This lesson is where the rubber hits the road as far as Dr. Cook’s dissertation. I said the chaser lamed heh or ”certainty epistemic” is used by a narrator who is certain that what he is telling is true. I also called it an evidentiary epistemic and now I will show why.
On the Fact-Checking page of this blog, I am going to talk about oral narratives from the point of view of Torah structure. I won’t reach that part of the page before I post this. I rely on a book by Axel Olrik called Principles of Oral Narrative Research, written early in the 20th century in Danish from his lecture notes at a university. In 1992 it was translated into English.
Olrik says that narrators in an oral tradition have an issue of credibility with their audience. Oral narratives always include something out of the ordinary, and the narrators have to counteract audience disbelief.
One way is to tell about a landmark well-known to the audience because it is visible.
When the narrator names it at the start, she then goes on to tell why it is important and it’s always about the start of a cultural feature or about a historical event whose consequences are still in force.
When she names it at the end, she has just told a story the audience can hardly believe, and the narrator uses the landmark as evidence of the truth of the story.
The “certainty epistemic” can appear either at the start of a series of verses or at the end.
When it appears at the start, it has to be followed by evidence.
When it appears at the end, it stamps and seals the truth of the preceding material.
Because it points at evidence of which the audience has a physical or mental picture, it provides certainty that the story is true.
Cook gives an example of the first format when he refers to Kings II 8:1-4. It starts out with metadata about Chizqiyah, saying “he did (va-ya’as) what seemed right to Gd.” Since the certainty epistemic has to be followed by the evidence, it then says what Chizqiyah did that was right.
You’ll find the second type in Exodus with the making of the tabernacle. Over and over again, it says “He [B’tsalel] made (ya-as) ” plus the thing he made. One example is Exodus 36:14:
וַיַּעַשׂ יְרִיעֹת עִזִּים לְאֹהֶל עַל־הַמִּשְׁכָּן עַשְׁתֵּי־עֶשְׂרֵה יְרִיעֹת עָשָׂה אֹתָם:
Why is that so important for understanding Biblical Hebrew? Because the audience has evidence that proves what the narrator was saying is true. In other words, a narrator doesn’t use this grammar unless everybody knows about the things that were made to go in the tabernacle, like the ark of the covenant. They have to have seen it with their own eyes by the time the narrative was first told with this epistemic, otherwise they won’t believe what the narrator just said.
There’s a perfect example of the opposite in Numbers 32:31.
וַיַּֽעֲנ֧וּ בְנֵי־גָ֛ד וּבְנֵ֥י רְאוּבֵ֖ן לֵאמֹ֑ר אֵת֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֧ר יְהוָֹ֛ה אֶל־עֲבָדֶ֖יךָ כֵּ֥ן נַֽעֲשֶֽׂה:
The historical setup is this. The Gadites and Reubenites had no impact on Jewish history once they helped with the Ingress. They didn’t even furnish any characters for the book of Judges. The next time they appeared in Jewish history was in Joshua 22 when they got in trouble for building a mirror image of the cairn at the Yarden River. After that, they fled west when the Assyrians attacked them. That’s why we have a narrative past here instead of an evidentiary or certainty epistemic. This happened in the past, it’s over and done with, and it had no impact on the Israelites or Jews later. The narrator can’t use a certainty epistemic or his audience will think he is crazy or stupid or something.
I have one more piece of linguistic data and then I’ll move on to the last modality.
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