Thursday, February 11, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- how do you know?

So we have imperfect and perfect aspects of verbs straight, and we know something about the progressive aspect.  Now I want to say more about what I brought up at the end of the last lesson, which is that without vowels some words look alike.
The most extreme case is probably dover/diber/davar /davar.  They are, in order, progressive aspect of the qal binyan, perfect aspect of the piel binyan, a noun, and perfect aspect of qal.
How do you tell them apart? 
You’ve already seen the discussion on how to tell progressive from perfect aspect, even if you don’t have the vowels.  But there is a way to tell perfect and progressive apart that is much more subtle, and only applies to prophecy and poetry.  When you have a verse containing prophetic or poetic material, it often falls into two phrases which reinforce the image that puts the message across.  It’s somewhat like Anglo-Saxon poetry which uses this format with kennings, different phrases for the same thing, but it’s something like 2000 years older.
The single best example is probably Genesis 49:9.  The end of the verse is
רָבַץ כְּאַרְיֵה וּכְלָבִיא מִי יְקִימֶנּוּ:
“He lay down like a lion, like a lioness who will make him rise up.”
If there were no vowels, I would still say that the word before “lion” is ravats, not rovets.  There are none of the indicators for progressive aspect I talked about before.  There are also other examples of this format with perfect aspect in the first phrase and imperfect aspect in the second phrase.  This is a structure that will never have a progressive verb.
Notice that this last example doesn’t rely on just the wording in the verse.  It relies on the fact that the entire context of Tannakh, not just Torah, has examples of this structure.  So context isn’t just the words, it’s the meaning or usage of the entire passage, and the examples may lie  outside Torah.
Let me connect that last statement with something you often find on websites and in publisher’s descriptions.  “Literal translation”.  Anybody who thinks you can go word by word in a work, and translate each one to a different language, and come up with something that makes sense, doesn’t know anything about good translation.  So if you are asked to cough up money and the attraction is a “literal translation”, don’t be fooled.  Keep your money in your pocket.  If you really want to know what that book says, learn the language for yourself.  It may take years, and you might have to read lots of other literature in the same language to get really good.  Don’t let that discourage you.  Just because it takes time and effort doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.
I’ll do a review next week and then we’ll move on.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved


  1. Sorry Bith Lavie לביא and Arje are males =lions and not lioness , a lioness is a Leviah לביאה mirjam

    1. Sorry should have been BOTH not bith

  2. OOps. The grammar point remains.