Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- perfect timing

Now that I’ve discussed the volitive, and also the sequential based on perfect aspect, I want to go back and elaborate on something I discussed some time ago.
Remember the parallel structure using both perfect and imperfect?  Well, it’s not just in poetry and prophecy.  In other places it elaborates laws. 
The structure of imperfect verb plus ki im plus perfect verb has been called “use of the perfect verb in a future tense” but that’s not accurate.  See Genesis 32:27.
וַיֹּאמֶר שַׁלְּחֵנִי כִּי עָלָה הַשָּׁחַר וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא אֲשַׁלֵּחֲךָ כִּי אִם־בֵּרַכְתָּנִי:
The action of the perfect verb has to be completed before the imperfect verb will happen.  The same structure occurs in Genesis 40:14 and Leviticus 22:6, and it hinges on the ki im.
A contrasting  structure starts with something I already discussed, ki or im plus the imperfect.  It is followed by a clause containing perfect aspect, which is another action.  This second action has to be completed before the law comes into effect, making it a sort of “then-if” clause.  Exodus 22:4 is a good example.
כִּי יַבְעֶר־אִישׁ שָׂדֶה אוֹ־כֶרֶם וְשִׁלַּח אֶת־בְּעִירֹה וּבִעֵר בִּשְׂדֵה אַחֵר מֵיטַב שָׂדֵהוּ וּמֵיטַב כַּרְמוֹ יְשַׁלֵּם: 
The man who started the fire, probably to burn off weeds, isn’t liable to pay damages until a) the fire gets out of control (shilach)  AND b) it burns another field (u-vier), probably belonging to somebody else.   I’ll come back to this verse later for another illustration.
One more example, Exodus 12:44, has neither ki  nor im.
וְכָל־עֶבֶד אִישׁ מִקְנַת־כָּסֶף וּמַלְתָּה אֹתוֹ אָז יֹאכַל בּוֹ:
The verb is maltah, “circumcise”, with the same final “ah” as natatah.  The verb is based on perfect aspect, not imperfect, and the vav suggests that it’s a “then” clause logically as well as in terms of timing. 
Why is it in a sequential format?  The issue here is somebody who sells you an exclusive services contract on himself, (see the Fact-Checking discussion about the eved) and he is NOT a Jew. (If he was a Jew he already would be circumcised.)  You can circumcise him, in which case he becomes a nominal Jew, but you can’t do that until you have paid him the money for the contract.  When he takes up that money and signs the contract, then you can circumcise him, and not before.
This structure seems to be the opposite of the one where the imperfect aspect verb couldn’t take place until a perfect aspect verb was carried out.
Now, you’re asking how sure I am that the heh is not a feminine object ending.  The answer is that natatah and similar “ah”  verbs appear with masculine singular and plural objects, and the feminine object ending would be either ungrammatical or superfluous.  When vowelling was standardized, this form was always written with a plain heh, no dagesh in it, and the feminine object suffix requires the dagesh.

I'll show another use of perfect that Dr. Cook didn't discuss next week.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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