So Dr. Cook tells us that Biblical Hebrew is an ancient language with the same features as its relatives, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Canaanitic, and so on, some of which are dead languages. Biblical Hebrew has been resurrected as Modern Hebrew, but not in the same system.
Modern Hebrew is a tense-system with past, present, and future.
Biblical Hebrew is an aspect system with perfect, imperfect, and progressive.
“Imperfect” means action that is not complete. You can identify it because the markers of person and gender come before the root letters. The “aorist” and future “tenses” of Biblical Hebrew are identical because they are really imperfect aspect.
Imperfect is often used with a past meaning, but it requires a special prefix and is called the narrative past. The narrative past has the syntax vav plus imperfect plus subject and so on. This is Genesis 2:7.
ז וַיִּיצֶר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן־הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה:
The first word in this example is a narrative past. This action definitely occurred in the past, but we can’t use a perfect aspect because we are between the start and the end of the story and this situation is not yet over as far as the characters are concerned. The narrative past is followed by **** elohim, the grammatical subject.
That vav is an important issue. It does NOT repeat NOT mean “and”. It is part of the verb. It is the indicator of the narrative past. A verb that looks like an imperfect but doesn’t have vav, might be future, under one condition.
If the syntax is subject + imperfect, that might be a future tense usage. This is Genesis 49:13.
זְבוּלֻ֕ן לְח֥וֹף יַמִּ֖ים יִשְׁכֹּ֑ן וְהוּא֙ לְח֣וֹף אֳנִיֹּ֔ת וְיַרְכָת֖וֹ עַל־צִידֹֽן:
“Zvulun will live by the sea shore…”
BUT if there is a vav attached to the subject, that’s actually the vav of the narrative past, with a twist. This structure indicates a subordinate relative or coordinate clause, and the vav must be translated “that” (relative clause) or “but” (coordinate clause). The imperfect verb must then be translated in the past unless there are clear indications in the context that it has a future meaning. The following is Genesis 2:5-6. Verse 5 is the main clause. Verse 6 with the imperfect is the contradictory subordinate clause.
ה וְכֹ֣ל ׀ שִׂ֣יחַ הַשָּׂדֶ֗ה טֶ֚רֶם יִהְיֶ֣ה בָאָ֔רֶץ וְכָל־עֵ֥שֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה טֶ֣רֶם יִצְמָ֑ח כִּי֩ לֹ֨א הִמְטִ֜יר יְהוָֹ֤ה אֱלֹהִים֙ עַל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְאָדָ֣ם אַ֔יִן לַֽעֲבֹ֖ד אֶת־הָֽאֲדָמָֽה:
ו וְאֵ֖ד יַֽעֲלֶ֣ה מִן־הָאָ֑רֶץ וְהִשְׁקָ֖ה אֶת־כָּל־פְּנֵ֥י הָֽאֲדָמָֽה:
“But all plants….[did not yet] exist…[because **** had not yet caused rain]
“but a mist went up…”
What you have to fix in your mind from this post on is that the vav at the start of a verb does NOT mean “and” in most verses of Torah. And so a huge number of the verses in all translations of Torah are mistranslated, because they always translate this vav as “and”. Got it?
Go over all the verses you have of Genesis so far and read them, carefully making sure NOT to think “and” when you see vav+imperfect, and that will help train you out of a historic mistake. Take the next week to work on this, a few verses a day.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved