Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- where's the evidence?

The chaser lamed heh or ”certainty/evidentiary epistemic” has two functions. One, at the start of some text, briefly shows what the following verses are the evidence for. The other, at the end of some text, validates what the previous text says.
This has an important result for the syntax of Biblical Hebrew. You will find single verses that include both epistemic and evidence, certainty epistemic plus narrative past. See Genesis 9:22:
וַיַּרְא חָם אֲבִי כְנַעַן אֵת עֶרְוַת אָבִיו וַיַּגֵּד לִשְׁנֵי־אֶחָיו בַּחוּץ:
The way to translate this is “Cham must have seen the nakedness of his father, for he told his two brothers outside.” Vayar is the certainty epistemic; va-yaged is the narrative past for the evidence of the truth of vayar. How do we know he told his brothers? Because of what they did in the next verse. Just one more example of how a single verse is never the complete context.
This two-part situation appears all over Torah. Any time you see the certainty epistemic, look for the evidence. The next verb that looks like a narrative past, is “for” plus the evidence.
Exodus 36:8 supports my point that Torah can use narrative past instead of the certainty epistemic.
וַיַּֽעֲשׂ֨וּ כָל־חֲכַם־לֵ֜ב בְּעֹשֵׂ֧י הַמְּלָאכָ֛ה אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּ֖ן עֶ֣שֶׂר יְרִיעֹ֑ת שֵׁ֣שׁ מָשְׁזָ֗ר וּתְכֵ֤לֶת וְאַרְגָּמָן֙ וְתוֹלַ֣עַת שָׁנִ֔י כְּרֻבִ֛ים מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה חֹשֵׁ֖ב עָשָׂ֥ה אֹתָֽם:
But verse 14 uses the certainty epistemic.
וַיַּעַשׂ יְרִיעֹת עִזִּים לְאֹהֶל עַל־הַמִּשְׁכָּן עַשְׁתֵּי־עֶשְׂרֵה יְרִיעֹת עָשָׂה אֹתָם:
The audience didn’t see the work in verse 8, but the curtains in verse 14 were visible to them, otherwise the narrator should have used the narrative past again.
Compare to Genesis 9:22, you will see X and Y reversed in the creation story: “Gd said (narrative past) X.” “Gd said” is in narrative past, but it’s not evidence for X; it’s a completely independent verb.
In your Bible, or on the web page where you’re reading the Hebrew, find Exodus 35 and bookmark it. When you get there, watch for all the certainty epistemics and see if they have a follow on narrative past with the evidence. If not, you’re looking at something that the audience could still see at the point when the grammar for this material was frozen.
That’s what I’m talking about. I was already sure Olrik was on to something important with his origin and final “localizations” (the geographic evidence for the truth of the story).
When I read Cook’s dissertation and found out about the certainty/evidentiary grammatical structure with an identical function, it was electrifying.
It seemed to me that Olrik had seen a human mental phenomenon in terms of the structure and content of what people transmitted orally to future generations.
It seemed that Dr. Cook had found the same feature in terms of the grammar people used as the medium of oral transmission.
As far as I know, Dr. Cook never read Olrik’s book in the 10 years he was studying after it was translated. Olrik died some 80 years before linguists began to study modality as a feature of all grammars.
When two researchers describe the same phenomenon from different viewpoints, independently, there’s a there there.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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