The Biblical Hebrew system of modality includes three forms. I discussed oblique modality only briefly; because of having so many possible meanings, there are too many examples to go into, but it requires vav plus a perfect aspect verb in VS syntax, in a subordinate clause.
The second class of modalities is deontic and it includes imperative morphology. Imperatives require quick action, but they also require a two-step process. There will always be subsequent text which shows whether the imperative was carried out or not. Imperatives that don’t go into force identify a speaker who was not “authorized” to issue an imperative.
Deontics express the world as we would like it to be and since it isn’t, deontics have to be based on imperfect aspect verbs. Imperatives do not carry within themselves the evidence that they have been carried out and that goes along with a basis in the imperfect, in contrast to 2nd person perfect verbs used in commandments.
The other deontic is one you probably use in English even if you have never heard of its technical name. Any time you say “I wish that X would happen” or “I would like it if you did X,” you are using the volitive.
The volitive in Biblical Hebrew doesn’t use auxiliary verbs like it does in English. When you see a verb that starts like an imperfect and ends in heh, BUT you know (or find in the dictionary) that it is NOT a lamed heh verb, AND it ends with an “a” sound, AND you know it’s not the perfect aspect in 3rd feminine singular AND you know it doesn’t have a feminine object suffix, that is a volitive. As you might guess, there are so many things such a word might be, that it’s relatively rare to find a real volitive in Torah.
Note that it has to be a verb. A noun that ends in the “ah” sound with a heh on the end is either a nominative feminine gender single number noun, or if it has a dagesh in it, that’s a feminine singular object suffix. If it’s masculine, it’s a name like Yehudah.
The volitive always means “this is how I wish things were, contrary to fact.” The best example is probably Genesis 19:20 in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot tells the angel “I wish to flee to Tsoar,” imaltah. (It also uses the humble na.)
הִנֵּה־נָא הָעִיר הַזֹּאת קְרֹבָה לָנוּס שָׁמָּה וְהִוא מִצְעָר אִמָּלְטָה נָא שָׁמָּה הֲלֹא מִצְעָר הִוא וּתְחִי נַפְשִׁי:
It’s contrary to fact because the angel has just told Lot to flee to the mountains.
The King James Version says “let me escape there.” That misses the point. Lot is simply expressing a wish. The Septuagint has the bald statement, “I am going to flee to Tsoar.” Very rude. Especially to an angel who, after all, is speaking for Gd.
I was on the track of what this meant when I read Dr. Cook’s dissertation. It made me feel good that I had figured out a real thing, instead of just making it up as I went along. But there are some similar things that Dr. Cook didn’t write about, that I think I have figured out. You might have seen them, but they are not volitives and I will talk about them next week.The volitive always appears in 1st person, as far as I remember; there are examples in plural, as in the Aqedah story, Genesis 22:5:
וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָהָם אֶל־נְעָרָיו שְׁבוּ־לָכֶם פֹּה עִם־הַחֲמוֹר וַאֲנִי וְהַנַּעַר נֵלְכָה עַד־כֹּה וְנִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה וְנָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם:
Avraham says “we wish to go…we wish to return.” He knows his troopers won’t think anything of that. Stuff happens: they might not get there and come back anyway. But Avraham has in mind that they will get there, but they won’t both return.
Next week I'll talk about something that is easy to mix up with volitive and another verbal issue.
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