they are older, are your superior at work, or are not a close acquaintance.  You use an informal pronoun for pets, children, subordinates, and your BFFs.  Grammar encodes social layering even though the aristos don’t have the power of life and death over the rest of us.
Hebrew doesn’t have much social layering encoded in its pronouns, but it does have separate verb forms for masculine and feminine plurals in the future, and it used to have them in the past tense.  There’s no “it”; “it” is a translation, not a meaning.  So there’s an insurmountable gender division in Hebrew that allows only two genders.
Dealing with grammar adequately is a hallmark of a good translation.  It’s one way that Septuagint fails.  I discussed the phrase mot yumat some months ago (in two places) but I left out another example of the same structure which Septuagint gets wrong.  Exodus 22:16 discusses a situation when a man rapes a girl but the father absolutely refuses to let them marry; maen yimaen.  The first part of the structure is aspectless and genderless; the second part of the structure is a masculine singular imperfect aspect verb.
Septuagint utterly fails to appreciate the gender issue and has the girl refusing the marriage but the father not deciding what he wants. 
This is not only a grammatical problem, it’s a legal problem.  In Jewish law the girl doesn’t get a choice and unless the father absolutely refuses, the marriage goes forward.
Grammar issues can settle controversies and even prevent them.  In the Gan Eden episode, or depending on your viewpoint, right after it, Adam “knows” Chavvah.
Actually, it’s in perfect aspect.  As you know if you read my Bible Hebrew page, perfect aspect is for a completed action.  The reason for using it in this specific verse, is that it’s one way Torah defines the boundaries of episodes.  It’s the reason that both Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 2:3 use a perfect aspect verb, bara.
Jewish Aggada (folkoric interpretation) says that Adam “knew” Chavah  before they were expelled from Gan Eden, contradicting the idea that Adam and Chavvah were still virgins after the expulsion.  What’s more, an accepted opinion in Judaism is that Qain and Hevel were both conceived and born before the expulsion.
This coordinates with the Jewish viewpoint that says sex in marriage is not only natural but also necessary for the continuation of the human species and therefore is desirable.  Jewish culture has no conflict with married sex happening in Gan Eden.
In the last part of this blog I’ll show more fallout from not knowing 21st century Biblical Hebrew grammar.  For now, on with SWLT.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, February 2, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- aspects not tenses

The next part of Genesis 1:1.
 
א בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ:
 
Transliteration: B’reshit bara elohim et ha-shamayim v’et ha-arets.
Translation:     At the beginning Gd created the heaven and the earth
Letters in this lesson: בּ, ר, א, שׁ, י, ת, ל, וֹ, ה, ם, שּׁ, מ, ץ
 
Vocabulary in this lesson:
 
בְּ
on, in, at (place or time), by (swear by), with (by means of), against
בְּרֵאשִׁית
at the beginning
בָּרָא
created
אֱלֹהִים
Gd
אֵת
direct object particle
הַ, הָ
the
שָּׁמַיִם
heaven
וְ
and, or, continuation particle
אָרֶץ
earth, land, world
 
Verbs. Semitic languages have a common feature about their verbs. Verb roots have mostly three letters. A few have four but we’re not going to come across many of those before we’re done.
 
Verbs belong to a root class depending on the letters in the most basic form. Some of them belong to more than one class. The verb root class controls conjugation, but it does that in combination with the binyan and the aspect. Hebrew has a different set of verb root classes than the other Semitic languages.
 
Verbs are used in a binyan, a feature which has parallels but not identical features in other Semitic languages.
What they all agree on is a base called qal in Hebrew (Akkadian and Ugaritic G-stem, Assyrian I-stem, Arabic Form I).
They all have a transitive binyan with dagesh in the middle letter, piel in Hebrew (Akkadian and Ugaritic D-stem, Assyrian II-stem, Arabic Form II).  In Hebrew, there are letters that CANNOT take dagesh and piel does not override this restriction.
Most of them have a binyan, hifil in Hebrew (Akkadian and Ugaritic Sh-stem, Assyrian III-stem, Arabic Form IV), the function of which depends on the verb.
Almost all of them have a binyan that takes a nun as a prefix, Hebrew nifal (Akkadian and Ugaritic N-stem, Assyrian IV-stem, Arabic Form VII). Aramaic is an exception.
They all have at least one reciprocal binyan with “t” inserted before the first root letter, Hebrew hitpael. (The other Semitic languages have one of these for each of the other stems or Forms.)
 
Biblical Hebrew verbs do NOT use tenses.
They use aspects, which they share with the ancient Semitic languages and Arabic.  Mishnaic Hebrew and Modern Hebrew use tenses.
 
Aspects fall into three categories.
 
Imperfect aspect is for uncompleted action. There is a quirk to this which will show up in the next few verses and is crucial to the rest of Torah.
 
Perfect aspect is for completed action. Torah also has some twists on this.
 
And finally, there is progressive aspect. This covers eight different functions and relates closely to nouns and adjectives as you will see.  This is specific to Hebrew; other Semitic languages use a form of imperfect aspect.  Arabic tends to use participles.
 
Stopping here. Memorize the list of aspects and binyanim.  Keep repeating them through the next lesson.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved